Oscar De La Hoya: A Little Respect

03.02.05 - By Don Caputo: Oscar De La Hoya’s standing as a pound for pound elite in boxing has clearly diminished over the past couple of years, in fact I’ve seen more than a few lists in which he doesn’t even appear in the top twenty. Losses to arch rival Shane Mosley and middleweight king Bernard Hopkins along with a very fortunate points win over unknown Felix Strum which could easily go into the gift decision category have taken a heavy toll on the his reputation.

De La Hoya, realizing what has been painfully obvious to the rest of us for some time now, has decided he is too small to compete successfully as a middleweight or even at junior middleweight and has wisely announced that he will be moving back down to the welterweight division where many feel he was at his best. I don’t think any boxing fan can deny that he is an all time great; he shone arguably brighter than anyone in an era that featured the likes of Felix Trinidad, Roy Jones Jr and Lennox Lewis not because he was the best but because of the package he came in.. His good looks and immense talent combined with his “Golden Boy” image gave him enormous mainstream appeal and has without a doubt made him the biggest draw in boxing alongside Mike Tyson. He has paid his dues in the ring by winning titles at super featherweight (WBO), lightweight (WBO), IBF), super lightweight (WBC), welterweight (WBC), junior middleweight (WBC), (WBA) and middleweight (WBO) making him an outstanding six division world champion, cementing his greatness and eventual place in the international boxing hall of fame.

I think people forget De La Hoya was a concussive puncher in the lower weights, which is partly due to the fact he was a very big lightweight but he still possessed formidable power as a welterweight, his natural weight in my opinion. I thought it was sad how he was so heavily criticized and almost laughed at for his softer looking appearance and lack of punching power when he was battling above his natural weight and putting it all on the line against bigger, stronger men. Its obvious De La Hoya thrives on challenges, and when he took on Bernard Hopkins last year for his undisputed middleweight title it was an attempt to make history but also a huge risk which rather predictably backfired. Although the fight was somewhat competitive, there was only ever going to be one winner. A good big man always beats a good little man, the only glimmer of hope De La Hoya had was the possibility of the then 39 year old Hopkins growing old overnight but we know that didn’t happen, it was a physical mismatch. I for one give De La Hoya all the credit in the world for attempting to do the impossible regardless of how he lost; Bernard Hopkins was by far the biggest challenge out there for him and he took his best shot, he pushed himself beyond the limit of his capabilities and came up short but that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Roy Jones Jr, arguably the most talented fighter of his generation, was someone who never wanted to risk anything for greatness. He was happy to take the easy money against overmatched opponents, even his cameo in the heavyweight division was more of a calculated risk to enhance his legacy rather than a real attempt to make history, if that were his intention he would have taken on the best in the division like De La Hoya did when he challenged Hopkins. That would have meant getting in the ring with Lennox Lewis or Vitali Klitscko. I’m a huge Jones fan but it just seemed like he never wanted to be in a fight that he wasn’t 100 per cent sure he could win, he had so much talent but after beating James Toney in 1993 he never pushed for the fights he should have pushed for, the ones that would have truly challenged him. Bernard Hopkins is guilty of the same thing to an extent, I know all the great middleweight champions did the same but he has been feasting on smaller fighters for long enough, it’s time he left his comfort zone and tested his skills against bigger men. I’d love to see him in against Joe Calzage or Antonio Tarver, but it’s probably just wishful thinking on my part.

There is a trend in boxing at the moment where we’re seeing too many mismatches because very few fighters are willing to except a 50/50 fight and risk a loss if there is not enough of a reward and therefore opt for safer alternatives. At the end of the day boxing is a business so I can fully understand this way of thinking, high risk-low reward doesn’t make any sense especially in boxing where a fighter risks his life every time he steps in the ring. Part of the problem is that too much importance is placed on an undefeated record and for this the promoters are to blame. We’ve seen it so many times, pad a record to an unblemished 35-0, become a number one contender for one of the boxing organizations and land a title shot. Why risk your meal ticket by making dangerous fights along the way? We the fans sadly miss out because we’re not seeing the fights we should be seeing, it’s a shame.

When Oscar De La Hoya returns to the welterweight division I’m certain he won’t be ducking anybody and we will see the fights we want to see, he will be back at his natural weight and picking on fighters his own size for a change. Win, lose or draw he has always fought the best and will continue to do so, I think that deserves all of our respect.

Article posted on 03.02.2005

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