All professional sports are partly show business and in no sport is this truer than in prizefighting. A dash of grand spectacle has always been a large part of boxing’s appeal. There will always be something primal yet heroic about watching two men attempt to pound each other into unconsciousness.
Absurd speculation is a part of show business and so, too, must they be a part of the Sweet Science. So I suppose it should come as no surprise to anybody that Oscar De La Hoya, one of the great boxing attractions of the past 20 years, has been publicly floating the idea of a comeback.
Not surprising, maybe, but absurd nonetheless. The last time we saw The Golden Boy in a ring was seven years ago, when he was pounded like a drum by Manny Pacquiao and forced to quit on his stool.
In the years since, De La Hoya has made himself one of the most important promoters in the sport. Unlike so many other improbable comebacks from boxing history, this one would seem not to be driven by financial desperation.
The motivation in this case would seem to be purely pride. The pride of trying to return after a long exile to the pinnacle of the world’s toughest sport and the hubris to believe that maybe he can do it.
The thing is, I’d argue that pride and hubris are even more dangerous motivations than financial necessity. The fighter who is hungry for a payday can at least take a grimly honest look at himself in the mirror, accurately assessing the risks he faces.
The fighter driven by pride and hubris is looking at the situation through a distorted lens.
In his defense, De La Hoya does not appear to be an ex-fighter who has let himself go to seed. In an interview this week with ESPN’s Dan Rafael, he claimed he continues to train vigorously with road and bag work. I saw him in person last April and he certainly looked to be around a good fighting weight.
As potential opponents for a comeback fight, De La Hoya has mentioned two names: either a rematch with Floyd Mayweather or a showdown with the terror of the middleweight division, Gennady Golovkin.
For different reasons, I’d hate to see either fight made. De La Hoya’s first fight against Mayweather was one of the toughest bouts the pound-for-pound king has faced in the past decade. While I think it is absurd that one judge scored the fight for De La Hoya, he certainly applied pressure well and had his spots during the fight.
But I simply can’t see how De La Hoya, now nearly a decade older, is going to improve on his effort. It’s true that Mayweather is older, as well, but he’s remained active. And the difference between 38 (Mayweather’s age) and 42 is usually a lot more pronounced for an athlete than the difference between, say, 31 and 35.
As far as facing GGG, I simply don’t want to see that kind of potential slaughter. Golovkin is a dangerous puncher with an iron chin and I don’t think De La Hoya had the power to bother him greatly even in his prime. For De La Hoya, the allure is obvious. To come back after seven years (probably eight by the time he is ready to really return) and knock off the sport’s hottest fighter at 40-something would be one of the greatest achievements in the history of the sport.
It’s a great show business story.
The problem is, show business ends and reality begins the moment both men climb into the ring. De La Hoya is a Hall of Famer and achieved more than enough in his career to be remembered as a legend. As a powerful promoter, he still has the potential to achieve much more that will benefit the sport, without risking his long-term health against a monster like Triple G.