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Oscar's Fairytale Tarnished?

BY John Nguyen ON April 29, 2008
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Once upon a time, there was a handsome prince who entered the boxing kingdom.  His smile, his charm, and, most importantly, his fists were impossible to ignore.  Everywhere he went, his opponents fell, ladies swooned, and soon the kingdom appeared to be his.

But, alas, just as he was sitting on top of the world, something peculiar occurred.  The handsome young prince, lured by the riches presented to someone in his position, began to lust after the wealth he had tasted.  Failing to see it was the love of the people that was the true source of his fame, the prince saw his most loyal subjects fall away as he chased the temptations of fortune.

Sound like somebody familiar?

As his upcoming fight with Steve Forbes approaches, Oscar De La Hoya finds himself in a situation that, as a shrewd business man, he typically avoids:  a no-win situation.  In the first fight of a three-bout swan song, De La Hoya claims his bout with Forbes is no tune-up, but rather a fight to help him get his timing back and sharpen up, one would think in preparation for his already negotiated September rematch with Floyd Mayweather.

Forgive me, but that sounds like the very definition of a tune-up.

Still, De La Hoya’s choice of Forbes, (33-5, 9 KO), as an opponent seemed strange to me from the beginning.  While Forbes certainly brings a respectable reputation, being a former 130-pound world champion, he does not bring with him the big-time appeal or recognition as being a force at welterweight, where this bout will be contested.  If he did, this wouldn’t appear to be the Stevie vs. Goliath matchup to which this fight is shaping up.  That HBO spent the production dollars to create Countdown to De La Hoya – Forbes seems laughable; you can dress up liver and onions all you want, but nobody's going to mistake it for steak and potatoes.

This won’t be the first time The Golden Boy, (38-5, 30 KO), has fought against seemingly overmatched opposition.  In the past he has feasted on foes such as mandatory “challenger” David Kamau, hopeless Frenchman Patrick Charpentier, and an extremely undersized Arturo Gatti.  However, these bouts were more forgivable than the forthcoming Forbes fight.

Against both Kamau and Charpentier, both physically legitimate welterweights, De La Hoya was fulfilling mandatory defenses, and these bouts interrupted a string of fights against the likes of Miguel Angel Gonzales, Pernell Whitaker, Hector Camacho, and Julio Cesar Chavez.  It would be fair to say that Oscar deserved a break.  In the case of Gatti, while it seemed clear from the beginning that the Jersey brawler had no real chance, the styles made for a compelling and interesting action fight.

Neither of these can be said for the fight against Forbes.  Stevie Forbes brings no welterweight résumé to speak of, aside from his second-place finish on the reality television series The Contender.  He doesn’t bring a style that could make for anything resembling an eye-pleasing fight.  He doesn’t even bring an alphabet-soup trinket to the table.  Forbes, then, carries none of the usual excuses that Oscar could use to justify his selection.

The ring-rust excuse doesn’t work for this either.  Coming off a 20-month layoff following his KO loss to Bernard Hopkins, De La Hoya faced the far more dangerous Ricardo Mayorga.  After a 12-month hiatus following that fight, Oscar returned to battle pound-for-pound king Mayweather.  Thus, this would be an awfully strange time for De La Hoya to concern himself with shaking off the rust from an extended vacation.

And lastly, if preparing himself for Floyd Mayweather, the most skillful fighter on the planet, why would Oscar pick a fighter like Forbes, who is neither as strong, fast, or slick as Floyd?  Why not pick a world-class, second tier fighter like Luis Collazo or Zab Judah?

The answer is that, at this point of his career, De La Hoya is most interested in reward without risk.  Call it the spoils of being the most celebrated fighter in the game, or call it simply being spoiled, the ugly truth is that Oscar could fight Reverend Wright and still pull down seven figures for his troubles.  That’s a nice perk, and something few fighters in the history of the sport have been able to do, but exploiting this is not the sort of thing lasting legacies are built upon.

This criticism seems strange considering it is in reference to De La Hoya, a fighter who, at the beginning of his career, seemed consumed with the idea of securing his place in Canastota as quickly as possible.  By age 27, he had fought sixteen current or former world champions as well as four future Hall of Famers.  His fights were dictated largely by public opinion instead of politics and finance.  More recently, though, it seems as though building his personal empire via Golden Boy Promotions has superseded any lingering aspirations for true greatness.

If all this criticism for De La Hoya seems harsh for choosing one hand-picked opponent, consider what this is all building up to:  a lukewarm rematch against Floyd Mayweather, to whom De La Hoya lost an underwhelming decision in a massively overhyped fight.  Any boxing fans who were clamoring for a rematch were likely drowned out by the multitude who wanted their pay-per-view dollars back after witnessing a glorified slapfest.  

Sure, the argument could be made that Oscar wants Floyd for the sake of revenge, as well as for the honor of being the first man to blemish the Pretty Boy’s flawless record.  That’s certainly part of it; De La Hoya is a competitor after all, and defeat will never sit well with him.  Let’s not kid ourselves, though.  If Oscar was seething for payback so badly, why was he so disinterested in pursuing a rematch in the immediate wake of the first go-round with Floyd?  

So why fight Mayweather, particularly if the boxing hardcore doesn’t want it?  There are lots of reasons, and they all look remarkably similar to Benjamin Franklin.  Oscar’s crossover appeal will sell tickets, to the casual fan if not the serious one.  Even with a sharp drop in pay-per-view buys (which will be inevitable), the names De La Hoya and Mayweather, side-by-side, will always make money even if the actual boxers make for a horrible fight.  Another plus for Oscar is that he stands to garner a huge paycheck without placing himself in a particularly rough fight, as opposed to fighting someone like Miguel Cotto or Antonio Margarito.  Either of those fights would bring big business, but would also mean a grueling night’s work for Oscar.

It doesn’t seem as though passion or pride are dictating De La Hoya’s decision making, but it does appear that his entrepreneurial mindset is.  Every move seems like a calculated move by the entire Golden Boy Promotions braintrust, beckoning the motto immortalized in the movie Office Space:  “Is this good for the company?”  The bad news is that business sense and fighting sense don’t always intersect.

More to the point of May 3:  Why is De La Hoya fighting Steve Forbes?  Because he can.  And because he can get away with it.  It also doesn’t hurt that it’s for an HBO audience, an effort to spike the PPV sales of his September fight with Mayweather, an investment on a later return, if you will.  De La Hoya – Forbes is simply business as usual.

This is no shot at Forbes; he’s a nice guy, and he’s got the opportunity of a lifetime in front of him.  He will be earning the biggest paycheck of his career, and if he actually wins, this whole discussion will be rendered moot.  He’d be a fool not to take this fight.

I know.  I hear it already…

But wait, John, didn’t you just chastise Oscar for doing the same thing?  Isn’t there a double standard here?

Please allow me answer that:  Yes, there is a double standard.  Oscar is held to a higher standard.  He isn’t fighting for his kid’s college fund or to pay off his house; Oscar is fighting for his legacy.  Barring extremely unforeseen circumstances, Steve Forbes will never vie for a spot in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, so the objective of his career is far different than De La Hoya’s.  The mission for Forbes will be accomplished on Saturday night regardless of what happens; the same, though, cannot be said for De La Hoya.

However, Forbes stands to be the only winner on Saturday night.  It certainly won’t be the fans.  Even if Oscar’s arm is raised in victory, as will likely be the case, what will he have accomplished?  Other than having a 39 in his win column, not a whole lot.

It’s all terribly ironic, because Oscar was once the game’s savior in its darkest hour.  Now, when boxing is as healthy as it’s been in a years, The Golden Boy is bringing to light what tarnishes the sport.

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