LAS VEGAS, May 17 – I do not wish to emulate some colleagues and act as a career counselor to boxers, giving advice on who to fight or when to retire. I have long learned it is none of my business to tell someone when he’s had enough, and this is not simply because turnaround is fair play. But I do have sane reasons why, if I may be permitted a little joke, the Chicken shouldn’t cross the road into retirement. Oscar de la Hoya, whom I wrongheadedly called “Chicken” because his again banished promoter, Bob Arum, wouldn’t make him give a rematch against the game’s best, Pernell Whitaker, should continue fighting, and specifically against the current best, Floyd Mayweather Jr.

One of the silliest arguments made by these colleagues – note, I do not refer to them as peers – is that there is some kind of perfect ending to a boxing career, Bogart and Claude Rains walking off into the mist at the beginning of the friendship. De la Hoya, some argue, would be wise to finish with the memory of his domination of Ricardo Mayorga. They accept his specious argument that he couldn’t end with the vision of him crawling on the canvas after being dropped by Bernard Hopkins.

The perfect ending for a boxing career is almost any kind of ending before the fighter is brain-damaged. The final image is of little concern to history. No one remembers Muhammad Ali for his efforts against Trevor Berbick or Joe Louis for being knocked out of the ring by Rocky Marciano. They do remember the sadly diminished lives they led after boxing.

In a perfect world, they would all retire right now, even Mayweather. Roy Jones Jr. and/or Evander Holyfield should not be fighting, especially on pay-per-view. But in a perfect world, bright-eyed youngsters wouldn’t be living in ghettos feeling that boxing was one of the few ways out. In a perfect world, the blood lust of the boxing fan would need not be satiated by someone taking concussive blows to the head.

Alas, the last time I looked at what I consider the microcosm of boxing, the world is not perfect and thus my libertine nature permits me to enjoy a good scrap as much as the next ghoul. Part of the thrill is that the fighter is indeed taking great risks. Without those risks, though, they would receive little credit for their courage and determination. Without those risks, their skills would not be recompensed as well as they are, especially in de la Hoya’s case. He has earned more money than any non-heavyweight in history.

Agreed, that does not mean he “owes” boxing the kind of big event that could cover up a season of black eyes. He owes the game nothing, even if he has taken out more than anyone could possibly give back.

But the more I think of it, the more I love the very idea of Oscar going out with the biggest bang in history. And that’s what a Mayweather fight would be. If de la Hoya can make close to 900,000 pay-per-view sales with Mayorga as his partner, he would probably do at least double that with an opponent who, on paper, figures to be too young, too slick, too fast.

It would be Oscar daring the fates one final time, trying to go out with the biggest bang possible. A few years ago, when Mayweather first suggested this match, everyone laughed, said the Pretty Boy was much too small. The pendulum has swung the other way; now the Golden Boy is too old, too slow.

Kevin Iole of the Las Vegas Review-Journal checked out a local bookmaker who told him Mayweather would be open about a 2-1 favorite. I think the odds would lower somewhat, despite the “smart” money that would be on Mayweather. De la Hoya as an underdog would be rather tempting, especially to his many fans, especially if it were held on Sept. 16, around Mexican Independence Day – tons of de la Hoya money would be coming to town.

It is a fight that would capture the public imagination to the degree that baseball’s pennant races and the young football seasons, college and pro, could be overwhelmed. How many matchups can you envision landing both fighters as guests on Oprah? It has a crossover appeal beyond any other possible boxing match. Forget de la Hoya and old faded Felix Trinidad Jr. or the suddenly not so attractive Ricky Hatton.

Only a fight where de la Hoya, saving the best for last, attempts to beat the unbeatable, would inject boxing with its biggest dose of class since the 1980’s when Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Marvelous Marvin Hagler were having their wonderful round-robin.

It is youth vs. age, the possible passing of the torch, and more. Yes, the specter of the best father-son storyline since Orestes murdered his mother (Clytemnestra) because she ordered a hit on his father (Agamemnon) will of course add to the intrigue. If mourning becomes Elektra (sister of Orestes, who helped her brother avenge their father), having Mayweather’s father train de la Hoya – even if he sits out the fight – will add reams of publicity.

It would regenerate the game and give de la Hoya’s promotional company, Golden Boy, a leg up on a boxing future that would suddenly seem a lot brighter. There’s nothing like a big fight and there’s no bigger fight than a competitive match of boxing’s biggest star against boxing’s best practitioner with a side course of family feud.

If de la Hoya thinks it is beyond his capabilities, of course, he should demur. But I am hoping that he is intrigued by what he can do for his legacy on his way out. Yes, he could lose, but I don’t see him crawling around the canvas. Mayweather is no middleweight, hell, he’s probably not even a welterweight.

And while Golden Boy is milking its cash cow one final time, maybe Bob Arum and Don King could get together with, say, Antonio Margarito vs. Luis Collazo.

TAKING A HIT: Ricky Hatton, who vaulted into everyone’s top ten following his domination last year of Kostya Tszyu, has to be reevaluated after a rather spotty performance moving up seven pounds to challenge Luis Collazo. He won, on my TV card, against an opponent who was very underrated. Hatton did not choose one of the cupcakes he had been fed for years in England, but chose to face a clever and tough southpaw. There was a time last Saturday night in Boston, mid-fight, where it seemed Hatton was so frustrated by the counterpunching Collazo that he seemed almost ready to head back to Manchester.

Give him credit for being tough and hanging in there. Okay, he beat Collazo, but suddenly it doesn’t seem very wise to put him in with other welterweights. I think Arturo Gatti has a chance at beating him. Hatton wisely acknowledged that when he immediately started talking about going back to 140 and awaiting the winner of the third Jose Luis Castillo-Diego (Chico) Corrales match. He mentioned them by name. He very wisely did not mention Floyd Mayweather Jr…..

PENTHOUSE: Emanuel Steward, who is not only having a terrific year training but is becoming the wisest voice on HBO, noted that Hatton was very off-balance when made to miss. Collazo would then hit him with two and three-punch combinations. Mayweather might land eight blows.

The telecast opened with the tape of the de la Hoya-Mayorga bloodbath where the Kronkmeister said that there were amateurs who would beat up the Nicaraguan clod.

In any case, Hatton would not be my choice against either Castillo or Corrales, Miguel Cotto and maybe not Carlos Baldomir. But I think he would get inside Antonio Margarito’s wise punches and put enough pressure on the Tijuana native to do damage – that is, if the Hitman remembers to hit and not hold….Let’s also make some room in here for Collazo, who after being decked in the opening 12 seconds by a left hook set up by a right hand pushing down on his neck, came back to look very much a capable fighter. I would not argue with anyone who had him by a point or two, it was a close fight.

OUTHOUSE: Jim Lampley’s a nice guy, so he doesn’t go in here. However, his orgasmic call of de la Hoya’s victory over Mayorga does….Me, for writing that Floyd Patterson lost his title to Ingemar Johansson at the old Polo Grounds in New York. That’s where he regained it. He lost it at Yankee Stadium, just across the Harlem River.

ANOTHER LIVE ONE: Like Luis Collazo, Rocky Juarez is a live 3-1 underdog this weekend on the HBO show from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. But the 4-1 favorite is nothing less than one of the greatest Mexican fighters in history, Marco Antonio Barrera, so it is not advised to try and get rich just because the young Texan will be trying his darndest.

This is not simply an “appearance” fight for Barrera. Juarez, especially if allowed to set a pace that would be uncomfortable for the now 32-year-old “Baby-Faced Assassin,” is dangerous. But he is also rather predictable, which makes him vulnerable to good boxers. He was lucky to escape with a decision over Zahir Raheem in 2004 and last year suffered his first loss when outworked by Humberto Soto.

Juarez can punch with either hand and perhaps moving up to 130 pounds from 126 will make him stronger. Barrera cannot coast and he cannot languish on the ropes and counterpunch. He will have to use those old legs.

Except for his loss to Manny Pacquiao in 2003, Barrera has performed well enough to rate No. 4 in my pound-for-pound ratings. He had lots of excuses for that loss, none better than the fact he was facing my No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter, a two-fisted terror who remembered that night to throw his right hand. Barrera was also going through emotional problems. He had split with his longtime corner, which then revealed that the fighter has a metal plate in his head, the result of an ancient operation.

Barrera was subjected to having his head examined more than once and then it was almost taken off by the Filipino fury. But he rebounded from that loss to have perhaps his best fight of the three against Erik Morales and has added a 130-pound title or two to his collection.

Barrera is almost always fun to watch. Juarez will make him fight. This is the kind of entertainment boxing at its best can bring. But it is also too risky to bet, one way or another.