Oscar De La Hoya just can't seem to catch a break these days.
For a fighter who always had opponents lining up around the block to fight him, he can't manage to secure an opponent for his next, and theoretically final, fight.
The plan was initially to fight twice more, with the first bout against pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather in a rematch of their 2007 blockbuster. Though a sequel to their relatively non-violent first affair received only a tepid response from hardcore fans, it was sure to be another box office bonanza. At least until Mayweather decided to retire, leaving Plan A dead in the water for De La Hoya.
The De La Hoya braintrust regrouped, and instead of a two-fight farewell tour, Oscar would opt for a December swan song before applying for his AARP membership. The frontrunner seemed to be Miguel Cotto, provided he could get past Antonio Margarito.
So much for Plan B.
The question now is whether Antonio Margarito becomes the next man in line by default, after conquering Cotto. Even prior to the Cotto bout, Margarito's name was brought up by fans and writers as an intriguing match for De La Hoya. As recently as this past weekend, Bob Arum, Margarito's promoter, indicated that De La Hoya was not interested in a matchup with Margarito.
“If Margarito wins, Oscar won't fight him. He won't fight another Mexican in his last fight,” Arum commented to the Los Angeles Times prior to Saturday night's big fight.
Always aware of his public image, Arum acknowledged De La Hoya's reluctance to take on a fighter who will cause division within his fan base, especially in his final fight. It probably wouldn't be as bad as when De La Hoya twice defeated Julio Cesar Chavez, but it would be easy to see red-blooded Mexican fight fans would rally behind their countryman in Margarito, particularly since he embodies the qualities of the classic Mexican warrior.
The cynics will likely view this as a front, as smoke and mirrors to cloud the fact that De La Hoya is reluctant to fight the grueling war that is inevitable when facing Margarito. For his most recent fights, De La Hoya has chosen foes who would present tactical rather than physical warfare.
The last bout in which De La Hoya faced such a purely physical fight took place in 2002, when he faced Fernando Vargas. During significant stretches of the fight, Vargas mauled De La Hoya, forcing him against the ropes while scoring effectively before succumbing to De La Hoya's better technique late in the fight. How much of Vargas' success was due to his own ability rather than the performance enhancing substances for which he later tested positive is debatable, but De La Hoya was clearly uncomfortable with the rough and tumble tactics Vargas employed.
Fast-forward six years. Now at age 35, is De La Hoya still physically equipped to handle the relentless onslaught of a fighter like Margarito? Though Margarito is naturally smaller than Vargas, who was a big junior middleweight, the Tijuana Tornado is more of a pure brawler, which could potentially cause more problems for De La Hoya.
What makes the matchup even more interesting, and potentially even more marketable, is Margarito's well-known tenure as a former De La Hoya sparring partner. Recalling his time in the De La Hoya camp, Margarito hints that he may have been a little too fiery for the liking of De La Hoya's handlers: “On two different occasions, I made him bleed. Once from the nose, and the other time from the ear. Unfortunately, both times they sent me back down.”
Boxing insiders know that gym stories are to be taken with a grain of salt, but Margarito's showing against Cotto demonstrated that he would pose a very real threat to De La Hoya's heroic exit from the sport. Margarito also proved that he is the most relevant opponent for De La Hoya, a point he made made immediately after vanquishing Cotto.
“Oscar De La Hoya is one of the best. We can give Mexicans a true battle,” a tired but triumphant Margarito stated shortly after the biggest moment of his professional career.
Sounds like Margarito is on board.
Will Oscar De La Hoya, who has never been one to duck a challenge, be willing to take on one of the biggest challenges in the closing chapter of his storybook career? The stage has been set for the sport's greatest hero to make his departure in true Hollywood style. The question is, will he be willing to face a man in Antonio Margarito who has proven able to make extensive re-writes even to the most thoughtful scripts? A victory for De La Hoya would put an exclamation point on his Hall of Fame career, but a loss puts his legacy, not to mention his health, at risk.
Looks like The Golden Boy has a tough decision to make.