Count me among those pundits who think that we have not seen the last of Oscar De La Hoya in the squared circle. Until the day he turns 40, on Feb. 2, 2013, I believe there is a strong chance we will see Oscar give it one more go, in order to test himself one final time. After all, his final outing, to this day, was his Dec. 2008 showdown with Manny Pacquiao, a most unsatisfying career capper. Oscar got his tush handed to him by a smaller man, and went out on his stool, unable to soldier on past the eighth round.
But perhaps Oscar has flushed the itch for combat from his system for good, after engaging in a five round exhibition match with Shaquille O’Neal. On ABC TV on Tuesday evening, viewers saw the 5-10 ½, 159 1/2 -pound De La Hoya tangle with the 7-1, 325 pound Shaq on Shaq’s new show, Shaq Vs. and surprise surprise, the setup contained more violence than one could’ve had any right to expect. Sure, there was a bunch of pitty-patter and shoeshining going on, but Oscar actually ate one or two right hands that looked like they shook his molars a bit. After the bout, which took place at Planet Hollywood three weeks ago, Oscar teasingly brought up the subject of his retirement, and the possibility of a comeback: “Let’s say I decide to come out of retirement, I think every other fight will be easy. I felt that he was throwing punches with force, I felt that he has that stinging jab, and he’s such an athlete, incredible, I give him all the props in the world, he is the man.”
De La Hoya, age 36, used his speed and experience to gain a unanimous decision over Shaq, who appeared legitimately irked that he didn’t impress the judges enough to get the nod. I do believe Gale Van Hoy would’ve scored it for Shaq, five rounds to zip.
Shaq impressed me, though admittedly my expectations for his in-ring work were exceedingly low coming in. “He’s got that powerful jab,” Oscar said to cornerman Bernard Hopkins after the first. But the big fella, who has toiled in the NBA since 1992 and turned 37 in March, showed that if he decided to stick with the sweet science for a longer spell, he could perhaps call out Tye Fields, and give the 6-8 Montana native with a 42-2 record trouble for a round or two. His jab wasn’t completely abysmal, and it was apparent that he was a compliant student when his tutor Freddie Roach, who worked his corner, gave him lessons on the sweet science in the weeks leading up to the exhibition. The crowd ate up his Ali shuffle, and looked a trifle shocked when he had Oscar eating a few of his XL right hands. Shaq looked like he was blasting at 100% at times, while Oscar was tossing at less than three-quarters power for the most part. And I swear to God, Shaq beat Oscar to the punch two or three times over the course of the nine-minute event.
Should Cleveland Cavs fans be worried that Shaq has taken a bite of the poison apple, and will jump ship, and hop into the heavyweight title fray? No way, his skill level will not have anyone demanding he change his name to “Manny Shaquiao,” as he’s threatened. His footwork at times would have disqualified him from snagging a spot on “Dancing With the Stars,” let alone a tango with a Klitschko. And one imagines that his aversion to personal caloric deprivation would be a stern deterrent to a switch in sports, from the NBA where he can stockpile energy and play in spurts, to the ring, where he’d be pressed to expend maximum energy for much longer than he’s used to. “He’s breathing like a horse,” Hopkins told Oscar after the third round.
In sum, it was good to see boxing, even in this modified, Hollywoodified version, on primetime free television. There’s really no downside to having De La Hoya as a cheerleader and spokesman for the industry. His reputation, even after taking hits on the net and in the mainstream media for an extramarital dalliance in 2007, is positively flawless compared to some of the other industry cheerleaders, drivers and spokespersons, and who knows, maybe an executive liked what he or she saw on ABC, and we’ll be treated to a comeback we all want to see, boxing on free TV.