2007-08: The Fall of De La Hoya
Oscar De La Hoya won a memorable Olympic gold medal in 1992 in Barcelona, fulfilling the dying wish of his beloved mother, Cecilia, who passed away in 1990 from breast cancer. His journey to the gold was heavily covered by American media, and De La Hoya was easy to like. A handsome, Mexican-American fighter from East Los Angeles, he had a natural charm and charisma that many took to, and he was heavily hyped and promoted by Bob Arum’s Top Rank when he turned pro in November 1992.
By 2006, De La Hoya had been boxing’s biggest attraction for several years. Losses never seemed to derail him much, as he would simply come back and fight again. But an attempt to win the middleweight championship in 2004 proved truly out of his reach. He first struggled in a highly disputed win over Felix Sturm in June 2004, and then three months later was viciously knocked out by Bernard Hopkins. He didn’t fight again until May 2006, when he returned to reclaim his throne as the king of pay-per-view with a victory over Ricardo Mayorga, a trash-talking Nicaraguan bad guy who wasn’t much of a boxer, but could brawl and sell a fight with his words.
A sixth round knockout win set up De La Hoya to face pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather on Cinco de Mayo in 2007. The fight demolished records for gate in Nevada and pay-per-view, both in terms of number of buys and revenue, beating the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight from 2002.
Mayweather, who had long been considered one of the best fighters in the sport, had never been a star attraction. But that changed when he created a "Money Mayweather" character on the first run of HBO’s "24/7" series in build-up to the fight. He became the ultimate villain for De La Hoya. And then he beat him. A superstar was born.
When a rematch fell through and Mayweather announced a retirement from the sport in 2008, HBO analyst Larry Merchant floated a crazy idea to match De La Hoya against Manny Pacquiao, a rising star who had gone from flyweight (112 lbs) all the way to lightweight, winning world titles at 112, 122, 130, and 135.
Pacquiao, billed at 5’6", was a full four inches shorter than De La Hoya, who had been fighting for years as a welterweight and junior middleweight (154 lbs). Many in and around the fight game expected a massacre of Pacquiao, who was jumping up to 147, the division De La Hoya was returning to after many years at 154. Oscar was expected to be too big and strong for Manny, a "little guy" who had just one fight in his career above 130 pounds.
It was a massacre, alright, but it was Pacquiao delivering the beating, as he used his speed, his clever angles, and his accuracy to dart in and out, lacing De La Hoya with punches that a seemingly drained Oscar could no longer see coming. With De La Hoya’s face being beaten to a pulp, he quit after eight rounds, having won none of them.
De La Hoya’s time was over. He officially retired in April 2009, and has not fought since. He’d made one superstar in Mayweather, and then that one left the sport. Another swooped in. That was Pacquiao.