Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Oscar: No Slouch

Sometimes pulverizing. Often mesmerizing. Always polarizing.

The greatest star and most transcendent boxer of his generation has hung up his gloves for the last time. Oscar De La Hoya, 36, tearfully announced his retirement in a press conference on April 14.

I wanted to do a list but hoped to steer clear of the cliche (best fights, greatest moments, etc.), so I've decided to go another route:

The Top 5 What Ifs...? of Oscar De La Hoya's Career

1. What if De La Hoya hadn't fought and bloodily battered a past-his-prime Julio Cesar Chavez? Twice? Would Mexican fight fans be more receptive to him than they have been?

2. What if De La Hoya, a natural lefty, fought in a southpaw stance throughout his career? How many of his close bouts would have gone the other way?

3. What if De La Hoya looked like the lovechild of Nicolay Valuev and Art Binkowski? Who would then carry the torch to garner casual female fans?

4. What if De La Hoya was a bratty braggadocio a la Floyd Mayweather Jr? Or stone-cold and standoffish like a young Roberto Duran? Or, do I dare compare, as unpredictably volatile as Kid Dynamite himself, Mike Tyson?

5. What if De La Hoya was apathetic to the the business dealings and well-being of boxing? Who would take his place?

The Golden Boy has many detractors -- whether they are jealous of his movie-star handsomeness, annoyed that he sometimes faded down the stretch in fights or maybe mad he captured their girlfriends' imaginations -- but these people fail to see how important De La Hoya is to the sport.

His promotional company, Golden Boy, houses some of the most exciting young talent in the game. Possible future stars Victor Ortiz and James Kirkland (more on him later) are included in the stable. Future Hall of Famers Bernard Hopkins, Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez are also on the roster.

De La Hoya bought The Ring Magazine, saving it from the seemingly inevitable demise of tangible publications. He associated The Ring with Yahoo! Sports, broadening the online audience and drastically improving the appearance, content and navigation of the site. Those who say they can't keep track of the many titlists in the sport need to look no further than this site, which follows the lineage of the championships as the magazine always has.

This is no eulogy. De La Hoya will be a mainstay in boxing for decades to come. Sure, his fans will miss seeing him lace up the leather and flinging crushing left hooks, but it was the right time to walk away. He was never meant to be a gatekeeper. He could probably float in the top 10 at junior middleweight for a few more years, but he's too small for middleweight and proved welterweight was physically draining.

He has retained his wits, faculties and looks. Why risk any of those when all his focus will now be on business? He has the opportunity to be Ali-esque in his influence. A goodbye is hardly necessary, but his in-the-ring exploits and entrepreneurism deserve to be commended.

Thank you for everything so far, Oscar. Here's to years to come.

Mandingo caged: James Kirkland, a 154-pound knockout artist, was arrested on charges of possession of a firearm by a felon on Sunday. An exciting junior middleweight prospec
t trained by former women's champion Ann Wolfe, Kirkland is scheduled to face Michael Walker on the May 2 undercard of the Ricky Hatton-Manny Pacquiao junior welterweight championship bout.

If I were Kirkland, I would sit and ponder my situation while things cool down. Wolfe may be the scariest individual in the sport. Don't believe it? Catch this month's episode of HBO's "Real Sports." You might not want to do it alone.

Playing catch-up: I've recently been slacking in my updates. Thanks to those who poked and prodded until I had the time. There have been plenty of great fights that went unmentioned on this blog. Here are some brief blurbs of the action from April 4, 11 and 17.

Rolando Reyes KO5 Julio Diaz: Reyes had no chance in a four-round bout. Problem was, nobody told Diaz it was scheduled for 10.

Vincente Escobedo UD12 Carlos Hernandez: Veteran lightweight Hernandez was floored in the first and second rounds by identical right hands and battled to a lose a close unanimous decision. Wonderful fight.

Michael Katsidis KO8 Jesus Chavez: To witness Chavez quit was closing the book on his boxing career. Katsidis doesn't know how to be boring.

Edwin Valero KO2 Antonio Pitalua: Somebody wake Pitalua up, please. Valero has won all 25 of his bouts by knockout.

Librado Andrade UD12 Vitali Tsypko: This is what you get when you pit two battle-tested, iron-willed guys against each other. Andrade deserves a rematch with Lucian Bute.

Timothy Bradley UD12 Kendall Holt: Bookended by peeling himself off the canvas in the first and nearly being disposed of in the twelfth, Bradley showed resolve by winning nearly every round from the second to eleventh.

Chris Arreola KO4 Jameel McCline: Though "Big Time" McCline has cleary run out of time, this was a solid win for the Nightmare, who KO'd a guy who had previously never been stopped.

Paul Williams UD12 Winky Wright: Wright's courage was commendable, but there might not have been anyone in the world who could have beaten the Punisher that night. Actually, there may not be anyone in the world who can add a second blemish on Williams' record. Impressive win.

Yuriorkis Gamboa KO10 Jose Rojas: Note to Gamboa: Though it's a trinket and doesn't matter much, the WBA strap you won is Chris John's. Still, the flashy Cuban continues his ascent from prospect to contender.

The Sweet Science has had a huge first three and a half months. Let's hope the momentum continues to build.