A (hopeful) farewell to Oscar de la Hoya the fighter

There is no question in my mind -- and I mean no question -- that Oscar de la Hoya should retire. That he's finished. That it's over.

Manny Pacquiao is an enormous talent who continues to get better and better, as hard as it is to believe. Last night, he proved that a great little man absolutely can beat a good bigger man. And not just beat him, but annihiliate him. Punish him. Make him quit.

Oscar de la Hoya must face facts. And it appears he is doing so. Having been so utterly manhandled by Pacquiao, HBO analyst Larry Merchant reported to having heard the following exchange just after the fight, as he was attempting to get interviews with the fighters:

Pacquiao: "You're still my idol."

de la Hoya: "No, now you're mine."

ESPN's Dan Rafael reports that Oscar and Freddie Roach embraced after the fight, and Oscar said, "Freddie, you're right. I don't have it anymore."

But a fighter will often change his mind, as we all know. Former Oscar rival Tito Trinidad retired after getting pounded by Bernard Hopkins and fighting once more in Puerto Rico, and he came back. He retired again after being embarrassed by Winky Wright. He came back. He shouldn't have. Roy Jones creamed him this past January. The list, of course, could go on and on.

Think it can't happen to Oscar? Think he's got too much money, too many business ventures, or too much pride or common sense? Ask yourself a few questions: Did you ever think you'd see a beaten shell of the man Evander Holyfield once was fighting a 7-foot giant in a sideshow attraction, which is just a couple weeks from really, truly happening? Did you think Tommy Hearns would be lacing 'em up at 48, as he did a couple years ago? Did you think Sugar Ray Leonard would ever come back from the 1991 beating he took from Terry Norris?

Boxing is a unique sport, and its athletes unique human beings. The competitive drive in baseball can be quelled when enough guys throw enough fastballs past you, or enough of your fastballs are sent onto the nearest interstate. In team sports or even sports like tennis, people stop giving you money to play when you can't do it anymore.

Someone, somewhere, will always pay a guy to fight.

The genuine hope, of course, is that Oscar is too smart, does have too many viable opportunities outside the ring, and won't fight on. Because he was horrible last night. He was like a breathing punching bag for Pacquiao, who ripped him repeatedly from the first round on. Only a couple of times could Oscar find Manny and hit him. Manny turned him, made him look every bit like a 35-year old, part-time fighter, and shut him down completely. Oscar de la Hoya was no match for Manny Pacquiao.

He grew frustrated. And he grew frustrated because he knew he couldn't do anything to stop Pacquiao. In some ways, it had to have frightened Oscar. Pacquiao's speed played tricks with Oscar's mind as much as it did his body. Because Oscar's a good fighter, and has been for a long time. He had to have had the thoughts of what to do right, it's just that they kept coming too late.

How scary must that be? And at what point do you think it fully hit him that there was no way out of this? That he couldn't beat Pacquiao, couldn't touch him. That Pacquiao was giving him the worst beating of his 16-year career, which saw him rise to the top of the sport and two or three times lap everyone at the box office?

In the seventh round, I remarked during the round-by-round that had this been any other fight, I think there is no question the referee would have stopped it, or the fighter's corner would have thrown the towel in. Pacquiao obliterated Oscar in that round. If you watch it back, you'll see Pacquiao get Oscar on the ropes, fire on him, and then step away from him. He did this repeatedly. Oscar had chances to very easily get off the ropes. But he stood there, frozen in time, overwhelmed and terrified. Pacquiao would come back at him and unload some more.

Oscar did not throw punches back. He did nothing but absorb punishment. He was trapped in a bubble of fear -- fear that it was all coming to an end. That he couldn't beat this guy. That it was over, and there was no coming back from this one.

He'd lost before. He lost to Trinidad, to Mosley twice, to Mayweather and to Hopkins. All great fighters, and in all the fights, he was competitive. Only the bigger Hopkins ever stopped him, on a perfect body blow. This wasn't competitive. This was Manny Pacquiao, four inchers shorter than the Golden Boy, beating the living hell out of him for eight rounds. Beating him so badly that Nacho Beristain, training Oscar for the first time, wasn't letting his fighter go back out there and take any more punishment. Had he let Oscar go back, referee Tony Weeks was making it very clear that the end was near unless things changed drastically.

Oscar didn't argue. He let the fight be called, stood up, and offered his congratulations to Pacquiao. He was classy in defeat. He made no excuses (though we often say this before the barrage of excuses comes).

Now it's time for him to stay classy, and to close the door on his boxing career. There is not a single fight I want to see Oscar de la Hoya in at this point, and I think that speaks for the majority of boxing fans. He did a lot of great things for the sport as an active fighter. He has no more left to give us. The well is dry.

It's closing time, Oscar. Thanks for the memories.

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