Since I'm still awake from last night as I developed a God awful sinus headache that will still not go away five hours later, I've watched last night's Manny Pacquiao destruction of Oscar de la Hoya three more times. It never changes. It's amazing to behold.
And, of course, thinking about boxing makes me want to talk about boxing, so let's talk some boxing, and in particular, Oscar de la Hoya's legacy.
What IS his legacy?
ESPN gets props for giving the fight some airtime this week, and Teddy Atlas has featured heavily as an in-studio analyst. Teddy loves to pick the underdogs, and he's got a pretty crappy prediction record, too. But this time he was right, and it's one of the things he said that keeps sticking in my head: "Oscar will find a way to lose this fight, like he's lost all his other big fights."
Is that a bit harsh? It probably is. Teddy, frankly, seemed to hate Oscar this week. When all was said and done, he remarked how good it is for boxing that Oscar is likely to now step aside and let others take over the top ranks of the sport. He's right in some ways, but if anyone thinks someone is about to step right in and fill the money void Oscar will leave, they're crazy.
Oscar transcended boxing and became a mainstream celebrity. It doesn't happen a whole lot these days. If you put pretty much any guy in the top ten pound-for-pound into the Mall of America, how many people do you think will recognize him? Joe Calzaghe might not get a single glance. Ivan Calderon might be mistaken for someone's child, and I mean that with no disrespect.
There are still stars, yes, and even a couple superstars. Manny Pacquiao is a superstar, Ricky Hatton is a superstar. That's why those two will fight next, unless the other superstar -- Floyd Mayweather, Jr. -- decides he wants a piece of this new action.
Still, we all know the money. We know why Oscar has all the intangibles that make him a slam dunk case for the Hall of Fame, even though he was hardly a flawless fighter. What about the in-ring, though?
In other words, how good was Oscar de la Hoya? Really.
When Oscar turned pro in 1992, he was fresh off of his Olympic Gold Medal from the '92 Games in Barcelona. Outside of the U.S. basketball's ridiculous Dream Team, he was the biggest American story of the Olympics. Oscar's pro debut came on November 23, 1992, at the famed Great Western Forum of Inglewood.
Four months later, in his fifth pro fight, Oscar was facing Jeff Mayweather, a decent fighter with a 23-2-2 record. You don't see that a whole lot in a guy's fifth fight these days. Victor Ortiz is 25 fights in and has only recently gotten around to that sort of competition. Daniel Jacobs is 13 in and is still smashing bums, as if he's got anything more to learn from beating the crap out of guys like Victor Lares.
The "handle with care" philosophy has its positives, but fighters don't get to rise fast the way they used to in most cases. Andre Ward was an Olympic star, and he's five years into his pro career with a whole 16 fights to his credit.
When Oscar was 11 fights in, he took on Denmark's Jimmy Bredahl for the WBO junior lightweight title, and he kicked his ass. Two fights later, he got rid of tough Mexican Jorge Paez in two rounds, winning a lightweight title. John Avila, John John Molina, Rafael Ruelas -- they all fell to the young de la Hoya. These were good fighters.
Genaro Hernandez suffered his first loss at the hands of Oscar in 1995, retiring after six rounds. Hernandez's only other career loss came to Money Mayweather, who never lost to anybody he fought. Jesse James Leija was another '95 victim.
When he fought Julio Cesar Chavez in 1996, Chavez was 34 years old and had a history of wars that probably made him feel older. Oscar, perhaps in an attempt to become the new idol of the Mexican fight fans, took him on and destroyed him. It never sat well with a lot of Mexican fans, and neither did their 1998 rematch, when Oscar beat him again.
Between the two Chavez fights, he took the undefeated record of Miguel Angel Gonzalez, beat Hall of Famer Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker, dumped David Kamau in two rounds, stomped Hector "Macho" Camacho over 12 rounds, and knocked out Wilfredo Rivera.
This is the period of Oscar's career that most interests me, because these days, you'd almost think he didn't do all of these things. You just read the name of some great fighters. Whitaker made the Hall of Fame in 2007. Chavez will as soon as he hits the ballot. There is real substance to the guys Oscar was beating in the 1990s.
A split decision win over Ike "Bazooka" Quartey preceded an 11th round TKO of Oba Carr. Both fights led to his epic showdown with Felix Trinidad. It was Mexico-Puerto Rico for a new generation, even if the Mexican fans maybe didn't love Oscar the way he wanted them to.
It's no use going into the story at length. We all know the fight. We know Tito Trinidad won. We know Oscar ran around the ring and didn't fight in the later rounds, feeling he was so comfortably ahead that there was no use in mixing it up with the powerful, surely KO-seeking Trinidad.
That fight, that one night in Oscar de la Hoya's career, changed everything. If there is one thing that any red-blood boxing fan hates to see, it's a guy that isn't fighting. Not everyone has to be a brawler, but Oscar tried to run away from Trinidad in that fight. There is no other way to put it. He gambled the wrong way, and he lost. He was never the same after loss No. 1.
He came into the Trinidad fight at 31-0. If his career is truly over after last night's beating, he finished it 8-6. So let's examine the eight wins.
Derell Coley was the first to go, knocked out in the seventh round. Arturo Gatti took a whomping from Oscar. After that he went up to 154 pounds and dealt with Javier Castillejo, then had a legitimate grudge match with Fernando Vargas. The Vargas fight, I still say, may have been Oscar's shining moment. It is no doubt amoung his proudest. He shut the loud-mouthed Vargas up with an 11th round stoppage in a close, competitive fight.
Yori Boy Campas fell next, and then Oscar took his still-debated middleweight title win over Felix Sturm. After taking almost two full years off, another big talker was silenced when Oscar nearly decapitated Ricardo Mayorga in 2006. And earlier this year he beat Steve Forbes.
Not bad. Lots of good fighters there, too. But none great.
The six losses?
We talked about Trinidad. Shane Mosley beat him in 2000 and again in 2003, a couple of very hot fights that I think are still a bit underrated. The bigger Bernard Hopkins knocked him out in 2004. Floyd Mayweather outpointed in him '07. And last night, Manny Pacquiao sent him packing.
Every guy on that list is going to the Hall of Fame. He gave the fight away to Trinidad. He lost tight to Shane on two occasions. Hopkins was too big and strong, eventually just walking through Oscar's punches and laying waste to his liver with one perfect shot. Mayweather was too skilled. Pacquiao was too...everything.
Some of Oscar's best wins came what feels like a lifetime ago. Surely, it's hard to compare any fighter at 35 with himself in his mid-20s. Did Oscar ever really become the fighter he could have been, as he bounced from trainer to trainer to trainer over his career, notorious for throwing them under the bus when things didn't work out as planned? Did he ever find an identity as a fighter?
Were his later years too wrapped up in the business end of Golden Boy Promotions, truly making him a part-time fighter?
The questions are relevant, but I'm not sure how significant the answers to them are. I don't think he ever became the great fighter he could have been, and that lack of identity, of defining who Oscar de la Hoya was in the ring, is a big part of that, in my view. And of course he was very big on the business side of the game in the last few years. He redefined American boxing promotion with his company. What was an audacious idea doomed to fail became what is today one of the two companies that rule the roost in American boxing.
I don't think it's fair to say that Oscar lost all his big fights, because he won a lot of big fights before he was Moneybags de la Hoya. Back when he was "just a fighter."
But you cannot deny that when faced with elite fighters in the last 14 fights of his career, he lost every single time. He went 0-6 against Pacquiao, Trinidad, Mosley, Mayweather and Hopkins. And these are guys that came in all shapes and sizes. Pacquiao was coming up to 147 after one fight at 135 pounds. Mosley skipped 140 and went to 147 to fight Oscar. Hopkins was a middleweight, for God's sake, who later went on to win the light heavyweight championship of the world. Mayweather was a once-in-a-generation slickster that bounced through weight classes with the greatest of ease. Only Trinidad was really "the same size" as Oscar.
We talk about it a lot, and so does everyone else, but now that it looks like we've come to the end, I think it's time to really reflect on that mark. What does it really mean? How much weight does it have when considering Oscar the fighter in an all-time manner? Does it deserve to totally overshadow the great young fighter he was?
And it leads to another thing that's been said a million times. Oscar went 0-6 against those guys because he fought them. He fought them all in their primes. In between losing to the elite fighters, he beat some good fighters, usually convincingly, and kept his name out there for another of the sport's top tier to come calling.
Sometimes when he lost, he was indignant (Trinidad). Other times, he simply felt he'd won (Mosley, Mayweather). And then there were the times he couldn't deny (Hopkins, Pacquiao).
Through it all -- all the name-calling thrown at him by the less socially adept parts of the boxing audience, all the trash talk from the fighters, all the guys that were going to get rid of him, all the guys that were happy to be there fighting him -- Oscar de la Hoya was a constant for boxing in the last 16 years. He sold every fight he was in to the best of his ability. He is responsible for the biggest PPV fight in history. He is the biggest attraction in the sport's history, period, outside of the heavyweight division.
Another thing I've often said is that love him, hate him, or anywhere in between (I'm somewhere in between), I cannot imagine the state boxing would be in today without Oscar de la Hoya. He was a genuine phenomenon in boxing marketing, an A-plus salesman, and a damn good fighter at the least. Oscar was the beacon of light in a pretty dark time for the sport in terms of business, and in terms of public perception. He was the star of stars for his generation.
His real legacy is more about everything he did for the sport, and almost all of it was good. But it's hard to ignore his polarizing personality and the way that many diehards just never warmed to the guy. There's more to that than a shrug of the shoulders, too.
I'm no psychologist, and I can't tell you why Oscar ever did anything. "Money" is the obvious answer, but I think there was always more to it than that. Reducing it to simple greenbacks isn't giving Oscar enough credit.
One more thing I've said plenty of times before: we'll miss him when he's gone, particularly from a business standpoint. I know we all want to see great fights, but great fights that don't sell past the hardcore fans aren't going to be seen by too many people. It's not economically viable for TV networks if people don't watch.
And it's not going to be easy to find the next Oscar de la Hoya.