“Freddie, you are right. I don’t have it anymore,” Oscar De La Hoya conceded to Freddie Roach inside the ring twelve years ago. Moments before, “The Dream Match” between the “Golden Boy” and Manny Pacquiao had turned into an excruciating nightmare for the favoured, bigger man.
The welterweight contest was labelled as the Filipino’s biggest test to date. “Pac-Man” had won world titles at 112, 122, 126, 130 and 135 pounds before leaping up two divisions to 147, and many felt this was a huge mismatch in favour of Oscar, a six-weight world champion. De La Hoya was looking to re-build following the fifth defeat of his career to Floyd Mayweather 18 months prior, and was climbing back down from 154.
It was indeed a mismatch, but with the shoe firmly on the other foot. A one-sided beat-down unfolded at the MGM Grand as Pacquiao dominated De La Hoya over eight gruelling rounds, with the Californian looking every minute of his 35 years.
Pacquiao’s thudding, relentless lefts blemished his infamous good looks with the spirit of De La Hoya seen leaving the arena in a puff of smoke. He froze for a majority of the fight, unable to pull the trigger, as predicted by his former trainer Freddie Roach. He ended the evening in hospital as a precaution, retiring early the following April.
Now, over a decade later, De La Hoya has joined the list of retired stars that are claiming a desire to return to work inside the ring.
“I actually want to see what Tyson does first,” De La Hoya said, doubling down on his desire to fight again. “I have been working out, I have been training, I have been staying in shape. I’m obviously not in fighting shape yet, to go 12 rounds, but I’m sure that I can get there. We’ll see.”
The boxing public has feasted on boxing nostalgia for the past three months. In the absence of live action, YouTube, articles, books and magazines have become our void-filling saviour, scratching the itch we have inevitably suffered during the hiatus.
Stars of the 20s, 40s, 60s, 80s (you name them) have twinkled again, receiving unrivalled attention at the click of a button or turn of a page. Lockdown measures across the globe offset any guilt we might have previously felt for burrowing down a rabbit hole of fifteen back-to-back Mike Tyson fights.
Now, having taken our once favourite toys back out of the box, dusted them off and given them a taste of former affection, their reluctance to climb back in is abundant.
De La Hoya isn’t alone. Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Bernard Hopkins and Lennox Lewis have all hinted — some heavier than others — at a potential return sometime soon, all receiving the desired by-product of training videos and throwaway comments going “viral,” with the help of lazy clickbait journalism doing a high-percentage of their heavy lifting.
Is the desire really there? Or are these just crumbs being left on a path they know that can no longer walk down?
“You take a look at my last fight, with Pacquiao,” De La Hoya added. “I fought at 160 and came all the way back down to 147 to try and beat a Pacquiao who was just coming up, who was faster than hell, right? And I couldn’t pull the trigger, because I overtrained. My muscles were so lean. I was a walking zombie when I stepped into the ring. I still have reflexes; I still go to the gym every so often. I can still beat anybody I step in the ring with.”
Oscar is trying to convince himself that he has what it takes to return, not you or me. “I want to see Tyson perform, see how his reflexes are, see if he can go past three, four rounds, and then I’ll make my decision,” he concluded, slightly stepping away from his original idea. He’s testing the waters, but when he looks himself in the mirror, he’ll inevitably come to the sensible, correct conclusion.
Father Time waits for no man. It’s a boxing cliché that is repeated and repeated, but one that is essential to drum home. Your Tysons and De La Hoyas may return to exhibition bouts, but any real moves to return to the professional sport they once dominated will fizzle out once they are nudged in the direction of what really happened on those nights against Kevin McBride and Manny Pacquiao. No camera-facing hyperbole. No instant gratification of a Twitter post. No peacockery. No bullshit.
With boxing returning, we’ll continue to search for the stars of tomorrow. As fans, and those working in the media, we are just as responsible for putting our old toys back, making sure they don’t suffer unnecessary damage in the future.
When the next ”Wow! 53-year-old Mike Tyson is back and in better shape than EVER before!” video drops on Twitter, just chalk it up for what is it: nostalgia banging on the inside of our re-sealed box.