(Editor’s note: This column originally published at Boxing Junkie, part of the USA TODAY Network.)
Oscar De La Hoya was rarely a sincere person during his fighting days. I always thought he said what he believed others wanted to hear or simply followed his whims. The truth wasn’t always important.
For example, at the height of his popularity in the 1990s, dozens of cameramen would line up during media events and wait their turns to interview the superstar. He would go from one to the next to the next until, to his credit, all were satisfied.
One time I followed him, listening to each interview. And I was surprised to discover that he often gave completely different answers to the exact same questions. Again, the truth didn’t matter.
That’s why I roll my eyes when I hear him say that he plans to return to the ring at 47 years old. I’ll believe it when I see it.
And he said his intention is to fight what he called “a top guy” at 154 or 160 pounds, not a fellow geezer in an exhibition, a la Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. A top guy? Can you imagine De La Hoya, out of the ring since Manny Pacquiao retired him in 2008, tangling with Jermell Charlo? Gennady Golovkin? Or (holding back laughter) Canelo Alvarez?
I never thought of De La Hoya as a genius, but he isn’t stupid. Trust me: He isn’t going to fight anyone near the ability of the champions mentioned above.
De La Hoya suffered a vicious beating to both his body and dignity against the smaller but prime Pacquiao, who stopped him in eight rounds. He wouldn’t risk enduring that kind of humiliation again, which is one reason he “retired” shortly after that fight.
He recently seemed to blame drastic weight loss for the setback. However, he made it clear when he announced his retirement early in 2009 that he just didn’t have it any longer. He was right.
Fighters have ways of tricking themselves into believing they can do things they really can’t. Still, I find it hard to believe that De La Hoya, as knowledgeable about boxing as anyone, really thinks he can fight at the highest level as he approaches 50.
Maybe this is all about getting attention. He always liked that.
Maybe it’s a way of marketing himself and his company, Golden Boy Promotions.
Maybe he genuinely has the itch to fight again. He wouldn’t be the first retiree to contract that disease.
And maybe he will actually take part in some kind of fight. He has more or less committed himself to a comeback, although he can always claim he suffered an injury in training or something like that and reverse course.
If he goes through with it, the question is: With whom will he exchange punches?
We’ve ruled out the top 154 and 160 pounders. I think we can say the same for any of the contenders, who would eat him alive. He knows it. And it would make no sense to fight just any fringe contender because an obscure opponent wouldn’t stir the masses.
That leaves someone who is nearing the end of his career or recently retired. Forget Amir Khan. Too fast. Sergio Martinez? The 45-year-old Argentine recently returned after a six-year hiatus. Possibly.
Or it could be a gimmicky opponent. The first one to come to mind? Conor McGregor, who I suspect De La Hoya has targeted from the beginning.
The former UFC two-division champion, who announced his own retirement earlier this year to skepticism, is the perfect foil for De La Hoya if he’s serious about boxing again. The “fight” would generate a fortune, which might really be what this is about. De La Hoya could be competitive. McGregor, 32 is a great mixed martial artist but a mediocre boxer, as he demonstrated against Floyd Mayweather.
And the hype has already begun. De La Hoya was asked on a CBS podcast in May how a fight with McGregor might go. He responded: “Two rounds. Oh come on, brother. Two rounds. One thing about me is I went for the kill, always.
“Look, Conor McGregor … I love him in the Octagon, I respect him, I watch him all the time. But the boxing ring is a whole different story, it’s a whole different story.”
McGregor responded on Twitter: “I accept your challenge.”