No one put it quite this way, but you get the feeling that the old guard boxing culture understands that with Oscar De La Hoya’s retirement — and this time it would appear to be for real — that an era has come to an end. Boxing will continue to be a major sport in the U.S., but increasingly it will be a Latino sport, patronized and written about by Latinos. De La Hoya was the last great hope for a crossover star, and as an attraction his appeal was unmatched in his own time: 19 Pay Per View bouts totalling $696.4 million in box office receipts. There isn’t a single fighter — there isn’t even a combination of fighters, aside from the train wreck of Mike Tyson’s late career — who has approached Oscar’s appeal over the last 17 years, since he won a Gold Medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
It’s unfortunate that boxing writers, like the Daily News‘ Tim Smith, have never been able to come to terms with how good Oscar De La Hoya really was as a fighter.
In previous boxing eras, a career record of 39-6 (with 30 KOs) and titles in six different weight divisions would be sufficient proof of greatness. Many still harp on De La Hoya’s losses in big fights, though, particularly his 1999 bout with Felix Trinidad and his 2003 rematch with Shane Mosley. But it ought to be remembered that a great many boxing writers, myself among them, feel that De La Hoya not only won those two fights, but won them by substantial margins. Anyone who wants to rehash a bit of boxing history can check out what I wrote then.
However, the larger question of the crossover appeal of Latino sports heroes remains unanswered. While De La Hoya was a huge favorite on PPV, his own popularity among fans in his native California was always questioned. As the Sacramento Bee‘s Paul Gutierrez wrote in 2006, De La Hoya was regarded by many Mexican-American fans as “Too rich, too good looking … He doesn’t speak with enough of an accent. They [Mexican American fans] are indignant when he waves the Mexican flag.” As Gutierrez told me in a phone interview, “Oscar had a lot of fans who saw him as a symbol of how far a Latin star could go in American culture. But unfortunately there were a lot of people who reminded me of George Lopez’s remark that for every Latino who climbs out of the garbage can there are five trying to pull him back in.”
One thing’s for certain: until someone comes along to replace him, boxing in the U.S. is officially marginal.