'Golden Boy' Oscar De La Hoya quits boxing

April 15, 2009 6:14:34 AM PDT
Oscar De La Hoya knew it was time to retire after Manny Pacquiao pummeled him into submission in December. Still, he wavered another four months before persuading himself to let go. [SPORTS BLOG: Get the latest news from the Eyewitness Sports team]

De La Hoya ended a 16-year career in which he won 10 world titles in six divisions and became boxing's most popular fighter.

"These four months have been very difficult for me," the 36-year-old native of East Los Angeles told hundreds of fans gathered Tuesday at an outdoor plaza across from Staples Center.

"This decision was based on making sure, first of all, that I do not disappoint anyone when I step inside the ring, that I don't disappoint myself, and I make sure that I can watch my kids grow up."

De La Hoya was thoroughly beaten by Pacquiao in his last fight, his fourth loss in his last seven bouts. He had not defeated a formidable opponent since Fernando Vargas in 2002. Age and diminished skills led to losses in recent years to Felix Trinidad, Shane Mosley, Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather Jr.

He won his last title in May 2006, beating Ricardo Mayorga in six rounds for the WBC 154-pound belt. He finished with a record of 39-6 and 30 knockouts.

"This is the love of my life, boxing is my passion, boxing is what I was born to do," De La Hoya said. "When I can't do it anymore, when I can't compete at the highest level, it's not fair. It's not fair to me, it's not fair to the fans, it's not fair to nobody."

De La Hoya said he didn't want to let down his fans or himself by attempting another fight.

"Now I understand why athletes have such a tough time retiring from something that you feel so passionate about, from your sport that you're always thinking you can try one more time," he said.

Known as "The Golden Boy," De La Hoya transcended his sport, using his bilingual skills to generate crossover appeal among Latinos and whites. He was especially popular among women, who filled his news conferences and fights while screaming their approval of the boxer blessed with a magnetic smile and movie-star looks.

Unlike many fighters, De La Hoya walks away with his mind and his face intact. He credited his wife Millie Corretjer and business partner Richard Schaefer in helping him "realize what life is all about."

"Even this morning, I said, `Are you sure?' and he said, `Yes, I am ready,"' said Corretjer, a Puerto Rican singer. "I knew after that fight in December, but it took him four more months to make his decision."

De La Hoya announced his retirement across the street from a 7-foot bronze statue of himself.

Although the second half of his career wasn't as successful, De La Hoya was a champ at the ticket window. His bouts were guaranteed pay-per-view successes, and he was a cash cow for HBO, which broadcast 32 of his fights -- most of any boxer -- and generated millions in profits for the cable network.

De La Hoya's last title bout was in May 2007, when he lost to Mayweather for the WBC 154-pound title in Las Vegas, the site of most of his bouts.

De La Hoya kept a serious expression during his announcement, his voice breaking only when he thanked his father, Joel, who sat on the stage with the boxer's wife.

"I remember the times when he would take me to the gym and never gave up on me," De La Hoya said. "We've lived some tough moments inside the ring, we've been through everything, but my father was always there for me. Thank you for pushing me as hard as you can."

De La Hoya began boxing at age 5, following in the path of his grandfather and father. He won an Olympic gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Games, delivering on a promise to his late mother, Cecilia, who died of breast cancer two years earlier. It was the performance that launched his pro career after he was 223-5 with 163 knockouts during his amateur days.

"Many of us remember watching him during the Olympics, feeling the pride and seeing one of our sons accomplish everything he did," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. "This wasn't a young man that was born with a silver spoon. He struggled and fought for everything he had. This entire city is proud of what you've done."

De La Hoya will stay involved in the sport as a promoter with his successful Golden Boy Promotions company. He had been juggling the roles of boxer and promoter in the last few years, preparing for his eventual retirement.

His varied business interests include ownership stakes in the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer and the sugar substitute Equal. He has dabbled in singing and hosted a reality boxing show. He has five children by four different women, including two with Corretjer, whom he married in 2001.

De La Hoya began his pro career against Lamar Williams on Nov. 23, 1992, at the Forum in nearby Inglewood, winning with a first-round knockout while fighting at 133 pounds. When he lost to Pacquiao in Las Vegas on Dec. 6, De La Hoya fought at 147.

His last victory came against Steve Forbes on May 3, 2008, in Los Angeles, where he won in 12 rounds weighing in at 150. "I am very happy for Oscar and his family," Pacquiao said in a statement. "I think he made the correct decision. Fighters of my generation owe him a great debt. I wish him nothing but the best."

De La Hoya has donated money to fund a cancer hospital wing named for his late mother in East Los Angeles and a charter high school downtown that bears his name.

"Now I'm looking forward to the future of boxing, looking forward to working with the school, the hospital and continuing to be the best I can be outside the ring," he said. "There's a legacy I can leave outside the ring and that to me is just as important as everything I've accomplished inside the ring."

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