Greg Maddux has a pretty good argument as the greatest pitcher in baseball history. The right-hander from Las Vegas retired following the 2008 season. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014 and is now a volunteer pitching coach at UNLV.
Imagine that Maddux announced he is making a comeback, and doing it in the middle of the pennant race. And further, imagine he disparaged the hitters of today as not as good as the ones of his era.
And then it was announced that his first start would be against the Los Angeles Angels and center fielder Mike Trout.
That’s kind of where Hall of Fame boxer Oscar De La Hoya finds himself today, after telling ESPN’s Steve Kim that he plans to end his retirement and fight “any top guy out there,” at either 154 or 160 pounds.
That group would include one Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world according to Yahoo Sports and the biggest star in his Golden Boy Promotions stable.
In July, he discussed a potential comeback on Chris Mannix’s Sports Illustrated podcast. Asked about fighting Alvarez, De La Hoya was coy, but he notably did not rule it out.
It’s also worth noting that the two aren’t on good terms and rarely talk.
“I don’t know,” De La Hoya told Mannix, while laughing, about fighting Alvarez. “Canelo’s an amazing fighter. He’s the best, he’s a pound-for-pound champ. He hits like a mule. I don’t know. You’re throwing me in the fire here, but that’s a challenge that ... I never backed down from anybody, but we'll have to wait and see.”
Golden Boy president Eric Gomez said he doesn’t believe De La Hoya would fight Alvarez, and said he wouldn’t recommend it. But he noted that De La Hoya was answering a question honestly, saying he’d never ducked anyone in his legendary career.
Gomez, who was De La Hoya’s childhood friend and has been with him through the Olympic run and his epic pro career, isn’t in favor of De La Hoya fighting.
“You know how these guys are; their competitive fire never goes out,” Gomez said. “Playing golf doesn’t do it for him. It’s no different than why [Mike] Tyson wants to fight, why Roy Jones wants to fight. If you asked Sugar Ray Leonard, he’d probably tell you there are guys out there he thinks he can beat.
“I don’t want to see Oscar fight. He doesn’t need that. But he’s a grown man.”
De La Hoya has battled drug and alcohol addiction issues since retiring and twice checked himself into rehabilitation on weeks that Alvarez was preparing to fight.
De La Hoya was one of the best fighters of his time, but by the time 2008 rolled around, he was clearly shot. He won an uninspired victory over Steve Forbes, who had moved way up to face him, and then was brutally hammered by Manny Pacquiao in what until this point had been his final bout.
De La Hoya possesses one undeniable trait: Great courage. He fought all the best of his era, even when the odds were against him.
He fought seven men who are already in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, amassing a 5-4 record against them. He had wins over Julio Cesar Chavez (twice), Pernell Whitaker, Arturo Gatti and Hector Camacho and lost to Shane Mosley (twice), Felix Trinidad and Bernard Hopkins.
He lost a ballyhooed 2007 fight to Floyd Mayweather Jr., and that 2008 fight to Pacquiao. Both of them are surefire Hall of Famers. So if we include them, De La Hoya fought nine Hall of Famers and went 5-6 against them during a stellar pro career in which he was 39-6.
He can always say his only losses are to Hall of Fame fighters. That is a huge accomplishment, but no one with any credibility ever said De La Hoya wasn’t a great fighter.
He wasn’t a great fighter at the end, though. It’s important as we consider this comeback to remind the last we saw of him in the ring: Slump-shouldered on his stool after the eighth round, welts growing all over his face, with trainer Ignacio "Nacho" Beristain dabbing at him with a damp sponge while asking him if it were OK to stop the fight.
De La Hoya finally agreed and it appeared his career would end with that ill-advised fight.
Pacquiao used the fight with De La Hoya as a steppingstone to super-stardom. De La Hoya’s motivations weren’t quite as clear, though the eight-figure paycheck he received probably was a large part of why he accepted the bout.
Why he said yes is open to speculation, but it was a disastrous decision on many fronts. He was battered from pillar to post and faced the very real possibility of serious injury if the bout hadn’t been stopped.
This, sadly, is something of a rite of passage in boxing.
We take our biggest stars, usually our most beloved figures, and feed them to a young, talented boxer looking to make a name for himself.
Think of Joe Louis against Rocky Marciano in 1951. Think of Muhammad Ali against Larry Holmes in 1980. Or Sugar Ray Leonard against Terry Norris in 1981 or, yes, De La Hoya against Pacquiao in 2008.
The cycle, sadly, is playing out all over again. According to the ESPN report, De La Hoya attempted to defend the idea of the comeback. “Look, it’s been a long time, yes. But actually, my jab feels faster than ever. I have to make sure that my conditioning is perfect, my health is good. And that’s going to take place in the next few weeks. So we’ll see,” De La Hoya told Kim.
De La Hoya added he planned to fight at super welterweight and middleweight against “any top guy, any top guy out there,” which means guys like Jermell and Jermall Charlo, Gennadiy Golovkin, Erislandy Lara, Demetrius Andrade and, yes, Alvarez.
De La Hoya could not be reached for comment on his plans. A Golden Boy spokesman told Yahoo Sports, “Unfortunately, Oscar is not available at the moment.”
His most compelling comment to ESPN was one in which he took a not-too-subtle shot at the modern fighters.
“All these fighters are not of the level that was 15, 20 years [ago], all these fighters are demanding so much money, all these fighters are demanding the moon,” De La Hoya said. “And they’re forgetting that you must train hard, you must work hard. So that’s a huge advantage for me because I know what it takes to train hard, I know how to train smart. I know how to fight smart in the ring.
“These guys are in it just for the money — that’ll be the big difference. I will fight for the glory, and these guys only fight for the money. And guess what? The glory will always win.”
The most highly paid fighter in the group he said he is willing to fight happens to be Alvarez, far and away the biggest star of his stable. Alvarez still doesn’t have a date or an opponent for his fall fight, and part of that is because of the difficulty of paying him his $30 million-plus guarantee when there are no fans in the stands.
So could Golden Boy’s major fall fight be Alvarez against … De La Hoya? Well, it sure seems like the CEO isn’t ruling that out at the moment.
Hopefully, though, if that happens, an athletic commission will step up and do the right thing. If De La Hoya wants to come back, that’s his prerogative. But before he can fight anyone remotely close to Alvarez’s stature, he needs to prove against a vastly inferior opponent that he still has the ability to defend himself.
He’s lived a hard life. This isn’t Mayweather, who never touched a drop of alcohol or taken any illicit drugs, and has always stayed in shape. A comeback would be easier for Mayweather.
De La Hoya is a 47-year-old guy who has lived hard, partied hard and not fought for nearly 12 years.
He is about to put an extraordinary amount of pressure on an executive somewhere, most likely Andy Foster, the executive officer of the California State Athletic Commission, or Bob Bennett, the executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, by asking to fight an elite opponent.
De La Hoya was once elite, but that was 14 years ago. If he fights, he needs to be matched with an opponent that a boxer coming off a 12-year-layoff can compete against, not one of the best in the world.
That means no Alvarez, no Golovkin, no Charlo, no Lara, etc.
If one of those men or someone of their ilk turns out to be his opponent, this story could get dark in a hurry.
Let’s hope we never get near that point.
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