Oscar De La Hoya And Boxing's Lack Of Support For Retiring Fighters

'The Golden Boy' is one of many victims of boxing's ruthlessness
08:03, 23 Jul 2023

The great six-weight world champion Oscar De La Hoya has admitted to drinking during his preparations for his 2008 fight with Manny Pacquiao. ‘Golden Boy’ told Entertainment Tonight that he “decided it’s over for me” during his training camp for the bout, which would indeed be his final fight in a professional ring. 

De La Hoya is the subject of an upcoming HBO documentary entitled The Golden Boy, which chronicles his career and what the fighter went through once he retired. The Olympic gold medalist has faced substance abuse issues and public scandals over leaked photos of him wearing women’s clothing. It is all a far cry from De La Hoya’s public image during his career. The baby-faced boxer was a beloved, wholesome role model as he went up through the weights collecting title belts. But now that image is tarnished by what followed.


De La Hoya was always seen as one of boxing’s few sensible people. He had prepared for a career out of the squared circle. Oscar established Golden Boy Promotions, which quickly grew into one of the best stables in the world. One of the biggest non-heavyweight pay-per-view draws of all-time, it was thought his financial situation was secure. Even the Pacquiao fight, while one too many, seemed like a fair place to bow out without the context of his alcoholism.

We now know that beneath the all-American success story there was a dark underbelly. De La Hoya even tried to stage the dreaded comeback in 2020, before a bout of COVID-19 spared us and him a bout with UFC legend Vitor Belfort. 

If a fighter as successful as De La Hoya can be a victim of the long, dark years that await after boxing, what hope does anyone else have? Boxing is still a sport that consistently fails its athletes after they retire.

Roy Jones Jr is another of the 1990’s very best fighters who can’t let go. The former middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight champion should be renowned as one of the all-time greats. If he had retired after capturing the latter title in 2003, he would have done so as a 34-year-old phenom who had just made history.


But the near-perfect 48-1 record he had after beating John Ruiz for the WBA heavyweight strap has since eroded to a 66-10 ledger. Men who would not have been worthy of a place at Roy’s table in his prime have now beaten him. The latest, Anthony Pettis, is a former UFC fighter who had never had a professional boxing match before outpointing Roy in April. At the age of 54, Jones Jr just can’t seem to call it quits.

Boxing can be an odious sport at times. There will always be someone willing to throw money at a veteran for one more go-round. Precious few avoid the siren call of dollars and cents. Lennox Lewis and Joe Calzaghe, the British greats, have both managed to leave when the going was good. But for every fighter like that iconic pair there are dozens who couldn’t leave well enough alone. Evander Holyfied, who took De La Hoya’s shellacking for him against Vitor Belfort. Rocky Marciano might have retired with a perfect 49-0 record, but one of those victories was a brutal battering of Joe Louis, who should have retired many years before. Ricky Hatton took a hammering from Vyacheslav Senchenko, a fighter he would have scorched in his mid-2000s heyday. 

So what can the sweet science do to protect its proponents? Not everyone can become trainers or pundits after all. The work needs to start while fighters are still active. Financial management, mental health support and substance abuse counselling should be provided for fighters by the boxing authorities. At local board level right up to the big four sanctioning bodies, there needs to be a collective effort to provide help for boxers. No other sport has the capacity for catastrophic injury. No other athletes put their bodies through so much. There is a human cost to that and it's time that the people pocketing the money pay up. Fighters from De La Hoya and Jones Jr down to small hall journeymen are being let down.

Athletes across sport find it hard to leave the stage when the spotlight is switched off. Mental health issues are rife when you’re asking people to swap being a hero to millions for a life away from the buzz of the crowd. Add in the physical trauma boxing can bring and it is a devastating cocktail. It is time the sport took responsibility for its veterans. Whether it is Joe Louis having to work as a casino greeter to make ends meet or Evander Holyfield taking televised beatings in his sixties, too many of our legends have been failed by the system. We need a new system, before another icon of the ring has to go down a dark path.

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