Oscar De La Hoya is definitely not from the never-explain-never-complain camp. The poor guy is forever apologizing for his defeats, apologizing for his apologies and then, when things start going better again, apologizing for his comeback. That he's equally confused in victory and defeat is what makes him interesting and, even in the face of so much whining, bearable.
Plus, he usually delivers the goods, at least to a point. He handily beat Javier Castillejo last Saturday at the MGM Grand to win me WBC super welterweight crown and, at 28, become the youngest fighter to have won five world titles. This victory ought to have cheered him substantially, especially because he has been trying to re-create himself after jarring losses in his two biggest bouts. However, De La Hoya, who never met a performance he couldn't explain away, said he probably would have done a lot better in his first try at the 154-pound division if he had calibrated his energy correctly.
"Something wasn't there," said De La Hoya, trying to explain why he hadn't won every round. (Each of the three judges scored the fight 119-108.) "Maybe my energy, the fact that I came in [the ring] at 156, only two pounds over. Maybe that's not enough. Maybe I'm not eating right. It's something we have to work on."
Then, probably preempting questions about his lack of a knockout punch in the higher weight class, he blamed Castillejo for not motivating him to raise his game to its formerly concussive grade. "He's not a fast fighter," De La Hoya said of the Madrid native, who was largely unknown because he'd fought almost all his fights in Spain. "So that does not elevate my performance."
You almost felt bad for him, watching him try to restore his confidence in front of you. He hadn't exactly been devastating, but he had surely been dominating. What's more, in only his second fight since losing a welterweight decision to Shane Mosley in June 2000, he had to have been encouraged by the number of combinations he landed on the bigger Castillejo, finally sending him to the canvas with seconds left in the bout. Whereas De La Hoya had let a victory get away in another welterweight showdown by running for the final four rounds in a September 1999 bout against Felix Trinidad, here he let it all out. He pounded the 9-to-1 underdog right to the end, reminding his fans that he was once a fierce finisher.
None of that, not even his residual drawing power—despite those defeats, he remains reliable enough as a pay-per-view attraction to have earned $5 million for this rather unremarkable bout—can satisfy him. He knows that the only way to restore his Golden Boy patina is by avenging those losses and that he'd done nothing in Saturday's one-sided decision to suggest that he could.
"I have to fight those guys again," he said last week, referring to Trinidad and Mosley, the two boxers who ingloriously interrupted one of the richest careers in ring history. "I don't think I can stop boxing until I [do]."
Trinidad, who is scheduled to fight Bernard Hopkins this fall to unify the 160-pound division, seems further than ever from De La Hoya's reach now. De La Hoya keeps saying that he has the speed to beat Trinidad, whom he calls robotic, but at the same time admits that a sixth leap in weight would be risky. (Remember, De La Hoya started professionally at 130 pounds.) "For me to fight at 160, that's a big step, a big chance," he said. "It would be very uncomfortable."
Maybe if he'd rattled Castillejo more than he had, a De La Hoya-Trinidad match would be more intriguing. Castillejo admitted that De La Hoya was much faster than he'd expected, but when you looked at him afterward, the Spaniard didn't seem the worse for the wear. As for Mosley, De La Hoya would most likely have to drop back to welterweight to make the fight, and in any case Mosley is the one fighter (even more so than Trinidad) who seems to have De La Hoya's number.
While waiting for those increasingly unlikely fights to materialize, De La Hoya attempts to persuade himself that if this or that had gone a little bit better, he'd be the invincible boxer he once was. It's no secret that excuses come naturally to him, but they are usually so outlandish that you don't see them as an ugly bitterness. After the Trinidad fiasco (a fight many think he won, even after he turned overcautious), he blamed his aides, firing longtime trainer Roberto Alcazar and replacing him with Floyd Mayweather Sr. Following the Mosley decision, he blamed a bad oyster. He even found time to blame his promoter, Bob Arum, who'd marketed him pretty well.