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Boxing's golden cow goes out to pasture

Boxing's golden cow goes out to pasture

It's hard to think of Oscar De La Hoya's retirement in anything but business terms, because he became more of a businessman than an athlete so long ago.

Maybe that's not fair. De La Hoya seemed to train hard for his recent fights against Bernard Hopkins, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. He just didn't have the skill to threaten those all-time greats. He was good enough to handle lesser competition with relative ease and could have continued making millions for such fights. So maybe he's a great sportsman after all, one who refuses to continue if he can't compete at the highest level.

But what De La Hoya had really become was his sport's greatest draw, the only fighter who could automatically attract 1 milion pay-per-view buys and make a fight seem like the biggest sporting event of a given weekend. For a long time, he was the sport's only mainstream star of the post-Tyson era, the only boxer you could reference to casual sports fans without fear of drawing blank looks.

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I love boxing and thus, I love fighters such as Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. But your average Ravens fan has probably never seen those guys fight. They're little men from foreign countries, competing in a niche sport that appeals most fervently to immigrant populations.

I was never a huge De La Hoya fan. There was something weirdly plastic about his smiling face. His repeated embrace of new trainers felt like an aging hippie's quest for the next secret-of-the-universe guru. He fought a lot of great opponents but always seemed to pull back at the moments when he could have authored indelible performances. A Hall-of-Famer? No doubt, but more Don Drysdale than Sandy Koufax.

I have to wonder, though, if his passing represents the passing of a time when I can talk boxing with the casual sports fan. That would be sad.

If Mayweather comes back, the sport will get a bump. Especially if he fights Pacquiao, an affable fellow with blinding handspeed who holds demi-god status in the Phillipines. Actually, Manny's fight with British hero Ricky Hatton will probably do pretty good numbers in a few weeks.

But I can't see any of those match-ups creating Mayweather-De La Hoya buzz. Unless something changes, we might not see another from Oscar's starry line.

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