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Oscar De La Hoya, poses for photos on the red carpet before the premiere of "33," at AFI FEST 2015 in Hollywood.
Oscar De La Hoya, poses for photos on the red carpet before the premiere of "33," at AFI FEST 2015 in Hollywood. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The air that went out of boxing's balloon six months ago is slowly being pumped back in. The Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. bust may have knocked boxing down, but it didn't take a 10 count.

That is, if Oscar De La Hoya has a say.

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Uncharacteristically, the always smiling, usually noncontroversial Golden Boy recently fired a shot across the bow of the sport. He said that a key part of the recent past was a fraud, that there was a future for boxing and that it has a chance to be rosy.

Of course, this can be seen as the usual agenda of a person who makes his living on the betterment of boxing. De La Hoya, as president of Golden Boy Promotions, does exactly that. But his outburst was more than promoter's hype.

First, in a letter to Playboy magazine scheduled to appear in the December issue, De La Hoya pulled no punches about his feelings for the now-retired Mayweather, and what the unbeaten Mayweather did to the sport.

Some samples:

• "I wish you a fond farewell. Truth be told, I'm not unhappy to see you retire. Neither are a lot of boxing fans. Scratch that. MOST boxing fans. The fight game will be a better one without you."

• You'll be remembered as the guy who made the most money. As for your fights, we've already forgotten them."

De La Hoya said he didn't mind spending the $100 for the pay-per-view telecast of the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, which Mayweather won in a decision and which delivered much less than it promised. De La Hoya said it was something he used when his children were having trouble falling asleep.

Timothy Bradley Jr.'s victory bolsters the chance to fight Manny Pacquiao again; Brandon Rios retires after his loss to Bradley.

"They never get past the third round," he said.

There are several ways to look at this, including a display of sour grapes by a fighter who lost to Mayweather and Pacquiao. Or, as a creative way to get people's attention in advance of Saturday's Saul "Canelo" Alvarez-Miguel Cotto fight in Las Vegas. Golden Boy is Alvarez's promoter.

But there is a sense that De La Hoya's public shot at Mayweather was more complicated than that, that he was symbolically establishing himself and his promotion company as boxing's Moses, leading his sport through the Red Sea. He said he saw the Mayweather era as harmful, that the much-bragged-about 49-0 record was achieved with a long series of mind-numbing and fan-disappointing defensive ring dances.

The biggest punch ever landed on Mayweather might just be De La Hoya's written uppercut in Playboy.

"You made a career out of being cautious," De La Hoya said of Mayweather, the presumption being that great boxers throw caution to the wind.

In a recent interview, De La Hoya said his mantra had always been "the best taking on the best." He ended his Hall of Fame career with several losses, but said he had no regrets.

"I lost. It's OK," he said. "I fought everybody."

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The obvious implication was that Mayweather did not, or did not fight the best when they were at their best. De La Hoya said that his star fighter, Alvarez, was a prime example.

"Canelo fought Mayweather when he was too young, only 21," De La Hoya said. "I was against having that fight then."

De La Hoya has 79 fighters under Golden Boy contracts. The company has been running about 50 promotions a year, many of them with unheralded young fighters in front of small audiences in Mexico.

He calls it "showcasing the next generation."

Alvarez is far from unheralded, and the audience that his fight with Cotto will draw at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, as well as a pay-per-view audience, will be far from small.

That fight also will be crucial to setting the stage for any post-Pacquiao-Mayweather boxing revival.

Cotto is a veteran and very capable of winning. Alvarez will be favored, and is a superstar in waiting, a red-headed Mexican with a huge following. Neither will play defense nor try to dance to a victory on points, which is what De La Hoya accused Mayweather of doing while boring a generation of fight fans.

A Cotto victory muddies the waters a bit, because the best the sport can do then to drum up future excitement is probably an Alvarez-Cotto rematch. If Alvarez wins, there is a big-money, big-fan-interest match to be made immediately against the current best fighter in the world, Gennady Golovkin. Like Alvarez, he is a middleweight.

"Triple G [Golovkin] is on the verge of crossing over into mainstream star status," De La Hoya said.

Many fight fans would say he already has.

De La Hoya, appearing to be more engaged in his promotion business than ever before, said that he and Top Rank Promotions boss Bob Arum are getting along fine and that he is hoping to work with any and all promoters to make sure the "best are taking on the best."

The exception to working with "any and all" would be Al Haymon and his considerable stable of fighters. Haymon and De La Hoya are involved in a complicated antitrust lawsuit that centers on the departure of Golden Boy's former chief executive Richard Schaefer and accusations of Haymon stealing boxers from Golden Boy.

Haymon's most prominent fighter was Mayweather. The battle lines are clear.

What remains unclear is whether, after the tremendous letdown boxing gave the public with Pacquiao-Mayweather, a heart still beats in the sport.

Now, no less than a Golden Boy is pounding on its chest.

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