Tuesday, December 9, 2008

It's so hard to say goodbye

The golden boy just could not do it. He could not retire with a win. Oscar De La Hoya, born in East L.A. 35 years ago to a family of fighters, decided a Golden Gloves belt was not enough. A national championship was not enough. His 1992 Barcelona Olympic gold medal was not enough.

Last weekend’s De La Hoya – Pacquiao fight was a strong argument for “quitting at the top of one’s game.” You’d think Ali’s career (two losses at the end by age 39), or Joe Louis’ career before him (losing to Marciano at age 37) settled the question. Pacquiao dominated for eight rounds, and the fight was stopped. "I don't have it any more," Oscar confessed.

Even with a 39 and 6 professional record (30 by KO), and winning more money than any fighter before him, we will sadly remember only his last fight. I pray that was his last fight. After winning and defending his title 20 times (in four weight classes), he’s split his last eight bouts. The bloom is off the golden boy.

Surely you've heard some overdone brawler utter, “Hey, I’m a fighter. That’s what I do. I fight.”

But Oscar De La Hoya is not just a fighter. He’s got movie star good looks, a promotions company, a community development firm, part of a soccer team, publishing concerns, endorsements, video game covers, an autobiography, three ex-wives, one current wife, and five children.

The 5’-10” De La Hoya will soon stand seven feet tall in bronze outside the Staples Center in L.A. (next to Magic Johnson and Wayne Gretzky). To quote James Bond, “the world is not enough.”

We can only hope his Golden Boy empire is part of the solution for the beleaguered and beat up boxing game. Then Oscar can make his trips to the bank with the same nobility he once carried in the ring.

Esquire.com posted Bill Zehme’s remarkable 2002 profile of Johnny Carson’s retirement. Like most things Carson did, his exit from television and the spotlight was nearly flawless. Steve Martin tried to get Carson to appear during Martin’s hosting of the Oscars in 2001. Carson declined. “That's his very Midwestern morality and humility."

Retirement is not rightly the aim of a man’s life. After service for a number of years, in one trade or profession, a man ought to make a transition. If his labor was mundane, his hobby should be nearly perfected. A man needs to hone a craft. He ought to look for apprentices. In the interest of training others to go further, reach deeper, and take the practice to the “next level,” a man should do less and teach more.

There is a premium on the hard-won wisdom of a man. A gold watch says “thanks.” A protégé says “take that!”