So why did the Chicken cross the road? Sorry, it is with some whimsical despair that I must retire the Chicken jokes now that Oscar de la Hoya has retired as a boxer.
It was fun while it lasted.
He was no Chicken, especially in the ring. He may not have been a great fighter, just a very, very, very good one, whose charisma gave him the responsibility for an entire sport. But I owe it to his legion of fans, of which I was one, to explain the derivation of "Chicken de la Hoya."
The yegg came first. Bob Arum, then Oscar’s over-protective promoter, had cautiously kept the Golden Boy Olympic champion away from tough opponents, filling his dance card with faded stars and limited youngsters. Even the first of the myriad of titles were achieved against second-raters like Jimmi Bredahl, a beyond-the-hill Jorge Paez and a whiff of what used to be Julio Cesar Chavez.
It wasn’t until the no-longer-primetime-but-still-darned-good Pernell Whitaker that Arum and his brilliant mismatchmaker Bruce Trampler let Oscar out. And when de la Hoya escaped with the decision, he immediately said he would gladly grant a rematch. Arum went berserk.
"Who wants to see that crap again?" said the promoter, wiping his brow from the close call.
Instead, Arum gave the world such scintillating matchups like de la Hoya-David Kamau/Patrick Charpentier/Wilfredo Rivera/the faded Hector Camacho and a rematch with Chavez, whom Oscar had already trounced.
So was born "Chicken de la Hoya." Chicken Arum did not have the same panache. And there was another element involved – Oscar constantly dumped trainers, but never to their faces. Gil Clancy is still waiting for the call.
De la Hoya’s first pro managers, Robert Mittleman and Steve Nelson, tell the story that when they were asked up at camp in Big Bear, it was done by slipping a note beneath the door of their cabin. Then, when they needed to get some paperwork signed, they couldn’t reach Oscar on the phone and so decided to simply drive over to his home. When de la Hoya saw them coming, he turned and ran.
Okay, he didn’t like confrontations. I was hardly the only one questioning his character. Oscar was hearing it from his neighborhood, too, where it was translated into "Pollo de la Hoya."
But the one thing to remember is that, at heart, Oscar was always a fighter. He too was bristling and it was de la Hoya himself who coerced Arum into making the match with the dangerous Ike Quartey.
I am among the minority who believe that Quartey had won enough early rounds to deserve the decision. What is not controversial, however, was that de la Hoya fought his heart out. There were more controversies to come, but win or lose, from the Quartey fight on, Oscar picked the cream of the crop – Felix Trinidad Jr., Sugar Shane Mosley, Bernard Hopkins and, even past his prime, such as Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.
His final ring record is 39-6, a somewhat scant body of work for someone who turned pro in 1992, but more impressively were the numbers he rang up as pay-per-view’s biggest attraction.
Maybe it was his Hollywood good looks and the screaming teenaged girls at the start. But he evolved into one of the rare boxers able to cross over to main street (yes, that’s why the Chicken crossed the road, to become a multimillionaire). His subsequent charitable works have made the Chicken a top-class Man.
He still wishes he were still fighting, but I’m glad he took the wise route. He could no longer be the Oscar de la Hoya that wowed me when he was 17 in the amateurs, or the one who could have given fits to most welterweights in history, even if he couldn’t always win.
Oscar should have enough money for his grandchildren to live comfortably and he does not need to take any more blows to the cranium. No one remembers Muhammad Ali’s last fight with Trevor Berbick or Joe Frazier’s with Jumbo Cummings.
We certainly will remember Oscar less for his fights with Steve Forbes and Pacquiao than for his promotional company.
NOTE: I will not insult Antonio Tarver by discussing his rematch this Saturday at the Hard Rock with Chad Dawson, perhaps an underlay as a 7-1 favorite.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Michael Katz