Oscar De La Hoya has lost four of his last eleven bouts. The first three losses (against Felix Trinidad and twice against Shane Mosley) were forgivable. De La Hoya controlled the pacing. He craftily avoided trouble. He maintained an effective distance with his jab and jumped in at prescient moments to rattle blurring combinations. If the professional game was judged exclusively on elegance and the purity of punching while avoiding getting punched, it is possible De La Hoya would have been undefeated when he stepped into the ring against Bernard Hopkins in 2004. However, the artistry of boxing will only carry a pugilist so far. This is not figure skating; it is the fight game. As such, it’s difficult to win when you avoid the fight. The Golden Boy, after suffering these losses, maintained his place as one of the biggest draws in sports. Yes, he is handsome and well spoken. He exudes confidence that remains shy of arrogance. Possibly, some even like his singing. I remained a fan because I did not, at this point, question his heart. He may not have had the best fight plans against Trinidad and Mosley, but at no point did I consider that he was boxing not to lose. Rather, because of his nonpareil technical abilities and hand speed, I guessed that he was a victim of his own skills. It never occurred to De La Hoya that he’d need to put himself more at risk in order to woo the judges’ favor. Then the Hopkins match was made. Admirably, De La Hoya chose to go up in weight to compete against one of the all-time-great middleweight champions. Even the harshest De La Hoya critic must concede that this is a fighter who does not duck anybody. In comparison, look at the career of the similarly gifted and popular champion Sugar Ray Leonard who despite all of his impressive performances in the ring never gave Aaron Pryor a shot, ducked Marvin Hagler for years until “Marvelous” was in his thirties and had endured many devastating wars, and ducked a rematch against Thomas Hearns for nearly a decade. De La Hoya has been something of a throwback, consistently taking on the best of his era. Granted, the ludicrous paydays for these endeavors help inform the motivation behind such courageous scheduling, but it shouldn’t be a mark against him that he’s proven so adept in marketing and negotiation. Additionally, De La Hoya boldly scheduled a tune-up fight in this new weight class against a durable if underwhelming Felix Sturm to occur three-plus months prior to the Hopkins engagement. The big payday pended a victory over Sturm. Although this financial risk was surprising, the benefit of a tune-up in the new and higher weight significantly bolstered De La Hoya’s chances of success against Hopkins. I recognized a fighter who was more motivated in establishing his legacy as a boxer than he was in thickening his wallet. Concern came knocking when De La Hoya struggled. This was intended to be a drubbing, but instead the outcome would only be decided when De La Hoya dug deep for an impressive twelfth round to win a unanimous decision over Sturm (115-113 on all three scorecards). The detractors said the move to middleweight was too much, and that age had suddenly corroded the Golden Boy’s speed and skills. But the optimists, those who saw the spit bucket as half full, preferred such a test for De La Hoya. Better that he know what it is to go twelve in the middleweight division, than to have scored a quick knock-out and risk overconfidence. Additionally, the way he boxed in that twelfth round exhibited a dimension to De La Hoya that fans had not previously seen. He had finally closed a fight with a sense of urgency. Maybe this was the corner turned that would firmly place De La Hoya in the conversation about all-time greats. But Hopkins happened: the left hook/uppercut to the body (specifically the liver), De La Hoya’s delayed reaction and fall, his punching the canvas as the referee counted him out. Anybody who followed the career of Julio Cesar Chavez knows the mysterious devastation that results from the well-executed “liver punch,” and far be it for me, who watched the fight from the comfort of my couch, a can of beer in my hand and a salsa stain on my shirt, to question De La Hoya’s desire to win. But it was a body shot (isn’t that what the medicine ball and sit-ups are for), and it seems unfathomable that one of the truly greats can be dispensed by a single one. He has beaten legends like Pernell Whitaker, Hector Camacho and Chavez, but he faced them well after their peaks. He has beaten many formidable opponents in their prime: Ike Quartey, Ricardo Mayorga, Fernando Vargas and Oba Carr. He’s been blessed to be in divisions in an era stacked with remarkable boxers (what is missing from the resumes of Roy Jones Jr. and Larry Holmes). With everything in place for a brilliant career, Oscar De La Hoya has responded by going 0-4 against the level of talent that defines the legends. On may 5th, the Golden Boy is facing another in Floyd Mayweather Jr. This time De La Hoya will be the naturally bigger boxer. De La Hoya showed against Mayorga that his skills, speed and timing have not dissipated by any considerable measurement. De La Hoya is far more likeable, will probably have the majority of support from the fans in attendance, and if you believe what he says at press conferences, he is hungry to prove himself. But in this kind of fight, De La Hoya is a proven loser. It’s in his head, and when he couldn’t muster the strength to get off the canvas against Hopkins, it became evident that losing, for him, is okay. This is not the case with the 37-0 “Pretty Boy” Floyd. De La Hoya should be revered. He is arguably the greatest ambassador for this sport since Sugar Ray Leonard, insofar as he’s a positive exemplar in a sport with few. On May 5th, standing in the corner opposite from De La Hoya is a crass character, an unrepentant braggart, a man whose post-fight interview should be muted if there are children in the room. But he’s skilled, he’s tough, and in his head there’s no possibility he will lose. Pundits can study the tale of the tape and make guesswork as to what effect moving to a heavier division will have, but for this kind of fight, De La Hoya loses and Mayweather always wins.