LOS ANGELES - Oscar De La Hoya called it quits in the ring Tuesday, ending a career in which he won 10 world titles in six divisions and became boxing's most popular fighter.
He announced his decision at an outdoor plaza across the street from Staples Center, where a statue of the 36-year-old Golden Boy stands. "I've come to the conclusion that it's over," the East Los Angeles native said before hundreds of fans, including comedian George Lopez and Oscar-nominated actor and former fighter Mickey Rourke. "It's over inside the ring for me."
De La Hoya retires four months after he was thoroughly beaten by Manny Pacquiao, his fourth loss in his last seven fights. He has not defeated a formidable opponent since Fernando Vargas in 2002. Age and diminished skills led to losses in recent years to Felix Trinidad, Shane Mosley, Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
He won his last title in May 2006, beating Ricardo Mayorga in six rounds for the WBC 154-pound belt. He finished with a record of 39-6 and 30 knockouts.
"This is the love of my life, boxing is my passion, boxing is what I was born to do," De La Hoya said. "When I can't do it anymore, when I can't compete at the highest level, it's not fair. It's not fair to me, it's not fair to the fans, it's not fair to nobody."
De La Hoya transcended his sport, generating crossover appeal among Latinos and whites. He was especially popular among women, who filled his news conferences and fights while screaming their approval of the boxer blessed with a magnetic smile and movie-star looks.
De La Hoya said he based his decision on not wanting to let down his fans or himself. But he admitted he struggled to end things.
"Now I understand why athletes have such a tough time retiring from something that you feel so passionate about, from your sport that you're always thinking you can try one more time," he said.
"I can still train hard and I can still compete, but when you're an athlete that has competed on the highest level for a lot of years, it's not fair. It's not fair to step inside the ring and not give my best."
Although the second half of his career wasn't as successful, De La Hoya was a champ at the ticket window. His bouts were guaranteed pay-per-view successes, and he was a cash cow for HBO, which broadcast 32 of his fights - most of any boxer - and generated millions in profits for the cable network.
De La Hoya's last title bout was in May 2007, when he lost to Mayweather for the WBC 154-pound title in Las Vegas, the site of most of his bouts.
De La Hoya kept a stern expression during his announcement, his voice breaking only when he thanked his father, Joel, who sat on the stage with the boxer's wife, Millie Corretjer, a Puerto Rican singer.
"I remember the times when he would take me to the gym and never gave up on me," De La Hoya said. "We've lived some tough moments inside the ring, we've been through everything, but my father was always there for me. Thank you for pushing me as hard as you can."
De La Hoya began boxing at age five, following in the path of his grandfather and father. He won an Olympic gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Games, delivering on a promise to his late mother, Cecilia, who died of breast cancer two years earlier. It was that performance that launched his pro career.
De La Hoya will stay involved in the sport as a promoter with his successful Golden Boy Promotions company. He had been juggling the roles of boxer and promoter in the last few years, preparing for his eventual retirement.
He began his pro career against Lamar Williams on Nov. 23, 1992, in nearby Inglewood, winning with a first-round knockout while fighting at 133 pounds. When he lost to Pacquiao in Las Vegas on Dec. 6, De La Hoya fought at 147.
His last victory came against Steve Forbes on May 3, 2008, in Los Angeles, where he won in 12 rounds at 150.
"I am very happy for Oscar and his family," Pacquiao said in a statement. "I think he made the correct decision. Fighters of my generation owe him a great debt.
"I wish him nothing but the best."
In keeping with his Mexican roots, De La Hoya followed his announcement with comments in Spanish.
De La Hoya has donated money to fund a hospital wing named for his late mother and a charter high school downtown that bears his name.
"It hurts me that he's not going to fight no more," said Dian Romero, a 16-year-old student who heard about the boxer's retirement on the school's campus. "I really appreciate him in my life. Because of him, I'm hopefully going to college."
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