On May 6, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, I’m taking on Ricardo “El Matador” Mayorga. He has the WBC junior middleweight belt, but soon he’ll be looking for a new one to hold up his pants.
Mayorga’s nickname is totally wrong. Matador? Anyone who’s ever seen the Nicaraguan fight would call him “El Toro.” He’s a bull, and the ring is his china chop. He put his name on the map in 2003, when he stomped all over Vernon Forrest, ending it in the third and taking the welterweight title. At the post-fight press conference he smoked cigarettes and drank beer. It’s a good gimmick. But he really is nasty, crude, and disrespectful. I dislike him. I’ve never been a fighter that needs to hate an opponent to take care of business. This guy’s done a good job of getting under my skin; I can’t wait to make him pay. He’s continually insulted my family and my name leading up to the fight. He pushed me and even tried to take a swipe at my face. Now I’m not going to be satisfied putting on a boxing clinic. I’m going to knock this guy out. I can see him on his back, staring at the ring lights. I must win. And I will.
I’ve been a champion in five different weight classes. I’ve accomplished everything I ever wanted to in this game. Actually, I’ve gone way beyond my wildest dreams. But I still love my job: waking up at dawn to do my roadwork; sparring; sweating with my great trainer, Floyd Mayweather, Sr.; and developing a perfect strategy. I like the whole build up. The ringwalk is indescribable, when all eyes are on you. The fight itself, the back-and-forth drama, your hands raised in victory. I know there’s nothing in life that can match that rush. So I want more of it, while my body and mind can still get up for it.
It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been a pro for over 13 years. I don’t know where all the years have gone? It happens so quickly. Not to seem vain, but when I look in mirror I don’t see the face of a prizefighter. I could be a tennis player or your 33-year-old accountant! The name of the game is to hit and not get hit. After 228 amateur fights and 41 as a pro, my face says I’ve learned my craft well. You can never be complacent or rest on your laurels. If Mayorga has his say, my nose will be where my ear should be, and vice versa.
As I near the end of my career, I’m more reflective than I’ve ever been. When I won the gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, my mother was at the center of my thoughts. She died of cancer two years earlier and never got to share that special moment with me. I know she was there in spirit, and I can always sense her protecting me. When I became a pro, I would never look at my opponent in the eye when the ref gave his instructions; I’d look to heaven and gather strength and courage from her. Around the midpoint of my career, I stopped doing that. There was a switch. I began fighting for myself. I’d say. “The gold was for my mother, the world championship is for me.” On December 29, 2005, my wife Millie gave birth to Oscar Gabriel, our first child. I fight for him now.
My family has been at training camp with me in Puerto Rico, by my side every step of the way. I kiss little Oscar every morning when I leave to run at dawn. He will be at the MGM grand with me, his first time seeing what his daddy do what he does best. I can’t wait to hold him up in the air after I vanquish Mayorga. Make sure you’re there to see it, live on HBO pay-per-view.
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After all the years I’ve been in boxing, I now understand why fighters cannot retire from the sport. It has to do with financial problems. It has to do with the love of the sport. There’s fighters who just really love being in the gym, training and fighting. That adrenaline rush is impossible to replace. And the attention you receive is hard to walk away from. There’s fighters who don’t know what to do after they retire; they have no other skills. They don’t prepare themselves to do something else other than fighting.
I’ve broken it down time after time…and I don’t need to stick around for the reasons mentioned above. I’m well off. I know what I’m going to do after I retire. I’m not going to sit around and do nothing; there are so many things on my plate, that it’s impossible to get bored. My promotional company, Golden Boy Promotions, is the best in business, and we’re just getting started. I have so much going for myself, the sky’s the limit. It’s just a matter of winning the world title. Which I have to win. And retire as a champion. That’s what I have to do.
I’m at a great place in my life now, and I’m soaking it all up. The ringwalk, the fight: It’s impossible to recapture in anything that I’ll do once I retire. That rush will never, ever be there. And I’ve come to terms with that. I understand it. I’ve accepted it. I have to learn how to let it go and just move on. Now that I’m at the tail end of my career, I’ve already been preparing myself for the final hoorah!
It’s been a great ride. A kid growing up in the tough streets of East LA, I never thought this would happen to me—all my good fortune and success. Over the years it’s made me a believer: if you set your mind, you can do what you want in this life.
But it helps when you have someone looking out for you. My mother, both when she was alive and even now, is protecting me. You know, this fight with Mayorga is billed “The Danger Zone.” The perception is I’m stepping into the danger zone by getting in the squared circle (after 20 months off) with this nasty, hard-punching street fighter. Well, I avoided a potentially fatal danger zone two weeks ago.
I was sparring at our training camp in Puerto Rico, where the ring is raised about five feet off the floor. I somehow fell through the ropes and landed square on my head! It was such a scary moment. And there was a steel pole that I just missed bashing my head on by an inch. Luckily, I had my headgear on, which absorbed some of the blow. Afterwards, I said, “My gosh, she really is looking out for me.” I could have been paralyzed easy. She is looking down and, at this time of my career, still a guardian angel taking care of us.
I suppose that sounds hokey to some people. What can I say, boxers are different. Boxing requires a lot of faith and devotion. It’s a spiritual quest training for a fight. Most people are not able—mentally, emotionally—to stand alone inside those ropes. It’s not just about facing that person across from you; it’s about facing yourself, your own weaknesses and fears. Facing down these challenges is what I’m all about. It’s what’s defined me since I was just a skinny little kid to the man I am today.
I don’t think Mayorga gets it. He sees the “Golden Boy” image and doesn’t want to see what lies beneath. I’ve been in with all sorts of tough guys and intimidators. The last one who tried to belittle me and challenge my manhood (Fernando Vargas) received a beating he’ll never forget. He’s very respectful to me now—as I expect Mayorga will be one day.
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For several years, much was made of my relationship with my father, Joel De La Hoya, Sr. The media is always looking for some new angle when the old ones are used up. At first, it was nothing but praise for the Barcelona Gold medallist from East LA. Maybe they felt it was all going too smooth for “The Golden Boy”?
To be honest, I didn’t run from the father-son saga. I talked about it openly. When they did sports documentaries that tried to get into, you know, what makes me tick…I took it as an opportunity to unload some of my own pent up frustrations. It’s nothing so dramatic. My dad was just really tough on me growing up. While everyone else was telling me how great I was, nothing ever seemed good enough for him—not the 223 amateur wins, not the Gold medal in ‘92, not my early pro success, not even my first world title against Jimmi Bredahl. The image the media played of my father was with his arms folded in front of his chest at my fights, never smiling—even after I won impressively. Kind of like, “So what. Big deal! You think that’s good?”
Man, I wanted him to tell me—just once—that I’d done good, that he was proud of me for all of my hard work and accomplishments. But he wouldn’t give it to me. Never.
Everyone in the world can tell you you’re great, but if your father doesn’t think so, it haunts you. You never get over it. A strong father is the most powerful figure in a son’s life.
I was asked recently how my dad and I were doing, and has our relationship changed since then. (The media no longer plays up that angle.) And I was happy to say we’re great. We have an excellent father-son relationship. See, I came to understand that he had a plan all along, and he executed it masterfully. He was so tough on me growing up for a reason. It was so I could be the best that I can be. He knew all along that I had the talent to be a good fighter, win several world titles, and make history.
Now that he’s been wanting me to retire for the longest time, we’re very close. He was here in Puerto Rico, where I’m doing my training camp, for about a week. We talk, we reminisce about things, we laugh. I would’ve wanted it this way a long time ago, but now as a grown up I understand what he was doing.
Now that he’s not tough on me, it really is difficult to get up for some fights and get motivated.
That’s why I chose Mayorga for my comeback fight. Because he was going to get under my skin, and I needed that. I needed that to motivate me, to get things started, to get the blood boiling. And he’s done a great job at it. I applaud him for that. He started that spark…now I’m in the best shape of my life.
If I would’ve chosen a different opponent, I probably would’ve been out of shape on May 6. I probably wouldn’t have trained that hard. Two years ago, I fought this guy from Germany, Felix Sturm. It was a tune-up for the mega-fight with Bernard Hopkins. I just could not get up for this guy. It showed. I’m not proud of the way I looked that night.
Mayorga, I understand that he’s a dangerous fighter. He’s a hard puncher. He can take a punch. He’s crazy as heck. It’s gonna be a tough fight. But the fact that he got under my skin, and motivated me to get in great shape, I can make it an easy night.