Golden Boy torn over decision to face Mayweather

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Oscar De La Hoya is feeling the pressure even more than when an opponent is stalking him around the ring and firing punches at his head.

Will he fight pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Sept. 16 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the HBO PPV date and arena long reserved for De La Hoya, or will he retire on top and move on to the life of promoter, businessman, father and husband?

With deadlines for various aspects of a major promotion closing in, De La Hoya's decision is imminent. He has maybe two weeks to decide before pay-per-view industry deadlines will be missed for what would be easily the biggest fight in boxing today, a surefire blockbuster that could generate 1 million-plus buys and earn De La Hoya $30 million or more.

Yet De La Hoya swears he has not made up his mind yet, swears this is not a cat-and-mouse game of will-he-or-won't-he.

He claims he honestly doesn't know what he will do.

Wearing white slippers and a white bathrobe while lounging in his palatial suite overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at the Borgata resort Saturday afternoon -- just hours before he would sit ringside as the co-promoter for Bernard Hopkins' career finale victory against Antonio Tarver -- De La Hoya spoke at length with ESPN.com about wrestling with his difficult decision, his thoughts on a potential showdown with Mayweather and the fact that De La Hoya's trainer is Floyd Mayweather Sr.

"The truth is I just need a few more days," De La Hoya said. "I can't come up with an answer, I really can't. I feel pressured by everyone who just wants an answer, if it's yes or no. I don't want to say, 'Yes, I will fight,' and then tomorrow say, 'No, no, no, I'm not going to fight anymore.' I don't want to say, 'No, I'm not going to fight anymore,' and then in a few weeks say, 'I'm fighting.'

"It's such an important decision to the boxing world and to me personally. It is very, very important. It's just very difficult to come up with the answer, it really is. I don't know what day or when it is going to come to me. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. I really don't."

It was obvious from his tone that De La Hoya (38-4, 30 KOs) truly is torn about what to do.

Chance to walk away on top

Clearly, he can still compete at a very high level, even at age 33. On May 6 in Las Vegas, De La Hoya knocked out Ricardo Mayorga to win a junior middleweight title -- his 10th world title in six weight divisions -- in a triumphant return to the ring after a 20-month layoff.

De La Hoya looked as good as he has looked in years -- fast and powerful -- as he destroyed Mayorga en route to a sixth-round TKO. And the cash register rang to the tune of 875,000 pay-per-view subscriptions, making it the fifth-highest total for a non-heavyweight fight in history; De La Hoya has fought in each of the top five.

"I laid out the right reasons and the wrong reasons to fight. The money is the wrong reason to take the fight," said De La Hoya, who has earned more than $200 million. "Obviously, as an athlete, to beat the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world would mean a lot to me. As an athlete, you hunger for that for some reason."

However, throughout the promotion of the Mayorga fight, De La Hoya talked about wanting to win another title so he could erase the memory of his previous fight -- a knockout loss to then-middleweight champ Hopkins -- and go out with his hand raised. He said he couldn't handle the sight of himself lying on the canvas, the victim of a one-punch knockout, being the final image of his career.

By beating Mayorga, De La Hoya accomplished exactly what he set out to do, which is why he is considering retirement.

"I think about, well, why even fight again? I have such a great win with Mayorga," De La Hoya said. "Everyone is talking about it. A lot of people really want me to retire on top and they say, 'The hell with everything. You've accomplished so much, why even do it?'"

De La Hoya knows by fighting Mayweather, he could certainly lose and be back at Square 1, wanting desperately to erase the memory of another loss.

"Right now is a perfect opportunity for me to retire the way I have always envisioned, the way every fighter envisions," De La Hoya said. "Right now is the perfect, perfect moment. But I have to be honest with you. I have gone back and forth at least 20 times, I really have. 'OK, I'm going to fight.' And in a few hours it's, 'What for?' Then again, 'Well I have to fight.' I just keep going back and forth."

De La Hoya said it remains important for him to go out on top and that he would not be able to quit if he lost to Mayweather, which worries him.

"Then I would be just another one of those fighters [who stayed too long]," he said. "It's a big decision. That's why I tell everyone I don't want to feel the pressure, including from these HBO guys. HBO would love for me to fight another 10 years. September is coming up and that is the date I reserved with the MGM. It's crunch time, it really is. So I have to make a decision in a few days.

"The fact that I already have the date for September and I already have the green light from [my wife] Millie, the fact that [fighting in May and September] was the plan and the fact that Mayorga was such a great fight for me, it kind of turned everything around for me. It made it more complicated for me to make my decision."

Mayweather the only candidate

If De La Hoya does fight, he said he will face only Mayweather, who has won titles in four divisions and is regarded by virtually everyone as the No. 1 fighter in the world.

That's a change of heart for De La Hoya, who previously mentioned Winky Wright or a rematch with Felix Trinidad or Fernando Vargas.

So why only consider Mayweather, with whom no deal has been negotiated?

"If I do fight again, it would be [against] Floyd Mayweather Jr. It's down to him," De La Hoya said. "I understand he can beat me, but at the same time I understand I can beat him. Obviously, it's a big-money fight. I can't deny that. I think he is the best fighter out there right now, pound for pound. And if I do decide to fight again it would be against the best. I think that would motivate me."

When Mayweather defeated Zab Judah on April 8, De La Hoya said he was watching with the thought of a potential fight in mind.

"I have to admit the Zab Judah fight, I was paying attention," De La Hoya said. "I am a fan and I watch the fights, but I don't really pay attention and say to myself, 'I can beat this guy.' I was doing that when he fought Zab."

If the fight does take place, De La Hoya said it would have to be at junior middleweight for his title, not for Mayweather's welterweight belt, even though De La Hoya said he weighed 149 pounds and easily would be able to make the 147-pound welterweight limit.

"No catch weight whatsoever, 154 or nothing," De La Hoya said. "If he thinks he can beat anyone from 154 down, well, I'm not going to make it easier for him."

Father vs. son

The most intriguing aspect -- some might call it a ghoulish subplot -- to the potential fight is the presence of Mayweather Sr., De La Hoya's trainer and Mayweather Jr.'s estranged father.

Talk about your dysfunctional families. Dr. Phil might have to emcee the press conference if this fight happens.

After months of saying he wouldn't train De La Hoya to beat his son, Mayweather Sr. recently had a change of heart. Now he is telling people he would do it for the right money: $2 million, instead of the $250,000 he currently receives from De La Hoya per fight.

"When I first read that he said, 'I would train him to beat my son for extra money,' my first reaction was I am glad he's on board," De La Hoya said about recent comments Mayweather Sr. made in the media. "I'm glad if I make the decision [to fight] that he will train me because if he's not going to train me, I'm not going to fight. That was my first reaction.

"Then I thought about it and I said to myself, 'Obviously blood is thicker than water.' I pictured myself during training camp and it would be very uncomfortable to train with my trainer hitting the mitts or him giving me instructions on how to beat his son. It would be very uncomfortable. It really would. That's something I am thinking about also.

"I would be thinking in training camp about how is Floyd Sr. feeling? He's training me to beat his son. That would be on my mind all the time. Deep down inside, he has a great heart. I truly feel he doesn't want his son to lose. He doesn't."

De La Hoya said he and Mayweather Sr. have never had a conversation about the situation. De La Hoya wanted him to make up his mind on his own.

"I was waiting for him to make his own decision without my input," De La Hoya said. "Money, obviously, can be worked out. He deserves a fair amount of money. He deserves it. I feel he would train me and have that antidote to beat his son and break through that defense. But it would feel very uncomfortable."

No stepping-stone

One thing De La Hoya is aware of is that a fight with Mayweather would be the same kind of match that has been made for as long as boxing has existed: An older, past-his-prime boxing legend against the hot, young star in his prime.

Think Muhammad Ali vs. Larry Holmes.

Joe Louis vs. Rocky Marciano.

Oscar De La Hoya vs. Julio Cesar Chavez.

"This reminds me of when I fought Julio Cesar Chavez. They put Julio Cesar Chavez as a stepping-stone for me to go to another level," De La Hoya said. "I'm nobody's stepping-stone. Yes, I understand I am older and wiser, and he is younger and faster and undefeated. I realize that. But at the same time, at 154 pounds it's actually a very intriguing fight. I have speed. I have power, more than he does. At 154, I will probably be faster than he is. I think Zab Judah proved it at 147 that he was faster than Mayweather. And those few pounds make a huge, huge difference with 10-ounce gloves."

The jump from welterweight to junior middleweight means that fighters go from wearing 8-ounce gloves to 10-ounce gloves. Mayweather would have to make that switch.

"With 10-ounce gloves, it's a huge difference. Huge, huge difference," De La Hoya said. "With those few ounces you have lesser power; it alters your speed. Your punches don't come out the same. You have to get used to them."

Those closest to De La Hoya have weighed in with their opinions about what he should do. He said he has listened but is determined to make up his own mind.

"There are opinions I really, truly care about that are really close and dear to my heart, and I am thinking about them, but it won't influence me," he said.

His inner circle includes his father, Joel De La Hoya Sr.; his brother, Joel De La Hoya Jr.; his wife, Millie; and Richard Schaefer, a close friend, business adviser and the executive who runs the day-to-day operations of Golden Boy Promotions.

De La Hoya said his father wants him to retire: "He wanted to see me retired a long time ago. He's happy. He says 'You've done so much, I'm happy.'"

His wife, who recently gave birth to their son Gabriel, wants him to retire, too, but she is willing to let him fight in September: "Millie's stance is that she gave me the green light already to do these two fights in May and September. She's standing behind that. She wants everyone to know that it wouldn't be her if I do not fight. It's not her pressuring me or her influence. If I do fight, there wouldn't be any distractions or fights between us because she doesn't approve of it. She's obviously very supportive of whatever decision I make, but I can sense she is leaning toward [wanting me to] just retire, let it go. She wants the best for me, healthwise."

De La Hoya says his brother is behind him regardless of what he does: "My brother says, 'Whatever you do, whatever you say, I'm your brother. I will support you,'"

De La Hoya said that from a business perspective, Schaefer said he should fight, but only if it is what he wants: "Richard breaks all the numbers down and says, 'If I were you, you never turn down all these numbers. But at the same time, as a friend, as a real friend to you, I'm telling you if you feel in your heart you can't do it anymore, then just don't do it anymore.' He's supportive."

Aches and pains

De La Hoya, who burst into the public consciousness by winning a gold medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, said all the years of training and fighting are catching up to him. One reason he wants to retire is to get away from the chronic aches and pains.

"I felt more pains in the Mayorga training camp than any other training camp ever," he said.

He detailed his trouble spots:

• "My left rotator cuff is torn. I've lived with it with for the last 4-5 years," he said. "When I sleep at night, to this day, I wake up and it's uncomfortable. It hurts. It's in pain."

• "My hand. I am tired of getting shots on my [left] hand to numb it so I won't feel the pain. I'm tired of it."

• "My elbows. I have arthritis in both elbows. I get shots. It sucks. It really does."

• "My back flares up."

• "This knuckle [on the middle finger of my right hand] still hasn't gone down since the Mayorga fight. I'm thinking it's broken. I touch it and it hurts. It's been like this for two months, since the middle of training camp."

De La Hoya said despite the constant injuries, he trained as hard as he ever has for the Mayorga fight because winning was so important to him.

"I truly in my heart feel and know that I will never, ever have another training camp like Mayorga," he said. "I put everything into it. I said the hell with the pains, the hell with this, the hell with that. I put everything into it. I am sure it will be impossible to be in the shape I was in, the focus I was in, the state of mind. I was in such a zone."

Throughout boxing history, fighters on top have rarely walked away. Marciano did it as an undefeated heavyweight champion. Lennox Lewis retired as heavyweight champion, too. And De La Hoya watched as Hopkins bowed out having accomplished all he could.

De La Hoya said he was struck by the way Lewis defended the title against Vitali Klitschko and rebuffed big-money offers to continue fighting in order to retire to spend time with his wife and raise his family.

"That's the way to do it. I applaud him. I respect him for doing that," De La Hoya said. "It was a wonderful thing. He left boxing at a perfect moment because he left everyone wanting more and I believe if I retire, I think people are going to want to have more. It's a tough decision to make."

Then De La Hoya stopped speaking for a moment, ran his fingers through his hair and added, "If I decide to fight, it's for me. Nobody else. It's because I made the decision, nobody else. No executives, no family members, no wife. It's my decision."

Now the Golden Boy just has to make it.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.