Pro Fight No. 11
Opponent: Narciso Valenzuela (35-13-2)
Date/Site: Oct. 30, 1993; Phoenix
Result: De La Hoya by KO in 1
Why it matters: Fighting for the 11th time in less than a year since turning pro in late 1992, undefeated De La Hoya, 20, was knocked down for the first time in his boxing life, including more than 200 amateur bouts. His swift retaliation gave fans a first glimpse of a tenacity that his charming public persona camouflaged. Less than a minute in, De La Hoya stepped forward to land his signature overhand-right-left-hook combination to Valenzuela's head. With De La Hoya's hands low and head exposed, journeyman Valenzuela fired back a left jab and a short, hard right that caught De La Hoya on the chin, sending him onto the seat of his pants. The Golden Boy rolled over, stood near the ropes and shrugged to his handlers, and went back down to his knee until the referee's count reached eight. Then he delivered quick retribution. Four brutal punches to Valenzuela's head had him down 30 seconds later, and De La Hoya pumped his fist vengefully over his victim. Valenzuela rose, and De La Hoya finished him with a two-fisted barrage.
Pro Fight No. 19
Opponent: Genaro Hernandez (32-0-1)
Date/Site: Sept. 9, 1995; Las Vegas
Result: De La Hoya by TKO6
Why it matters: By 22, De La Hoya had titles at 130 and 135 pounds but wasn't among the world's elite fighters. Hernandez, a former and future world champ from South Central Los Angeles (De La Hoya is from East L.A.), was his first major test. He dominated Hernandez in the lightweight title fight, outboxing a skilled boxer and making an undefeated champion quit.
De La Hoya used new defensive skills. Earlier in 1995, he had survived a 12-round war with aggressive John John Molina, and after that punishing battle worked on bending at the waist and moving his head more to make opponents miss.
Against Hernandez, he displayed that new movement, hopping back and forth, slipping under punches. He landed a vicious right uppercut in the fourth. In the sixth, he bloodied Hernandez's nose and began finding opportunities to tee off. A left hook broke Hernandez's nose and ultimately caused the veteran to give up, for the first time, after the sixth round.
Pro Fight No. 21
Opponent: Julio Cesar Chavez (96-1-1)
Date/Site: June 7, 1996; Las Vegas
Result: De La Hoya by TKO4
Why it matters: Beating Hernandez was a big statement, but stopping Mexican hero Chavez had massive cultural implications, a passing of the torch to the 23-year-old Mexican-American De La Hoya. This never was close -- in part because in the very first minute, amid the near-100-degree heat of the outdoor bout, two De La Hoya jabs opened a cut over Chavez's left eye. Blood poured down Chavez's cheek for most of the fight (Chavez said the eyebrow had been cut days earlier in training). De La Hoya, whose plan had been to get Chavez worried early, took advantage, landing jabs, hard left hooks and rights. Chavez came out aggressively in Round 4 and landed good left hooks, but De La Hoya broke Chavez's nose with a left hook of his own and unleashed a battering barrage. With Chavez's face a bloody mask, referee Joe Cortez consulted with the ring doctor, who advised Cortez to end the bout. It was Chavez's first stoppage loss in 100 pro fights. In a rematch two years later, De La Hoya stopped Chavez after eight.
Pro Fight No. 23
Opponent: Pernell Whitaker (40-1-1)
Date/Site: April 12, 1997; Las Vegas
Result: De La Hoya by decision in 12
Why it matters: Always seeking top opponents, De La Hoya stepped up to welterweight to fight slippery southpaw Whitaker, a perennial leader of "pound for pound" lists. The battle was sometimes awkward and a scorekeeping mess, but they both kept it lively for 12 rounds.
Whitaker jumped in early with great right jabs -- and with his head, which opened an insubstantial cut on De La Hoya's cheek. De La Hoya scored with big uppercuts in Round 3, then came out southpaw for Round 6 and staggered Whitaker with another uppercut. By the seventh, Whitaker's right eye was swelling closed. But Whitaker's jabs bloodied De La Hoya's nose, and Sweet Pea scored a flash knockdown with two short lefts inside as Oscar played left-handed in Round 9. De La Hoya seemed to steal the 10th with a round-ending flurry, Whitaker came out bouncing in the 11th to strike back, and De La Hoya outboxed a dancing Whitaker in the 12th. The fight was much closer than the judges' wide scores in De La Hoya's favor. Still, he had won a title in his welterweight debut.
Pro Fight No. 29
Opponent: Ike Quartey (34-0-1)
Date/Site: Feb. 13, 1999; Las Vegas
Result: De La Hoya by split decision in 12
Why it matters: It seemed De La Hoya was losing the fight with Quartey as it entered its final three rounds. The never-beaten Quartey, who combined speed and power, had given De la Hoya all he could handle for the first half of the fight, even buckling De La Hoya with two nice left hooks and a right to end Round 3. When De La Hoya knocked Quartey down with a left hook early in Round 6, moments later a short Quartey left floored De La Hoya. Quartey seemed to be taking control in Rounds 7 through 9, winning most exchanges and clocking De La Hoya with a hard right in the 9th. But Quartey finally tired.
De La Hoya outboxed him in Rounds 10 and 11 and came out for the 12th winging the left hook -- the second of which put Quartey on the canvas. De La Hoya did all he could to finish Quartey off, battering him against the ropes, but the Ghanaian punched back enough to survive. De La Hoya won a very clutch, though disputed, split decision.
Pro Fight No. 32
Opponent: Felix Trinidad (35-0)
Date/Site: Sept. 18, 1999; Las Vegas
Result: Trinidad by majority decision, 12
Why it matters: De La Hoya's most famous loss was one of his better performances -- many observers scored the so-called Fight of the Millennium in his favor. The undefeated Trinidad came with a reputation as a devastating puncher but a somewhat stationary target. De La Hoya came out with a plan for cautious engagement. From Round 1 he began bouncing and circling left around Trinidad, flicking jabs. De La Hoya blocked punches and, when the two fighters engaged, showed a fast and heavy right hand. He ended early rounds with flurries, and seemed to be piling up points.
But by Round 9, Trinidad began finding his range and landing shots. De La Hoya was holding on in the 10th as Trinidad surged, and, to the crowd's disapproval, Oscar seemed to be running out the clock by the 11th. With 50 seconds left in the fight, Trinidad landed a big left to De La Hoya's cheek, sending him back. It took that last round for Trinidad to win a narrow decision. De La Hoya wanted to win by outboxing Trinidad, but his late-rounds evasiveness lost him his hard-won reputation as a great finisher.
Pro Fight No. 34
Opponent: Shane Mosley (34-0)
Date/Site: June 17, 2000; Los Angeles
Result: Mosley by split decision, 12
Why it matters: The two childhood rivals finally met as pros in their home city and mixed it up with furious flurries in nearly every round. De La Hoya was mostly the one walking forward, seeking openings for his left hook and right. Mosley got off faster, jabbing well and landing sharp rights over the top of De La Hoya's lowered left. As Mosley did better, he loosened up and became increasingly active, throwing a fight-high 76 punches in Round 9. Round 12 climaxed with a wild slugfest, in which Mosley seemed to land the better blows. He ended with a big advantage in power shots, which he landed at a 57 percent rate according to CompuBox. In the end, Mosley outhustled the 27-year-old De La Hoya, as TV commentator George Foreman put it. In their 2003 rematch, De La Hoya jabbed and moved to neutralize Mosley's speed in early rounds, but Mosley's late surge won him a disputed decision.
Pro Fight No. 37
Opponent: Fernando Vargas (22-1)
Date/Site: Sept. 14, 2002; Las Vegas
Result: De La Hoya by TKO11
Why it matters: This was a 154-pound title unification, and, with Chavez in his corner, the 25-year-old Vargas also was fighting for bragging rights as Mexican-American hero numero uno. Vargas struck first. In Round 1, he swarmed as De La Hoya ducked awkwardly against the ropes and had the veteran perhaps one solid shot from the canvas. Vargas dominated Round 3, beating De La Hoya to the punch with both hands, and bombed De La Hoya against the ropes to end Round 5. But De La Hoya was scoring as well and beginning to find his range, willing to eat hard shots to get in with jabs and left hooks. De La Hoya landed two crisp left hooks to end Round 6 as blood trickled from a cut on Vargas' right cheek. De La Hoya started scoring more freely in the 7th and 8th, and the battle turned so quickly the outcome soon seemed inevitable. In the 11th, De La Hoya decked Vargas with a brutal left hook to the head, then smothered him with a 15-punch barrage to end it.
Pro Fight No. 42
Opponent: Ricardo Mayorga (28-5-1)
Date/Site: May 6, 2006; Las Vegas
Result: De La Hoya by TKO6
Why it matters: This junior middleweight comeback bout was a win-or-go-home proposition for De la Hoya. He'd taken nearly 20 months off after his middleweight loss to Bernard Hopkins and was a retirement candidate at 33. Fortunately, crude brawler Mayorga was tailor-made for De La Hoya, who always feasted on opponents who stood before him without a lot of defense or movement -- guys like Chavez, Vargas, Arturo Gatti and Trinidad. Less than a minute in, De La Hoya dropped Mayorga with a picture-pretty right-cross-left-hook combination. Mayorga hung in there -- he cracked De La Hoya's chin with a monster uppercut in the third and landed more shots in Round 4. Ultimately, though, De La Hoya's skills prevailed. He floored Mayorga again in the sixth, then unleashed a two-handed flurry with Mayorga defenseless on the ropes and referee Jay Nady stopped the fight. The decisive victory made a statement that De La Hoya wasn't finished and earned him a ticket to a $50 million payday against Floyd Mayweather.
Pro Fight No. 43
Opponent: Floyd Mayweather Jr. (37-0)
Date/Site: May 5, 2007; Las Vegas
Result: Mayweather by split decision in 12
Why it matters: Golden Boy versus Pretty Boy was made to be a classic superfight -- it even got advance attention from mainstream media (though much press focused on whether the fight could "save boxing"). In the ring, it was a strategic battle that never managed sustained action. From the start, De La Hoya tried to back Mayweather to the ropes, and when he could get him there, he let his hands go, thrilling the crowd with showy flurries, but rarely landing clean, hard shots. De La Hoya had his highlight-reel moment in Round 4, digging nine straight left hooks to Mayweather's side against the ropes, but the impact seemed minimal. Mostly the fight was in the middle of the ring, where Mayweather stuck and moved sparingly and dominated quietly. De La Hoya threw twice as many punches as Mayweather in some rounds, and his forward movement didn't wane, but his jab lost its bite after Round 8, and Mayweather began landing more boldly. The fight was up for grabs on judges' scorecards in Round 12, which ended with 10 seconds of toe-to-toe slugging. In the end, Mayweather more than doubled De la Hoya's connect percentage, 43 percent to 21, and won a narrow split decision.
Don Steinberg, a winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America's award for best column in 2005, covers boxing for The Philadelphia Inquirer.