Countdown to retirement rolls on, but Oscar still insisting on two more fights

CARSON, Calif. -- The sellout crowd of 27,000 who filled the Home Depot Center's outdoor soccer stadium Saturday night had come to party and celebrate Oscar De La Hoya, the hometown kid, who fought his way out of the eastern Los Angeles barrio to become a champion and an icon.

And it was indeed a fiesta-like atmosphere as the symbol of hope for so many Hispanics -- he now owns a downtown building, a promotional company, real estate and Spanish-language newspapers -- turned in his business suit and went back to what he works in best, boxing trunks and gloves, for the first time in a year. And boy, did he deliver against Steve Forbes.

In what was billed as "Homecoming," De La Hoya's first fight in his native Southern California since 2000 -- and probably his last -- couldn't have gone any better, with the exception of him not scoring a knockout.

Although De La Hoya, the bigger, stronger, faster man, couldn't get the knockout he wanted, he thoroughly dominated Forbes en route to a lopsided, unanimous decision in their junior middleweight fight at the catch weight of 150 pounds.

And while it was the perfect homecoming, it was also the perfect way for De La Hoya to prepare for the big one: a probable Sept. 20 rematch against pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr., who edged the Golden Boy via split decision in May 2007 in boxing's richest fight.

So even if Saturday night's bout may have been nothing more than an infomercial for that fight, it probably worked.

Reuniting with trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr., the estranged father of Floyd Jr., De La Hoya (39-5, 30 KOs) looked as good as he has looked in ages, although you do have to consider that he was facing Forbes (33-6, 9 KOs), who is not in his league.

De La Hoya was still on his toes in the late going, still throwing combinations at Forbes, and seemed to have the stamina that he usually lacked late in fights.

"I did expect him to fade a little bit, but he was a lot more relaxed, pretty strong in the 12th round," Forbes said. "He finished the fight real strong."

And the left jab De La Hoya abandoned late in the Mayweather fight, a lapse that cost him the victory, was still there, smoothly popping out in the final rounds.

Clearly, De La Hoya, who had problems in previous tune-up fights, wasn't looking past Forbes. Despite a red welt under his right eye, De La Hoya was smiling afterward, proud of his effort.

"This is how I envisioned the fight," he said. "This was the plan, to fight more straight up, use my jab and be aggressive."

Aggressive he was, as he moved Forbes back all night long, hammering him with combinations and hard shots.

"I thought it went very well," said Mayweather Sr., who sat out last year's De La Hoya-Mayweather Jr. fight, but won't in the rematch. "He didn't do as much as I wanted him to, but I still think he did a great job. He stayed on his toes for a lot of rounds and you can't forget, Stevie is no slouch. I trained him for nine fights and I knew this was going to be a tough fight. I thought Oscar would have more power, but we will go ahead and work on that."

The very first left hook he threw in the first round clearly shook Forbes, who displayed great heart and a stone chin to take the shots he did. De La Hoya landed 253 of 810 blows (31 percent), according to CompuBox while Forbes connected on 152 of 776 (20 percent).

De La Hoya's blows were way more effective; he regularly let go with three- and four-punch combinations. In the sixth round when he was teeing off on Forbes, De La Hoya delivered an uppercut along the ropes that cut Forbes over the right eye.

"Oscar is an excellent fighter and has a lot of power and he hurt me twice," Forbes said. "He's very intelligent. It was an honor to fight Oscar. I felt strong in there and it was great to have the opportunity to get in there and not go down. He has fought the greats and I hope I proved I am a top-level fighter."

It looked as though De La Hoya might at least get a knockdown in the 10th, when he landed another volley of punches that had Forbes hanging on, but Forbes stayed up.

Forbes made it to the final bell, but the outcome was obvious. De La Hoya won 120-108 -- a shutout -- on one scorecard and 119-109 on the other two. ESPN.com also scored it 119-109.

"I was a little disappointed because I wanted to stop him or knock him out, but I knew it was going to be a tough fight because that's the way he fights," De La Hoya said.

More important was the preparation for Mayweather Jr. De La Hoya didn't want a 16-month layoff between fights and he was pleased with his decision to fight a tune-up.

"That was my game plan for this fight and that is how I plan to fight Mayweather, straight up, being aggressive," he said. "Now, I feel sharper. This was the idea, to get the work in and use this style."

Said Mayweather Sr., who defeated his brother, Jeff Mayweather, Forbes' trainer: "This basically was preparing for my son. Floyd is a better fighter than Steve and they're both really tough, but Floyd doesn't throw as many punches. So if Oscar feints well, uses his jab a lot and counterpunches, he is going to have a great fight. It's not going to be a problem."

The countdown to retirement continues for De La Hoya now. He claims Saturday's fight is the first of three this year before he fills the business suit full-time. Mayweather is next. Then there is supposed to be a December farewell fight, opponent to be determined.

"I've got one of three fights down, two more to go," De La Hoya said.

With the end near, De La Hoya wanted to give the hometown fans a good show. He insisted the fight be in Southern California.

He insisted that tickets would be affordable, and thousands were less than $100.

"It felt so great to be fighting here in Los Angeles in front of all my fans, particularly all the ones from eastern L.A. It was great to be able to fight here in front of them."

De La Hoya said he heard the fans throughout the bout.

"I was actually a bit distracted in between rounds," he said. "I would see the crowd and think, 'Wow, this is something special.' It's amazing that you can hold a boxing event at the Home Depot and fill it up. It's incredible. That's why I keep on going. My fans here in L.A. are the best. I have to take my hat off to them because without the fans there is no career."

A perfect homecoming.

Now, the farewell tour rolls on.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.