De La Hoya says he's retiring from ring

LOS ANGELES -- Oscar De La Hoya stopped battling himself Tuesday, deciding after much internal turmoil to retire and end a career in which he won 10 world titles in six divisions and became boxing's most popular fighter.

He made his announcement at an outdoor plaza across the street from Staples Center, where a 7-foot bronze 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 retired 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.

Unlike many fighters, De La Hoya walks away with his mind and his face intact. But he wavered often in making a final decision, and he credited his wife Millie Corretjer and business partner Richard Schaefer in helping him "realize what life is all about."

"Even this morning, I said, 'Are you sure?' and he said, 'Yes, I am ready,'" said Corretjer, a Puerto Rican singer. "I knew after that fight in December, but it took him four more months to make his decision."

De La Hoya said he didn't want to let down his fans or himself.

"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 serious expression during his announcement, his voice breaking only when he thanked his father, Joel, who sat on the stage with the boxer's wife.

"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 5, 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 the performance that launched his pro career after he was 223-5 with 163 knockouts during his amateur days.

"Many of us remember watching him during the Olympics, feeling the pride and seeing one of our sons accomplish everything he did," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. "This wasn't a young man that was born with a silver spoon. He struggled and fought for everything he had. This entire city is proud of what you've done."

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.

His varied business interests include ownership stakes in the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer and the sugar substitue Equal. He has dabbled in singing and hosting a reality boxing show.

De La Hoya began his pro career against Lamar Williams on Nov. 23, 1992, at the Forum 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 cancer hospital wing named for his late mother in East Los Angeles 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."