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Oscar De La Hoya’s fight was going to be a career capstone. Then Covid hit him.

The acclaimed Mexican American boxer said in an interview before the fight that this would be his most “significant” match yet.
Image: Oscar De La Hoya
Oscar De La Hoya, at a public workout at XBOX Plaza in Los Angeles last month. Amy Sussman / Getty Images file

The legendary boxer Oscar De La Hoya said he was ready for the biggest fight of his life this Saturday. Instead, he's been knocked out by a breakthrough Covid-19 infection that put him in the hospital.

“Wanted you to hear directly from me that despite being fully vaccinated, I have contracted Covid and am not going to be able to fight next weekend,” the 48-year-old boxer announced Friday on Twitter

De La Hoya was scheduled to fight the Brazilian mixed martial arts champion Vítor Vieira Belfort, who competes in both heavyweight and middleweight divisions.

In a video interview on Sept. 1 about the much-anticipated match, De La Hoya said the fight was about reaching another personal milestone in a trailblazing career, which includes a gold medal from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and 10 world titles in six divisions. De La Hoya was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2014 with a record of 39-6 and 30 knockouts.

“I think this is the most significant fight that I can be in today, for me, for my life,” he said. "This is a fight that I can finally put closure on my career.” 

The Sept. 11 match would have been De La Hoya’s first fight in 13 years. He retired in April 2009, four months after losing to Filipino boxing champion Manny Pacquiao.

For the Mexican American “Chico de Oro” (“Golden Boy”), this match was more than just a simple comeback.

Outside of the ring, De La Hoya has established himself as a boxing and mixed martial arts promoter. When he speaks, he still lands his words with the intensity and precision of an experienced boxer.

“Yeah, my bank account is large, larger. Yes, I sleep in silk pajamas. Yes, I don’t have to do this because my bed is so comfortable, cause it’s one of the most expensive beds ever. But I do this because I’m motivated,” he said. 

What motivates him now more than fighting for world titles and jumping up in weight classes is getting closure for his career in his own way. 

This quest for personal growth has not only challenged him to hold himself more accountable, but also shaped his identity. Early on in his career, De La Hoya said that identifying as Mexican American was sometimes complicated.

“As a kid I grew up in a very Mexican household here in the U.S.,” he said. “But then I go ahead and beat Julio César Chávez, the [Mexican boxing] legend, in 1996 and then all of Mexico is against me.”

Ultimately, the experience of living in between both cultures proved to be a source of motivation.

“I’m proud to be American and love my Mexican roots,” he said. “I understood what it meant to never forget my roots. I understood what it meant for me personally and for my career.”

Now, De La Hoya firmly upholds that speaking Spanish and English helped him grow inside and outside of the ring. And this bilingual experience could help young Latino boxers connect with a broader fan base. 

“I strongly feel that it can be an advantage when you become a champion, a fighter, you can literally capture both worlds. And really have people identify with you if you speak Spanish, if you speak English,” he said.

The boxer told fans in Spanish and English via Twitter that he is currently being treated at the hospital for Covid-19 and is confident that he will be back in the ring before the end of the year.  

More than half of U.S. Latinos (52 percent) said in a survey released over the summer that someone close to them had died or was hospitalized from Covid-19. Almost as many (49 percent) reported that someone in the household had lost a job or had salary cut since February 2020.

Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield will reportedly replace De La Hoya in the Belfort match.

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