Oscar De La Hoya is the Champ of Cross Promotion

Mark KriegelCorrespondent IDecember 5, 2008

LAS VEGAS - He's asking $54.95 to see him fight Manny Pacquiao on pay per view. Still, Oscar De La Hoya feels your pain.

"We know it's a tough economy," he said.

Here, then, was the Golden Boy's prescription for cost-effective pay-per-viewing: Get a twelve pack of the right beer for you and your friends. Next, get a bottle of the right tequila. Finally, to modulate your buzz, grab a can of the right energy drink.

Never mind the aggregate cost of these beverages. Disregard the potential hazard involved with imbibing alcohol and caffeine—that you may very well miss the fight's thrilling moments (and I think there will be some) while in the bathroom.

The recommended drinks were among the corporate sponsors for Saturday night's fight between Pacquiao, the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and De La Hoya, the most bankable. Apparently, each purchase corresponds to a partial rebate on the pay-per-view fee.

Buy them all, said De La Hoya, and "you're practically going to get the fight for free."

He was smiling when he said all this, grinning in that way only the Golden Boy can. And why not? De La Hoya was engaged in boxing's most venerable tradition: hustling. Don King was a hustler. Bob Arum, too. No one bats an eye. But hearing Oscar pitch so brazenly in the final press conference at the MGM Grand, I couldn't help but resent it. And I wasn't alone.

Now, at 35, near the end of his outrageously profitable fighting career, De La Hoya remains a curious case. Call him a sell-out, if you must, but then you're also obligated to acknowledge him as a savior. It's difficult to overstate how much the sport owes him. It's not too much to say he kept the fight game alive.

It was De La Hoya who enabled boxing to move beyond its relentlessly morbid fascination with Mike Tyson. It was De La Hoya who provided the juice in an age completely bereft of heavyweight excitement. What's more, his Golden Boy promotional company represents an extraordinary accomplishment. A fighter as a promoter? In the not so distant past, the notion was laughable.

And yet, I'm still not sure about Oscar. I should like him more than I do. But even after all these years, I never quite know what's real, and what's a corporate tie-in.

Consider the statue unveiled the other day at the Staples Center. Magic Johnson has a statue there. Wayne Gretzky, too. Jerry West does not. Nor does Kareem. Or Wilt. But now De La Hoya makes three. The strange part is, Oscar has fought but once in the Staples Center. It was a decision he lost to Shane Mosley back in 2000.

In fact, though De La Hoya likes to be known as "the Pride of East L.A.", he's fought only twice in Los Angeles since 1994. The other occasion was his lackluster decision over Stevie Forbes last May at the Home Depot Center in Carson.

The Home Depot Center and Staples are owned and operated by the same company, AEG. As coincidence would have it, that would be the same AEG that has a stake in Golden Boy Promotions.

The basis for the big bronze figure is not rooted in sentiment. It's corporate synergy and strategy.

There's too much transparent public relations. For instance, at the press conference, Oscar's people—including the parade of Mexican champions he claimed as his supporters—wore shirts or jackets endorsing The Ring. For those who don't know, the magazine is now owned by Golden Boy.

Then there's Angelo Dundee, the Hall of Fame trainer brought in to "work with" De La Hoya. Even Dundee—who showed up at De La Hoya's camp in Big Bear just in time for the big media day last month—admitted "I didn't do any homework." What Dundee could teach Oscar at that point, under those conditions, is anyone's guess...

I've long thought De La Hoya's finest moment was beating Ike Quartey—going on 10 years now, the night he knocked down a fearsome puncher in the final round. It had real merit, though no one seems to recall the fight. Rather, if De La Hoya's career were to end tomorrow people would recall his bout with Floyd Mayweather.

The promotion was great. Mayweather-De La Hoya is considered a watershed event in the pay-per-view industry. At 2.4 million buys, it easily set an all-time record.

But you can't measure fights merely by financials (hey, you don't hear anyone talk about the numbers for Ali-Frazier or Hagler-Hearns). The truth is, as a fight, Mayweather-De La Hoya sucked, lacking for both for action and drama.

I'm not arguing that Saturday night with Pacquiao will be a dog. Actually, I expect it to be pretty good, full of action. But it's not the best fight out there, either. That would be De La Hoya against Antonio Margarito or Miguel Cotto, natural 147 pounders.

De La Hoya is only behaving rationally, as any businessman should. Margarito and Cotto represent considerably more danger and much less money. Pacquiao may be a great fighter, with an immense following. But only one of his 50 fights has been above 130 pounds.

You figure that the Golden Boy (both the fighter and his namesake promotional company) selected an opponent based on a finely calibrated cost-benefit analysis. It's about risk and reward. It's about profit points. It's about cross-promotion. It's like being in the beverage business.

This article originally published on FOXSports.com.

Read more of Mark's columns here.