LOS ANGELES - Oscar De La Hoya captured the hearts of a nation when he won the Olympic gold medal in the 1992 Barcelona Games, keeping a promise to his mother, Cecilia, who had died nearly two years earlier from breast cancer.
De La Hoya went on to have a record-setting career as a professional, but it came to an end Tuesday when he announced his retirement before a large media contingent and hundreds of fans on Nokia Theatre Plaza at L.A. Live.
De La Hoya, of East Los Angeles, won world championships in a record six weight classes. He also holds records for the most career pay-per-view buys at 14.1 million as well as pay-per-view revenue generated at $696 million.
De La Hoya, 36, said the writing was on the wall when he was stopped after eight rounds by Manny Pacquiao in a welterweight fight Dec. 6 in Las Vegas.
With his wife, Millie, his father, Joel, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa among those seated behind him on a stage, De La Hoya spoke in emotional tones about the end of a 17-year professional run that will land him in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
"These last four months have been very difficult for me," said De La Hoya, pausing briefly as his voice began to crack. "I'm announcing my retirement because I've been doing this since I was 5 years old and this is the love of my life.
"Boxing is my passion, boxing is what I was born to do. And 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. And I've come to the conclusion that it's over."
De La Hoya compiled a record of 39-6 with 30 knockouts against a veritable who's who of boxing. From Pernell Whitaker to Julio Cesar Chavez to Ike Quartey to Felix Trinidad Jr. to "Sugar" Shane Mosley to Fernando Vargas to Bernard Hopkins to Floyd Mayweather Jr. to Pacquiao, De La Hoya fought all the best during his career.
But beginning in 2002, when he fought just once, De La Hoya became more of a part-time fighter. During the last seven years of his career, he had just nine fights, losing four.
Still, De La Hoya said he strongly considered sticking around for one last hurrah.
"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," De La Hoya said. "You're always thinking you don't want to let nobody down.
"But this decision was based on making sure first of all that I do not disappoint anyone when I step into the ring, that I do not disappoint myself. And I want to make sure that I can watch my kids grow up and make sure that I have a life where I can continue to (stay) involved and help the sport of boxing."
De La Hoya is president of Golden Boy Promotions, one of boxing's top promotional companies. He referred to Tuesday's announcement as "a very, very difficult decision." He then thanked his wife for making him realize what's really important.
"I love you," De La Hoya said to Millie, glancing over his shoulder at her.
DeLaHoya's wife said she never even liked boxing before they married nearly eight years ago.
"But in these past eight years, I've learned to love the sport," she said. "It was because he loved it so much. And I know how hard this big decision was for him. Even this morning I asked him, `Are you sure?' And he said, `Yes, I am ready."'
De La Hoya became very sentimental while thanking his father, Joel, for all his support.
"I remember the times when he would take me to the gym," De La Hoya said. "He never gave up on me. We've had some tough moments inside the ring. We've been through everything. But my father was always there for me.
"We don't have enough time for me to express myself how much I appreciate that, how much I love him for that. So thank you, father, for always being there for me.
"Thank you for pushing me as hard as you can."
As De La Hoya began to cry, fans began to clap.
Joel De La Hoya said little, but one line was poignant.
"Thank God that the time finally came for my son to retire," he said.
Mayor Villaraigosa voiced admiration for De La Hoya.
"This wasn't a young man who was born with a silver spoon," Villaraigosa said. "He struggled, fought for everything he had, both literally and metaphorically.
"There was nothing given to him on a silver platter."
Villaraigosa said that De La Hoya not only was a champion inside the ring, but outside, what with his many contributions to the city of Los Angeles. De La Hoya donated millions of dollars to a cancer center bearing his mother's name as well as a neo-natal intensive care unit at White Memorial Medical Center in East Los Angeles.
He also started Oscar De La Hoya Animo High School.
"So on behalf of the city of Los Angeles," Villaraigosa said, "I just want to say, little brother, we're proud of you."