BY LAURA TRESCOT
Born in East Los Angeles and continuing his family’s legacy of fighting, Oscar De La Hoya made his professional debut on November 23, 1992, by scoring a first-round TKO victory. This was just the beginning of a career that would span 17 years and numerous championships. De La Hoya has won titles in six weight classes with championships as a junior lightweight, lightweight, super lightweight, welterweight, super welterweight, and middleweight. And he’s not stopping there. In a recent press conference, the championship fighter announced plans to return to the ring in 2021.
De La Hoya’s initial announcement that he was coming out of retirement was not a sure thing. “I’m 90 percent positive that I’m coming back the first quarter of next year,” the 47-year-old De La Hoya revealed in an interview with DAZN News. When asked why he wasn’t 100% certain, his answer resurrected another fighting great: “The 10 percent is based on how Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. look in their upcoming fight,” he said. “We’re almost the same age. Although I’m younger, our bodies have been through the same strain with workouts and training.” The Tyson Vs. Jones fight went well and so De La Hoya has committed. That being said, a date and opponent are still up in the air.
De La Hoya hasn’t taken his 12-year retirement lying down. In fact, in his spare time from serving as Chairman and CEO of his own promotions company, Golden Boy Promotions, he has worked to bring awareness to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), specifically how fighters can protect themselves from this deadly degenerative disease of the brain brought on by repeated blows to the head — something that all professional fighters are inevitably going to encounter.
“Fighters put everything on the line every time they step in the ring and, far too often, it results in serious damage,” De La Hoya said. “While head trauma can happen in an instant, far more often the damage comes from repeated punches during a lifetime of fighting and sparring.”
Out of this desire to help his fellow athletes maintain their brain health and to do his part in helping to create a safety-driven culture in the sport of boxing, came a partnership with Skulltec, a protective athletic gear company. Skulltec’s line of products uses patented technology proven to disperse energy and reduce impact. Specifically, De La Hoya is endorsing the Skullcap — a safety item designed to be worn under any headgear used in sparring. The cap adds a critical second layer of protection, using a gel-based technology that disperses energy upon impact, making trauma less likely.
Known in the boxing world as ‘Punch Drunk Syndrome’, CTE is pervasive in fighting culture. A silent killer, the damage CTE causes to the brain is delayed and symptoms of the disease can lie dormant for many years. A study published in Neurology compared 204 active and retired boxers with a control group. The results demonstrate that three different brain regions shrink in active boxers compared with controls. The degree of shrinkage and the different regions that shrank suggest that several disease processes related to repetitive head injury may be attacking the gray matter of the brain simultaneously.
The study also measured blood levels of two proteins that indicate brain injury or neurological malfunction. Both were elevated in boxers compared with controls. Furthermore, shrinkage was more pronounced among retired fighters, suggesting that the more trauma fighters sustain, the more long-term consequences there are for brain health.
With evidence like this, there’s no doubt CTE should be a serious consideration for any fighter. It certainly is for De La Hoya: “If I can do anything to help boxers avoid CTE and other brain injuries, I will.”