OSCAR DE LA HOYA made a fool of himself while under the influence of something mind-bending last weekend. Interviewed on Triller, the glitzy platform that will supposedly broadcast his return on July 3, his eyes were foggy and slow. His words were slurred and confused. The commentators hollered and giggled at each nonsensical outburst and encouraged the Hall of Famer to do his worst.
“I don’t care who it is,” he spluttered when asked about his comeback opponent. “I will fight to the end, I will bleed to the end and I will go down to the end.” He was like that lonely man sat on his own at the bar, stumbling over the same old thoughts, pointing at unfamilar faces, telling anyone in earshot that tomorrow he will stop drinking and get up and do some running instead.
If all the tell-tale signs were right, De La Hoya was not just drunk, he was hammered. Whether he was encouraged to drink the hospitality beers behind the scenes or he turned up drunk for his role behind the mic, that the producers at Triller felt he was in an acceptable condition to be seen live on television is concerning. The cynical might even say it was all part of the plan; get De La Hoya smashed, stick him in front of the camera, the clips will go viral and, hey presto, millions of people will suddenly be interested in this drunken ex-fighter stepping back into the ring. One hopes that wasn’t the case.
The 48-year-old has admitted to having problems with alcohol and cocaine in the past and has endured several spells in rehab. To be in that state on air would suggest his problems are not a thing of the past. It should make his comeback, already a bad idea considering his obvious decline when being thrashed by Manny Pacquiao 13 years ago, unsanctionable. To me, someone who used to adore watching De La Hoya at his pomp, this very public descent into oblivion is alarming. “The Golden Boy”, still a highly influential figure, needs help.
But repackaging old fighters as modern day novelty acts appears to be a crucial part of the Triller business strategy. The platform has made huge strides since bringing us Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jnr last year which – if the reported audience numbers are correct – was the highest grossing boxing pay-per-view of 2020 by some distance. On Saturday night, the event headlined by Jake Paul-Ben Askren, with the likes of a stoned Snoop Dogg and an obliterated Oscar as co-stars, was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter and Instagram in the USA. There is, I hate to say, real appetite for this.
The sport can’t turn a blind eye nor, as hardcore fans tend to do, merely brush them off as imposters. If theatrics like YouTubers bashing up out of shape mixed martial artists is stealing the attention from legitimate fights like Demetrius Andrade-Liam Williams then boxing, at least as you and I know it, has a problem. It speaks of a sport that has for too long gotten away with doing as it pleases – concocting fake world champions to the extent that the average person on the street would struggle to name a single one of them, failing to make the right fights and loading six-hour-long undercards with dreary mismatches. It’s all so infuriatingly convoluted at times it’s lost its appeal to the masses, bar the odd superfight that comes along and gets it right.
What we should take some comfort from is that boxing, the very simple act of two competitors fighting each other, will always appeal. Triller have realised that and exploited that. In the absence of a structure to make the best always fight the best, audiences are instead drawn to the quick-fix nature of Triller. One might even say they already have a better grasp of the business and the sport’s potential than many who have been involved in boxing for years. But, even so, there has to be a limit. Rolling out shot fighters is a dangerous trend and one that not even the TikTok generation will be able to stomach if the worst was to happen.
It’s little surprise that ex-boxers, for so long encouraged to remain on the sidelines and accept their glory days are over, are lapping up this new licence to be young again.
De La Hoya wasn’t just under the influence of alcohol, he was under the influence of Triller.