De La Hoya, who turned pro after winning gold in the 1992 Olympics, was a gifted lightweight and junior welterweight, lightning quick, courageous, and tough. When his body forced him to campaign at higher weights he lost effectiveness but remained boxing’s own Elvis. Young women threw him their underpants. He earned the biggest purse ever paid in boxing when he fought Floyd Mayweather, who beat him, but just barely. After all receipts were in, his take was around $50 million. A poor kid from East LA, he used to carry around a food stamp salvaged from his youth. He showed it to me years ago. “I don’t ever want to forget where I came from,” he said. When I first started covering boxing an old-timer told me, “There’s no middle class in boxing.” Either you travel to a fight in a private jet or an old Toyota. Oscar made it onto the jet.
When Vittorio Parisi, a Renaissance man from (where else?) Italy, learned of the coup at Ring he e-mailed his resignation from its ratings board in protest. (His name is still listed on the board’s roster, but Parisi says this is against his wishes.) He sent me a copy of the e-mail, and with the permission of Parisi, a symphony orchestra conductor who operates his own boxing website in Italian, I sent it around to others in the boxing world. Among the responses was one from Debbie Caplan, a contracted publicist for Golden Boy, who copied in all forty-two respondents: “I for one am glad to know that Ring will be in the most capable hands of Mike Rosenthal. The Journalists [sic] that will be joining the effort are true professionals and boxing experts.” This, by the way, is the same Debbie Caplan who’d insisted that a sensational series of photos depicting De La Hoya in drag were Photoshopped. When they first raged across the Internet in 2007, she told the New York Daily News, “They’re not real. His head’s too small and it doesn’t even look like his body.” Four years later, after coming out of rehab for cocaine and alcohol, Oscar, to his credit, admitted that was him in the fishnets and lipstick.
The Ring, like so many enterprises in the global economy, ended up a small piece of a much larger business network, and it wasn’t terribly important to the owners who controlled its destiny. It was “old” media that could be picked up cheaply—for less than seven figures, bragged Schaefer—by elements of the industry it covers. It’s as though General Dynamics bought Newsweek, which then pumped out prose favoring bigger Pentagon contracts. Not hard to imagine in a world where lifelong Republican fixer Roger Ailes runs a “fair and balanced” twenty-four-hour propaganda network. Maybe the rest of the world is just catching up to boxing, which was corrupt and brutal from the start, but at least entertaining.
Ring provided me with a forum to raise intractable issues I couldn’t personally resolve. By the time it snatched my years-long refuge, the magazine embodied much that was loathsome about the fight game. I’d already said just about everything I wanted to say about boxing in my 2009 novel The Barfighter. Golden Boy, for all the wrong reasons, tore me away from the sport at last. I didn’t have the strength to do it myself, but the parting was inevitable and overdue. Now I try to mimic the attitude of ex-fighters. Invariably broke six months after retirement, they voice no regrets.