NEW YORK - Professional boxing has lost much of its lustre in recent years and is now about to lose its most bankable attraction: "Golden Boy" Oscar de la Hoya has vowed to retire from the ring after one more fight this year.
De La Hoya helped to retain popularity in the sport while it suffered through Mike Tyson's decline, going from being an Olympic gold medallist to an electrifying professional who won over fans with boyish good looks and a powerful left hook.
Now the question is: can he help boxing once again in his second career as promoter?
His firm, Golden Boy Promotions, formed in 2001, has already become an industry leader with nearly 50 fighters under his control. His ambitions do not end there.
De La Hoya says he wants to help restore greatness to his sport with plans to support amateur boxing, create a pension plan and financial planning for fighters in his stable and to help get fights back on network television.
"We want to show the boxing world that it can be done, taking care of boxers can be done," De La Hoya said in a telephone interview coinciding with the release of his autobiography, American Son.
"It's a long process. It's going to take erasing all these bad memories people have of Don King and these other promoters and starting fresh," he said.
King is the controversial promoter famous for his theatrics, gravity-defying hairstyle and trail of disputes with fighters over money.
Experts, including De La Hoya, say boxing is not as bad as its reputation, though they acknowledge the sport has suffered from a perception of corruption, the lack of a captivating heavyweight champion, a proliferation of sanctioning bodies resulting in multiple champions at each weight class and competition from new sports such as ultimate fighting.
Big championship fights are usually restricted to pay-per-view or premium cable television, preventing millions of fans watching the sport's marquee events.
Fighters lack the protection that leagues and unions provide in other sports that pose less physical danger, leaving them at the mercy of managers, promoters and state boxing commissions.
"We explain to every fighter we have under contract the revenue stream that's coming in. We tell them to put some money away, we're going to set you up with a financial adviser," De La Hoya said.
At least one boxing expert is sceptical. Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports, one of America's leading boxing writers, considers De La Hoya honest and charitable but doubts his ability to transform the sport.
"He's been a promoter for almost seven years. Has he done it? It's one thing to talk about it but there's got to be a time for action," said Iole.
"Who's giving out pensions today, period, let alone to independent contractors? To say that Oscar is going to be a white knight riding in to save the sport is a fallacy."
De La Hoya says it will also take some luck. The sport could use a great heavyweight, or another Golden Boy. - Reuters