Remember those TV commercials for Hair Club for Men? The company's chief executive, running his fingers through a thicker, more lustrous mane than he once had, looked into the camera and said, "Remember, I'm not just the president. I'm also a client."
At 35, Oscar De La Hoya does not appear to be a candidate for male-pattern baldness just yet. But De La Hoya, who founded Golden Boy Promotions with an eye to his own post-boxing life, remains his company's best client. And that irrefutable fact of life is what makes the Dec. 6 pairing of De La Hoya (39-5, 30 KOs) and Manny Pacquiao (47-3-2, 35 KOs) at Las Vegas' MGM Grand about so much more than who wins and loses in the ring.
How this pay-per-view attraction fares in a weakened economy might be of even more importance than its purely boxing implications, which are significant.
Less than 19 months ago, De La Hoya vaulted past Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield as the biggest pay-per-view attraction of all time. His showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr., who won a split decision, drew 2.15 million buys, breaking the record of 1.99 million buys for a boxing event, set by the infamous Holyfield-Tyson "Bite Fight" in 1997.
De La Hoya-Mayweather also boosted De La Hoya into the top slot among PPV income-generators, with a total haul of $610.6 million for 18 fights. Tyson dropped into second place with $545 million generated in 12 events; Holyfield is now third with $543 million produced in 14 events.
Against Pacquiao, the Filipino southpaw who, with Mayweather retired, is now widely considered to be the world's best pound-for-pound fighter, PPV sales for a bout of this magnitude might normally threaten to crack or at least approach the two million mark. But times have changed in the business of boxing, and not for the better.
A warning signal was unmistakably sounded for the recent PPV bout in Madison Square Garden between Wales' Joe Calzaghe and veteran headliner Roy Jones Jr. HBO officials were projecting a half-million buys for that one, but the final returns were alarmingly low. With sales of fewer than 225,000, HBO might not even have recouped its production cost for the three episodes of "24/7," which basically was an infomercial meant to create demand for Calzaghe-Jones.
Just this past weekend, the usual horde of free-spending Ricky Hatton admirers from the United Kingdom descended on Las Vegas in smaller numbers to see their hero stop Paulie Malignaggi. It was another sign that boxing fans are as tapped-out as everyone else in an economy softer than a stick of butter left on the kitchen counter during a heat wave.
So to the rescue - maybe - rides De La Hoya, whose nickname, "Golden Boy," has less to do with the gold medal he won at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics than his status as the Fort Knox of pugilism.
The suits at HBO, mindful of the hit they took on Calzaghe-Jones, have downgraded their expectations for De La Hoya-Pacquiao, but only slightly. They're hoping for sales of 1.5 million, which might be a stretch with a suggested subscription price of $54.95.
Mindful that he remains the biggest draw in a sport that clearly can't afford to lose any more marquee attractions, De La Hoya - who had vowed to make this bout his farewell to boxing as an active fighter - is now hinting that he might fight on into 2009 and beyond.
If De La Hoya proves he still has the right stuff inside the ropes, and PPV sales are reasonably robust, a signal will be sent out that boxing might be down again, but not necessarily out.