Exit, center stage

So blurry is the line that often separates a boxer’s career and retirement, it’s easy to second-guess whether the first fight between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. will be their last.

In the hype that saturates the fight game, there are two types of talking — trash and retirement — and neither usually mean much.

But in five days, Mayweather Jr. expects to become the sport’s brightest star. And then on Sunday, the 30-year-old plans to rest and retire.

“That’s for real. This is my last one,” Mayweather said. “I’ve done enough. No matter what would come after this, it wouldn’t be good enough.”

On Saturday, in what is almost certain to be the largest-grossing fight in history, De La Hoya defends his WBC super welterweight title against Mayweather at the MGM Grand Garden.

Uncertainty will follow both fighters out of the ring. Is this De La Hoya’s finale, win or lose? Is Mayweather serious about stepping out of the spotlight at the peak of his career?

Or will the two meet again in a sequel that could be even bigger?

“If the fight is so crazy and so good that the fans want to see it again, then I’ll do it again, absolutely,” Mayweather said. “As of right now, Oscar De La Hoya will be my last opponent.”

The 34-year-old De La Hoya, who has fought just once in the past two years, has until recently spent most of his time on the business side of the sport, building his Golden Boy Promotions.

The only fighter in boxing history to win world titles in six weight classes, De La Hoya now appears more comfortable in a suit and tie than he does wearing a black eye.

But the lure of a potential $30 million payday for De La Hoya, and some pointed trash talk from his opponent, has brought him out of semi-retirement.

“I truly feel that Mayweather Jr. needs a humbling experience,” De La Hoya said. “He really is a little brat. I mean, he’s very arrogant. Everything that comes out of his mouth, it’s motivating to me because it just makes me work that much harder.

“He starts talking all of this trash, about I’m nothing, and I haven’t fought anybody. And it’s uncalled for, it’s unnecessary. You would never see Tiger Woods talk bad about Jack Nicklaus. It’s just something that is disrespectful, and therefore it revs me up to really shut him up on May 5.”

De La Hoya, who has been training in Puerto Rico and arrives in Las Vegas today, recently said he senses Mayweather is “getting nervous” as the fight approaches.

Mayweather, after a Monday workout at his Las Vegas gym, turned up the heat on his assault on De La Hoya.

“I ain’t nervous. I ain’t scared of nothing. You’ll see who’s nervous when we get in the ring, and you’re going to be able to tell the difference,” Mayweather said. “Nervous of what, his name? Because he can’t fight. I’m not worried about nothing at all. I sleep good every night.

“I know what it takes. I’ve been here before. He’s trying to psych himself up, (saying), ‘The kid is going to get crushed in all the bright lights.’ That’s bull, man. He can’t fool me. There’s no fighter stronger than me mentally. If there is any pressure, I always rise to the occasion.”

After spending about 10 minutes denigrating De La Hoya’s abilities as a boxer and businessman, Mayweather (37-0, 24 knockouts) said he is prepared to make Saturday his grand finale.

He has four children (ages 7, 6, 5 and 3) and wants to focus on other business ventures while also promoting young fighters.

“It’s not tough at all, because I accomplished everything that I wanted to accomplish in this sport,” Mayweather said. “These are extremely valuable years in my kids’ lives, and I want to be able to spend these valuable years with my kids.”

Leonard Ellerbe, Mayweather’s business adviser and strength coach, is sure that Mayweather will defeat De La Hoya and retire.

“Floyd’s going to go out on top, and what better time when he’s at the peak of his career? This is it. This is his last fight,” Ellerbe said. “He’s done everything that he wanted to do in the sport, not what other people want him to do.

“This is the final piece to the puzzle. This puts the official stamp on everything he wanted to accomplish. The Floyd that I know is a family man and a great businessman, and he just wants to raise his kids and be happy.”

Roger Mayweather, Floyd’s trainer and uncle, has a different philosophy.

“Floyd loves boxing. He loves it,” Roger Mayweather said. “Anytime you make this kind of living at something you love, it’s hard to walk away from it.

“Ray Leonard said he was retiring, didn’t he? Joe Louis said he was retiring, didn’t he? Roberto Duran said he was retiring and he was still fighting at 40. If something is in your blood, it’s in your blood. Floyd could retire after this, but I can’t imagine it.”

Boxing is also in De La Hoya’s blood, but instead of shedding it to make money, he seems more intent on promoting other fighters.

“I will always need boxing. Boxing is what made me. Boxing is what’s always going to make me,” he said. “The sport is a sport that I just have so much passion for and that I love, and obviously that’s one of the reasons why I turned promoter.”

Mayweather, meanwhile, is promoting himself as the only potential future opponent for De La Hoya (38-4, 30 KOs).

“Who else is Oscar going to fight? Shane Mosley is with Golden Boy, Bernard Hopkins is with Golden Boy, Felix Trinidad is retired, and he don’t want to do business with Bob Arum,” Mayweather said. “He has nobody else to fight but me.

“It’s going to be his last fight. I’m going to make sure of that. If he does come back, he’s got to fight me, and I’ve got to tell him how much money he can get.”

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