KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- At the final press conference for Fight of Champions, which is headlined by the WBA regular welterweight title fight between Manny Pacquiao and Lucas Matthysse, a familiar face sat on Matthysse's side of the dais just a few feet from Pacquiao.
Six-division champion Oscar De La Hoya, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions which handles Matthysse's career, arrived in this Malaysian capital early Thursday morning, three days before the Argentinian stakes his WBA belt against the Filipino icon at the Axiata Arena.
He went straight from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to the press conference, and when it was his turn at the podium, there was a hint of nostalgia as he spoke about his one-time opponent and fellow boxer-turned promoter.
"First of all, I want to tell Manny Pacquiao how proud I am of him," said De La Hoya, who retired in late 2008 after Pacquiao laid a beating on him over eight lopsided rounds. "Not only because he has become one of the most important legends in the sport of boxing but because he's a legend outside the ring. Manny Pacquiao, in the recent history of the sport, has become one of the iconic figures. He's building bridges between countries, he's attracting the youth to become fighters, to become warriors. He's giving them hope. Manny Pacquiao is doing this through his fists, he's doing through his heart, he's doing it because he loves to give back."
De La Hoya and Pacquiao's paths first crossed in June 2001 at the MGM Grand, when the 22-year-old Filipino challenged IBF super bantamweight champion Lehlo Ledwaba in a fight he took on three weeks' notice on the undercard of De La Hoya's super welterweight title fight against Javier Castillejo. Both fighters emerged victorious, with Pacquiao scoring a sixth-round TKO in his American TV debut and De La Hoya scoring a unanimous decision for his first belt at 154 pounds.
A year later, De La Hoya got into the promotional side of the sport by founding Golden Boy Promotions, which has since grown into one of the most powerful promotional outfits in the sport. Aside from Matthysse, GBP lists among its current stable of clients Canelo Alvarez, Sadam Ali, and Rey Vargas. Previous clients include Juan Manuel Marquez, Bernard Hopkins, Amir Khan, Shane Mosley, and Erik Morales.
In 2003, De La Hoya promoted his first fight involving the rising star from the Philippines. It would turn out to be one of the definitive results of Pacquiao's career as he took on one of the best and most recognizable featherweights of that time and scored a stunning TKO win that propelled him to international stardom.
It was a result that left a huge impression on De La Hoya.
"I remember when I promoted Manny Pacquiao vs. Marco Antonio Barrera many years ago," he said. "At the time nobody knew who Manny Pacquiao was. But after he beat Marco Antonio Barrera, the world knew who Manny Pacquiao was going to become, and that is an eight-time champion in eight divisions, an iconic figure."
Turning to Pacquiao who was seated to his right, De La Hoya continued: "I really feel it was your destiny to become the person that you are today. I salute you, I admire you. It really gives me great pleasure to be with you here today, because Golden Boy Promotions is all about putting the best against the best. And this is what we have here today."
Like Dela Hoya, Pacquiao has flung himself head on into promoting. While he does yet not have as impressive a list of clientele, the outfit is intent on making inroads in the Asian market. This Kuala Lumpur card is the first major international project of MP Promotions. What better way to make that big leap than doing it with the original boxing icon-turned-promoter.