Carlos Palomino's botched comeback serves as warning for Oscar De La Hoya


A week ago there was a lot of speculation surrounding Oscar De La Hoya's suggestion that he had a desire to get back in the ring and start fighting again.

De La Hoya last fought in 2008, retiring after his 45th fight when he took a fearsome beating from Manny Pacquiao. De La Hoya had his millions and his marbles and he walked away.

Thankfully, the idle talk is over and De La Hoya, who is 42 and as many as four stone above his old fighting weight, has decided to stay on the safe side of the ropes promoting fighters. He said: "I have decided to stay retired." Simple, sensible and inevitable.

In 1997, after 18 years away from the ring, Carlos Palomino, at the ripe old age of 47, returned to boxing because of De La Hoya and the riches a fight with the Golden Boy would certainly have generated.

Palomino had been an excellent world welterweight champion in the '70s, winning the title at Wembley when he knocked out John H. Stracey in round 12 in 1976. He made seven defences before losing to the great Wilfredo Benitez, who was undefeated in 37 going into the WBC welterweight title fight. By the way, Benitez needed a hometown decision in Puerto Rico to sneak a split decision after 15 rounds. Palomino is one of finest forgotten champions from the last 50 years.

There were some quality defences by Palomino against good fighters and defeats against the very best boxers of his generation. Palomino lost on points to Roberto Duran in the fight after Benitez, was over in the sixth round and decided to call it a day at the tender age of just 29.

Palomino's years away from boxing included some paydays as an actor and time spent as the face of Miller Lite beer; he, like all boxers, missed the thrill, needed the bucks and when De La Hoya started fighting at welterweight, he had a wild idea.

"I was in great shape, I always stayed in great shape," said Palomino. "I knew that I had lost a bit of my speed but I also knew that I could punch." In the gym, in the year before he returned to the ring, there were some legendary sparring sessions against much younger men. Palomino's comeback was genuine.

He returned to the ring against a loser and won easily in the eighth round and then he stepped up the opposition and won in two rounds. The most interesting thing, and something that simply would not be applicable to De La Hoya, is that Palomino after 18 years away from boxing was just half-a-pound over the welterweight limit.

The comeback was starting to stir the curiosity of the boxing big boys: "Carlos in his prime versus Oscar would have done fantastic business," said Top Rank matchmaker, Bruce Trampler. "It would have been a massive fight, a mega-million dollar fight."

However, Trampler, speaking in 1997, continued: "Nothing in boxing is impossible and if Carlos does a George Foreman and gets back to the top. Hey, who knows, but right now, a fight with Oscar is very unlikely." Foreman retired in 1977, ran his church, saved souls and returned to boxing in 1987 - in 1994 - after 29 fights - he regained the world heavyweight title when he knocked out Michael Moorer in Las Vegas to complete what is arguably sport's greatest comeback.

In Palomino's third comeback fight he stopped former world champion Rene Arrendondo, then he had another quick win before taking a massive risk in a fight with Wilfredo Rivera in May 1998. Carlos was 48, Rivera had lost in a world title fight in his previous fight to De La Hoya and the stakes were high and simple: beat Rivera and the De La Hoya fight was on.

There are few fairy tales in the boxing business. Palomino lost on points and it was over. Oscar never had to have the extra fights before finding out that it is impossible to stop and reverse the boxing clock.