Why is De La Hoya's legacy still being questioned?

In boxing, few things prove more difficult than deciding who is the best fighter of all time. The division system and the different time periods render it practically impossible to make a fair and equitable comparison.

What we can make, however, is a list of the greatest of all time, and in that list, Oscar De La Hoya's name has to appear in gold letters along with those of other great legends.

What makes him worthy of sitting side by side with fighters of the stature of Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and Tommy Hearns is that De La Hoya has been the only boxer to capture six titles in different divisions. Along the way, he has defeated some of the best fighters of his generation, like lighter greats Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker. He showed heart in edging Ike Quartey in 1999 and guts in stopping Fernando Vargas in 2002.

During his 15 years as a professional boxer, De La Hoya has fought 44 times, winning 39 and knocking out 30 of his opponents. He suffered only one stoppage loss (to Bernard Hopkins) and at least three of his defeats have been arguably questionable.

Despite his convincing résumé, the Golden Boy's credentials are still being questioned in the twilight of his career. Just days away from his 45th fight, the doubts that haunted De La Hoya in the past have resurfaced. Is he fighting the best possible competition? What does he gain for defeating a smaller fighter?

Originally, De la Hoya was set to close out his career with a rematch against Floyd Mayweather in September, but Mayweather's unexpected retirement nixed that fight.

Many figured the winner between Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto in July would be De La Hoya's next opponent, but De La Hoya switched gears after Margarito chopped down Cotto in 11 rounds.

Eventually, De La Hoya opted for the consensus No. 1 fighter in the world in Manny Pacquiao.

Choosing Pacquiao was disconcerting for some fight fans. They wondered if Pacquiao, who is making the leap to 147 pounds from 135 pounds, will have the speed and pop to contend with De La Hoya.

In essence, De La Hoya answered that question years ago with his own fists. Ever since he turned pro in 1992, De La Hoya has moved up and down boxing's weight classes in search of career-defining fights against the world's best boxers.

Less than two years after turning pro in 1992, De La Hoya captured his first world title by stopping Jimmy Bredahl in 10 rounds. Five months later, he lifted a lightweight strap. By June 2004, De La Hoya had hoisted a belt in six different weight classes.

Still, boxing insiders criticized De La Hoya for taking bouts against fighters they felt were past their primes.

"Oscar is a good fighter; he's faced many good boxers, but he faced Whitaker at the end of his career, he didn't want a rematch against Hopkins when [Hopkins] was 40, and fought against [Hector] Camacho and Chavez when they were in decline," Mayweather said before his fight with De La Hoya in 2007.

In the '90s, the Camachos, Chavezes and the Whitakers of the world were the kind of fighters every boxer had to defeat if he wanted to earn credibility and titles. De La Hoya did so convincingly.

The other premise critics have used against the Golden Boy is his defeats against his contemporaries. De La Hoya suffered a pair of losses to Shane Mosley (once in 2000 and again in '03), and one each to Mayweather and Felix Trinidad (in 1999).

With the exception of the stoppage loss to Hopkins, all of De La Hoya's losses have been almost too close to call.

And so what if De La Hoya was not invincible? Neither was Muhammad Ali or Chavez. It was De La Hoya's ability to come back after each defeat that reserved him a special place in history. He proved he could overcome losses and get back on the horse as well as anybody. He bounced back from losses to Felix Trinidad and Shane Mosley by capturing titles at junior middleweight and middleweight years later.

"Recovering championship [belts] was always the most difficult thing," De La Hoya said. "It's hard to become a champ, but it's much more difficult to keep it up."

Maybe he's not the same Golden Boy who was named the world's best pound-for-pound boxer by Ring magazine in 1997, but he's still the man to beat for those who want to make names for themselves in this sport.

Alberto Rojas is a contributor to ESPN Deportes La Revista.