If boxing champ Oscar de la Hoya does return to the ring, you’ll have “The Masked Dancer” to thank.
De la Hoya was the next celebrity to be revealed on the show, as the person under the Zebra costume on Wednesday’s edition of the hit series. He was unmasked after dancing to Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife,” in tribute to a loved one he lost to cancer.
Asked to comment on whether he may come out of retirement to box again, de la Hoya was coy — but he did tell Variety that, “Let’s just say that Mike Tyson inspired me to train, to start training in the gym. I’ve actually been in the gym for the last about five months. And, you know, who knows, maybe the Zebra is making a comeback!”
De la Hoya said the pandemic did offer him time to focus on training as well. “It’s perfect timing,” he said. “I think with what this show did for me, like mentally and physically. Because, first of all, you have to be in shape, so I ended up taking yoga. I ended up going back to the gym. I started running every single day. I mean, I’m at fighting weight now. So, it’s like wow, OK, maybe there’s something there. And then watching Mike Tyson get in the ring again. I mean it was very inspirational.”
De la Hoya’s reveal also comes following this year’s Super Bowl, in which two former “Masked Dancer” contestants — Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown — picked up rings as part of the champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“Hey, maybe I can win a world title inside the ring,” de la Hoya quipped.
The boxer said he hesitated at first when asked to be a part of “The Masked Dancer,” but then decided it would be fun.
“I was thinking about, ‘OK I’m gonna be dancing behind the mask. Nobody’s gonna know who I am. I can be silly, I could just make it fun,’” he said. “And sure enough, I had the time of my life.”
De la Hoya had no prior dancing experience, other than moving around the boxing ring. “I’ve literally said that in most of my fights if you were to put paint underneath my boxing shoes, I could paint this beautiful picture on the canvas, just moving around like a Picasso,” he said. “But outside the ring I have two left feet and I was a little hesitant when they asked me to do this because I knew I just can’t dance. But the experience was incredible. Literally I couldn’t wait to go back every single day and practice and practice. I love competition, I love the repetition every single day and getting better, doing better. And so, when I paired up with my dancers, they just made it so much fun. I mean they made me feel like I was Fred Astaire.”
De la Hoya said he would compare the “Masked Dancer” experience to being in the ring — but “blindfolded and still fighting with my robe on. You’re constricted inside, you can’t really move because the costume’s heavy. And I mean you’re literally just sweating in there while you’re dancing. And you can see, you could probably see behind the costume maybe 65%. The visibility’s so off. But once the lights went off, once the music’s turned on, it’s kind of like the first bell ringing.
“It actually felt like training for a fight,” he added. “I would wake up early, do my yoga and stretch, and try to get prepared mentally. Because those practice days were sometimes eight hours long. You had to be physically and mentally prepared to get behind that mask.”
Among the panelists, Brian Austin Green figured out early on that it was de la Hoya. Paula Abdul stayed in the boxing realm with Floyd Mayweather, while Ashley Tisdale guessed another fighter, Conor McGregor. Ken Jeong named Michael “The Miz” Mizanin; and guest panelist Will Arnett followed Green in agreeing it was de la Hoya.
“It was hilarious because Brian Austin Green, he kind of figured it out,” de la Hoya said. “Every time I would come out on stage, I would try to throw him off. I would try to throw a little punch here and there, like not knowing what I’m doing. And he still guessed, which was hilarious. The one I was worried about was Paula Abdul because I’ve known Paula Abdul for ages. And so, whenever I would give my hint, and they would hear my voice, I would instantly look at Paula and see her reaction.”
De la Hoya had previously danced to “Take You Dancing,” by Jason Derulo; “Magalehna,” by Sergio Mendes; “All My Life,” by K-Ci and Jojo; “Mi Gente,” by J Balvin and Willy William. The panelists’ previous guesses included Conor McGregor, Barry Bonds, Ricky Martin, Kevin Richardson, Pitbull, Floyd Mayweather, Mario Lopez, Tito Ortiz, Tony Robbins, LL Cool J and, yes, de la Hoya.
“The Masked Dancer” includes the feature “Word Up,” in which each contestant says a one-word clue to their identity. De la Hoya’s first “Word Up” was “Comeback,” second “Word Up” was “Champion” and third was “Author.” On Wednesday, his latest “Word Up” was “Box Office.”
This season’s costumes include Zebra, Tulip, Sloth, Exotic Bird, Cotton Candy, Cricket, Disco Ball, Moth, Ice Cube and Hammerhead. Previously unmasked were Jordin Sparks as the Exotic Bird, Vinny Guadagnino as the Hammerhead, Brian McKnight as the Cricket, Elizabeth Smart as the Moth, Bill Nye the Science Guy as the Ice Cube, and Ice-T as the Disco Ball.
The show touts a cast of 10 celebrities that have “amassed more than 38 million albums sold worldwide, 20 Emmy Award wins, 20 Grammy Award nominations, 10 World Dancing titles, five New York Times Best-Selling Author titles, four Olympic gold medals and three Broadway show appearances.”
Here were the other contestants and their performances on episode seven, “Semifinals — It’s All About the Dance!”:
Dance: “Get Ready (2013 Version),” by 2 Unlimited and “Hey Mickey,” by Mickey Mix DH
Bonus clue: “I started on this path when I was 6.”
Valentine clue:: “Will, you’ve shown my love on the Masked Singer but I’m ready to show you love on the Masked Dancer.”
Word Up: “Cover Girl”
Panel guesses: Tara Lipinski, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas
Previous dances: “Glitter in the Air,” by Pink; “Sour Candy,” by Lady Gaga feat. Blackpink; “Great Balls of Fire,” by Jerry Lee Lewis; “Swan Lake Opus 20, Act 1 Finale,” by Tchaikovsky
Previous Word Ups: “Primetime”; “Team Player”; “Prayer”
Previous panel guesses: Jenna Dewan, Pink, Julianne Hough, Tara Lipinski, Kristi Yamaguchi, Gabby Butler, Simone Biles, Hayden Panettiere
Dance: “Dancing with a Stranger,” by Sam Smith feat. Normani
Bonus clue: “I was lonely until I met the love of my life, who taught me that love is magic.”
Valentine clue: “Brian, who would thought that one of your co-stars would be one of my co-stars? Maybe one day we can be co-stars together.”
Word Up: “App”
Panel guesses: Patrick Dempsey, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Valentin Chmerkovskiy
Previous dances: “What I Like About You,” by the Romantics; “Up Where We Belong,” by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes; “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” by Dean Martin; “Twist Remix,” by Neeraj Shridhar
Previous Word Ups: “Broadway”; “Leading man”; “Rose”
Previous panel guesses: Matthew Morrison, Kevin Federline, Jason Derulo, Jonathan Groff, Keegan-Michael Key, Will Ferrell, Bradley Cooper, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Harry Shum Jr., Hugh Jackman, Jack Black
Dance: Polka medley
Word Up: “Butterflies”
Bonus clue: “We need to talk hype back in the house.”
Valentine clue: “Ashley, I’ve danced to ‘High School Musical’ for 10,000 hours. You’re my babe forever. Toodles, Tulip.”
Panel guesses: Maddie Ziegler, Mackenzie Ziegler, Liza Koshy, Noah Cyrus, Dove Cameron
Previous dances: “Fergalicious,” by Fergie; “Fields of Gold,” by Eva Cassidy; “Thank U, Next,” by Ariana Grande; “My Boyfriend’s Back,” by The Chiffons
Previous Word Ups: “Triple”; “Princess”; “Lifetime Achievements”
Previous panel guesses: Charli D’Amelio, Ariana Grande, Heather Morris, Sarah Hyland, Hayden Panettiere, Kristen Bell, Charli D’Amelio, Simone Biles, Julianne Hough, Liza Koshy, Haylie Duff, Jamie Lyn Spears