Diego De La Hoya: 'I'm the one fighting in the ring -- not Oscar'

Junior featherweight Diego De La Hoya is a very accurate puncher. Tom Hogan/Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions

The last time undefeated junior featherweight Diego "The Golden Kid" De La Hoya fought was on the Gennady Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez pay-per-view card in September. It was an enormous opportunity on a prestigious promotion and De La Hoya took full advantage of it, winning a near-shutout 10-round decision over previously undefeated Randy Caballero.

His fight against Jose Salgado at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California, on Thursday (ESPN2/ESPN Deportes, 10:30 p.m. ET) is more of a stay-busy match against a modest opponent. But De La Hoya can't afford to be complacent and ruin a year that helped him continue to emerge from under the shadow of his famous cousin and promoter, Oscar De La Hoya.

"Obviously, my last name is going to help me a lot, but Oscar already made his career. Now, I'm the one boxing. I'm the one fighting in the ring -- not Oscar. It's me," Diego said shortly after turning pro in September 2013.

De La Hoya (20-0, 9 KOs) isn't a huge puncher, but makes up for it with his busy style, featuring sharp, accurate punches. Against Caballero, he had his left hook working overtime.

"[Diego] has great ability to box and move, but if he sees that he hurts you, he will apply the pressure and exchange and bang with anybody," said De La Hoya's trainer, Joel Diaz.

The 23-year-old De La Hoya was born in Mexicali, Mexico, but now resides in Calexico, California, where he recently purchased a home. Diego claims a 239-11 amateur record, including a Mexican national championship at 123 pounds in 2011.

The 28-year-old Salgado (35-4-1, 28 KOs) hasn't been active the past few years, fighting just once in 2015, 2016 and once this year, on April 16, when he lost a split 10-round decision to Javier Gallo. Even though he has gone 1-2-1 in his four most recent fights, Salgado, who lives in Cancun, is looking at the De La Hoya fight as an opportunity to turn things around.

"Diego De La Hoya is a great fighter with great boxing abilities. I've noticed that he gets better with every fight," Salgado said. "This fight motivates me. De La Hoya is a great challenge, and I'm going to give it my all to come out victorious for my fans and family."

All the same, it shapes up to be a relatively easy fight for De La Hoya.

"You know, Jose Salgado is a tough little fighter. He's coming up from a lower weight, but he's a tough kid, a tough Mexican kid," Diaz said. "You cannot underestimate any opponent, but he's a perfect opponent for Diego to look good and close the year with a good fight."

In the co-feature, Carlos "The Solutions" Morales (16-2-3, 6 KOs) faces Dardan Zenunaj (14-3, 11 KOs) in a schedule 10-round junior lightweight bout.

Zenunaj, 30, was born in Kosovo and moved to Belgium with his family when he was 3 years old. He is currently staying with manager Mile Levy while being trained by Joe Goossen at the Ten Goose Gym in Van Nuys, California. Thursday's match with Morales will be Zenunaj's sixth in the U.S.

He is a former Muay Thai fighter, commando parachutist and Belgian featherweight champion. Zenunaj relinquished the national title in order to box as junior lightweight.

In his latest bout, Zenunaj scored a third-round TKO of Recky Dulay on Sept. 30 in Boston. He knocked down Dulay three times before the fight was stopped.

"We don't see this being as easy as the last fight, but with these styles, I think Dardan will eventually break him down," Levy said. "Morales is going to box and move and try not to engage too much with Dardan. We know that, but Dardan will eventually get to him."

In his most recent fight, the 27-year-old Morales lost a unanimous 10-round decision to Alberto Machado on Aug. 18. Machado deserved to win, but the fight seemed closer than the wide official scores of 99-90, 98-91 and 99-90. True, Morales was knocked down in the second and fell behind on the cards, but he got going during the middle portion the bout and had a strong 10th-round.

"I've seen a few videos of my opponent. He's a one-dimensional fighter who comes straight forward and throws a lot of punches, so that's what I've been working on with [Petr] Petrov," Morales said. "He throws a lot of shots and applies a lot of pressure. Petrov is a perfect sparring partner to get ready for this opponent.

"I can do it all in the ring. In every fight, I do something different. I don't always do the same things. Fighters and trainers don't know exactly what is my style. I just have to adjust to however the opponent comes."

Originally from Tulancingo, Mexico, Morales moved to California when he was 10. He earned an associates degree in criminal justice at East Los Angeles Community College, where he played soccer.

"I really wanted to be a professional soccer player, but I thought it would be a lot harder to do -- there's a lot of competition -- so I decided to become a professional boxer."