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Boxing's 'Golden Boy'

Oscar's stage is the ring
By Mike Puma
Special to

"It's in my blood. I sometimes say I hate the sport, but deep down inside I love it," Oscar De La Hoya says on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury series.

In and out of the ring, Oscar De La Hoya has never had much trouble getting dates. Boxing's "Golden Boy" -- a nickname given to him after he was the only U.S. boxer to take home a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics -- doesn't shy away from opponents or photo opportunities.

Oscar De La Hoya
Oscar De La Hoya has won titles in six weight classes.
He has said boxing won't be the same after he retires. De La Hoya is one of the sport's most popular figures, and his good looks only add to his standing with his legions of female fans.

De La Hoya has won titles in six weight classes. With championships as a junior lightweight, lightweight, super lightweight, welterweight, super welterweight and middleweight, De La Hoya's goal is to win titles in seven divisions.

The winner of more than $200 million in purses through September 2004, his hand speed and quickness are his two major assets. As a pro, his record is 37-4 with 29 knockouts. "My power punch is my left," De La Hoya said. "My right hand does not really serve me in a fight. I may use it to measure, but I'm not even thinking about my right hand. It's no secret, everybody knows."

Victories over Julio Cesar Chavez in 1996 and Pernell Whitaker in 1997 led many to consider the 5-foot-11 De La Hoya as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Since losing the WBC welterweight title to Shane Mosley on June 17, 2000, De La Hoya rebounded to win three fights before being beaten again by Mosley. Victories over Javier Castillejo (WBC title) in June 2001 and Fernando Vargas (WBA) in September 2002 gave him super welterweight championships.

"Do I see myself as a Leonard or a Hearns? No," De La Hoya said. "I feel I lost a lot of time in the boxing world because of my negativity."

He was born Feb. 4, 1973 in East Los Angeles, where his parents, Joel and Cecilia, settled after leaving Mexico. Joel was a professional boxer in Mexico and the U.S., but quit to support his family, which included an older son, Joel Jr. Oscar's father learned boxing from his father, Vincente, an amateur boxer in Mexico in the 1940s.

Joel Sr. worked as a shipping /receiving clerk for a heating and cooling company and Cecilia worked as a seamstress and occasional singer, but money was scarce.

After learning that his son was running from neighborhood bullies when he wasn't getting pummeled, Joel pushed Oscar to the gym. He started boxing at six. "I was a little kid who used to fight a lot on the street -- and get beat up," De La Hoya said. "But I liked it [boxing]. So my dad took me to the gym."

Growing up in the ghetto, De La Hoya had to learn survival skills. At 11, he was riding in the back seat of a car when the fragments of buckshot and glass embedded themselves in the back of his head. Two years later he was stabbed while beating up a grown man who had called him a punk.

The ring proved to be a haven. In 1988, De La Hoya won the National Junior Olympic 119-pound championship and followed up with the 125-pound title the next year.

In 1990, De La Hoya, at 17, went to Seattle as the youngest boxer at the Goodwill Games and won the gold medal in his weight class. His mother was battling breast cancer at the time. That October, she died at 38. De La Hoya vowed to honor her memory by winning an Olympic gold medal in Barcelona and presenting it at her grave.

At the 1992 Summer Games, De La Hoya knocked out his first three opponents in the first round before escaping with a one-point victory in the semifinals. That got him a rematch with Marco Rudolph, who defeated him at the 1991 World Championships, for the gold medal. This time he knocked out Rudolph in the third round.

"The most important thing I've done in my life was winning the Olympic gold medal for my mother," De La Hoya said.

At the victory ceremony, De La Hoya carried the U.S. flag in one hand and the Mexican flag in the other, honoring his mother.

Oscar De La Hoya
De La Hoya hopes to have target practice on Vargas, like he did on Arturo Gatti.
This was his last fight as an amateur; he finished with a 223-5 record that included 153 knockouts. With Joel Sr. calling the shots, De La Hoya accepted an unprecedented $1 million management deal with untried New Yorkers Steve Nelson and Robert Mittleman. After his first pro fight, Bob Arum signed on as De La Hoya's promoter.

De La Hoya scored first-round knockouts in his first two fights. It wasn't until his 11th pro bout -- against Mexican lightweight Narciso Valenzuela in October 1993 -- that De La Hoya got knocked down. He recovered in that first round and knocked out Valenzuela before the round ended.

His first title came in 1994, when he knocked out Jimmi Bredahl for the WBO junior lightweight belt. Later that year he KOed Jorge Paez for the WBO lightweight title.

In 1995, having won his first 17 pro fights, De La Hoya gained the IBF lightweight title by knocking out Rafael Ruelas in the second round. A year later, he knocked out Chavez in the fourth round to win the WBC super-lightweight title. De La Hoya then beat Pernell Whitaker in a 12-round decision in April 1997 to claim the WBC welterweight championship.

He followed that victory with seven straight wins to make his record 31-0 when he met Felix Trinidad in September 1999. The fight was among the most anticipated of the decade. The 1.25 million pay-per-view buys and $64 million gross made it the biggest non-heavyweight fight in history. De La Hoya was stunned when the judges awarded Trinidad the 12-round decision.

"I thought I won the fight easily," he said. "Felix never hurt me, but I know there were several times I hurt him with combinations."

De La Hoya was later awarded the WBC welterweight belt he lost after Trinidad relinquished the title by moving up to 154 pounds. But De La Hoya didn't keep the belt long, losing it to Mosley in a 12-round decision in June 2000.

After the defeat, De La Hoya did some soul searching. He took nine months off to pursue his dream of becoming a singer. De La Hoya had begun singing Spanish ballads as a child alongside his mother, who occasionally sang professionally in Mexico. In 2001, his first album, "Oscar De La Hoya," was nominated for a Grammy award (it didn't win).

Earlier that year, De La Hoya had a messy split with Arum. He thought the promoter was getting too much money; Arum didn't like De La Hoya's attitude and suggested he retire because he lacked a commitment to boxing. "Oscar has not learned how to deal with defeat, and he looks for a scapegoat, and this time the arrow fell on me," Arum said.

In March, De La Hoya returned to the ring and knocked out Arturo Gatti in the fifth round. Three months later, he gained a 12-round decision over Castillejo.

In October 2001, De La Hoya, the playboy, finally decided to settle down. He had a secret wedding to Latin pop star Millie Corretjer of Puerto Rico.

After reconciling with Arum in November 2001, De La Hoya's next fight was against Vargas, also a Mexican-American from Los Angeles. The Golden Boy settled their neighborhood feud by registering an 11th-round TKO over the WBA's 154-pound champion.

Before De La Hoya retires, he's looking for atonement. "I feel that a lot of athletes who stand out during their careers are sometimes appreciated after their careers," De La Hoya said. "Hopefully, I can be appreciated after I get my revenge for the two losses that I have."

Make it three now. In September 2003, he tried to gain revenge against Mosley and was winning their rematch after eight rounds. But he lost the last four rounds on all three scorecards and dropped a close but unanimous decision as he had his WBC and WBA titles taken from him.

A pudgy-looking De La Hoya won his sixth title in June 2004 when, in his middleweight debut, he captured the WBO championship in that division with a questionable unanimous 12-round decision over Felix Sturm of Germany.

But three months later, De La Hoya lost for the second time in three fights. At 31, he thought he could trade punches with a bigger and stronger fighter. Instead, he was knocked out for the first time in his career when he tried to take Bernard Hopkins' middleweight titles. The fight ended in the ninth round with De La Hoya, a 2-1 underdog, writhing in pain on the canvas from Hopkins' perfectly placed body shot.

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