It seems like only yesterday that Oscar De La Hoya sent the blood from Julio Cesar Chavez’s lacerated brow flying into the air at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. As the challenger, he entered the ring that night, splendiferous in Mexican American garb with the looks of a movie star. Less than four rounds later, he was drenched in his idol’s blood and a three-weight world champion.
That fight was almost 27 years ago. “The Golden Boy” turns 50 years old today.
A lot of water – and blood – has passed under the bridge since that scorching hot night in Sin City – and not all of it is good. A record-setting pay-per-view attraction during his time, De La Hoya became the first fighter to conquer six weight divisions, and he ventured to Canastota as a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2014.
Having formed Golden Boy Promotions while still an active professional, De La Hoya has enjoyed considerable success as a businessman. However, he quickly discovered that being popular as a promoter is a lot more difficult than being popular as a world champion.
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If we add in a raft of personal demons, and more than one scandal, De La Hoya has taken more counts outside the ring than he ever did inside of it. Thankfully, in 2023, at least through the skewed lens of social media, he appears content. De La Hoya earned a happy ending by delivering in the ring. He sacrificed his childhood, worked harder than most, took on all comers, and reached blinding heights. His true greatness was as a prize fighter.
So let’s melt “The Golden Boy” down, remould him – minus the abdominal etching of course – and assess his current value as a boxing legend.
Despite everything he accomplished as a professional, De La Hoya has always maintained that becoming the Olympic champion at Barcelona 1992 was his ultimate glory.
“The Olympics are a worldwide stage that catapulted me to superstardom,” De La Hoya told The Ring last year. “The gold medal to me will always be the biggest accomplishment that I’ve ever captured in my boxing career. I won world titles in six different weight classes, but the gold medal by far will be my biggest accomplishment inside the ring.”
The emotion of De La Hoya’s Olympic triumph was bolstered by the fact that he won that gold medal for his mother, who succumbed to breast cancer less than two years before the games. Still a teenager, a grief-stricken De La Hoya briefly considered giving up on the sport, but the motivation of honouring his mother rekindled the passion. Profoundly affected by the loss, the young De La Hoya broke down in tears following his first sparring session.
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Under the Top Rank umbrella, De La Hoya turned professional to great acclaim in November 1992. According to the LA Times, he earned a whopping $150,000 for his debut and the skids were greased.
It took the hotshot prospect just 14 months to capture the first of 11 world championship belts – the then-lightly regarded WBO super-featherweight crown – at the expense of Jimmi Bredahl (TKO 10). De La Hoya then moved up to lightweight and unified two more world titles. He knocked off Jorge Paez (KO 2), John John Molina (UD 12), Rafael Ruelas (TKO 2), and Genaro Hernandez. By 1995, “The Golden Boy” had established himself as one of the finest pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
The gory triumph over Chavez to claim the WBC super-lightweight title made him a superstar, but De La Hoya’s biggest nights lay ahead of him at welterweight and above.
It’s common for detractors to say that De La Hoya lost all of his biggest fights. That’s a very harsh assessment. While he came second against Felix Trinidad (MD 12), Shane Mosley (MD 12, UD 12), Bernard Hopkins (KO 9), Floyd Mayweather Jr. (SD 12), and Manny Pacquiao (TKO 8), the East LA native still holds a plethora of career-defining wins. Among the 17 world champions De La Hoya defeated during a glorious 16-year professional career are Chavez (TKO 4, TKO 8), Pernell Whitaker (UD 12), Ike Quartey (SD 12), Fernando Vargas (TKO 11), Felix Sturm (UD 12), and Ricardo Mayorga (TKO 6).
“Oh, but some of those wins were controversial,” I hear you cry. Yes, and so were two of the losses.
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In an age when we have pound-for-pound entrants still desperately seeking a victory that will immortalise their respective legacies, De La Hoya’s championship career is one to envy. He chased professional glory with the same drive and ambition that saw him fulfil his late mother’s Olympic dream. De La Hoya never backed down from a challenge, and history has rewarded him for that mindset.
The value of precious metal differs from country to country, but, as a champion, Oscar De La Hoya is still worth his weight in gold.