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Oscar De La Hoya: As a Fighter and as a Promoter, He’s Been a Boon for Boxing

Rick Assad

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La Hoya

Oscar De La Hoya is an anomaly and one of the most successful and unique figures in the history of boxing.

De La Hoya rose from the mean streets of East Los Angeles to capture the Gold Medal at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, and then carved out a wildly productive career inside the ring where he became a 10-time world champion in six different weight divisions.

Sure, De La Hoya isn’t the first to take this road and likely won’t be the last to navigate this route to fame and fortune. But what separated De La Hoya from so many others who came before is that while still boxing, six years before his final fight, he became a fight promoter. And not just any fight promoter, but one of the most prominent and important, alongside Bob Arum, CEO of Top Rank, which promoted many of De La Hoya’s fights.

After countless big fights and huge sums of money earned on both sides, De La Hoya sued Arum, claiming that millions of dollars never found its way into his bank account. De La Hoya wanted out of his contract and the matter was settled in 2001 with De La Hoya prevailing.

De La Hoya founded Golden Boy Promotions in 2002. Keenly aware that a boxer, even the best, can fall victim to his own fame and outside influences, De La Hoya wanted to change the template. He knew the pitfalls first hand, having been at the very top and bottom of the mountain.

Like many boxers before him, De La Hoya has battled drugs and alcohol, a combination more powerful than Bernard Hopkins, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, three great champions that he lost to in the ring. Still, De La Hoya, like most everything that he’s done in his life, has come out smelling like a rose.

Take the recent rematch between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin for the middleweight championship at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. De La Hoya, who co-promoted the mega-fight claimed by Alvarez via majority decision, was proud to have had a hand in both money-making bouts.

Beside Alvarez, Golden Boy Promotions has under its umbrella such up-and-coming stars as Angel Acosta, the World Boxing Organization light flyweight champion, Jaime Munguia, the undefeated WBO junior middleweight title holder who was on the Alvarez-Golovkin II undercard, unblemished Rey Vargas, the World Boxing Council super bantamweight king and undefeated Alberto Machado, the World Boxing Association super featherweight belt holder.

Knowing just how tough it is to reach the top, De La Hoya recognizes that a boxer’s time in the ring is limited and that the right promoter is crucial if he is to reach the top rung of the ladder.

De La Hoya said that boxing helped him to know what makes him tick. “Talk about never giving up, that’s exactly what boxing taught me,” he said. “Look, you’re going to get knocked down in a round or two. Just get back up and imagine winning the fight after you get knocked down several times. It’s that much more gratifying.”

De La Hoya, who lost to Shane Mosley twice, said he wants to make the best matches for the fans because without their support at the venue or buying pay-per-view telecasts, his job as a promoter would be that much tougher.

“That’s what it’s about, working with everyone,” he said. “Working with the best promoters in the world so that the fans can see the best fights. In today’s boxing landscape…it’s not that they are afraid, but they are not taking risks to make the best fights for the public, because they may lose their fighter. It’s not our case. If our fighter is ready for a championship fight or to fight with the best in the world, we do it….that’s how we are, we think of the fans first.”

Nicknamed the “Golden Boy” by the media en route to the Olympic Gold Medal, De La Hoya soon after became the face of boxing. Blessed with movie star good looks, an outgoing personality, a powerful jab and a knockout punch, he became one of the most popular fighters ever.  He was 31-0 before losing a majority decision to Felix Trinidad at the Mandalay Bay in September 1999 and finished his professional career with a record of 39 wins, six losses and 30 knockouts.

By any measure, these assets helped De La Hoya transition into his second career as a promoter. “It was a tough road, but not an impossible one,” he said of being a promoter. “I love this hands on. I love this day-to-day. I love the decision making. I love creating and putting together what ultimately is going to be, I believe, my legacy.”

Of course, De La Hoya, who defeated Fernando Vargas, Ricardo Mayorga and Arturo Gatti and has already been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, seems to want something more than being recognized as one of the all-time ring greats.

How about a second ceremony as a fight promoter?  “I actually do have a goal as a promoter, and that’s to be the very first fighter to be inducted into the Hall of Fame again, the second time around, as a promoter. I don’t think it’s ever been done,” he said.

Still the road hasn’t always been easy for De La Hoya, who has had some of his demons exposed.

Glenn Cooper, who worked in ESPN’s advertising department, has known De La Hoya for many years. “Oscar’s had some problems,” he said recently. “He’s battled them and come out better for it. I’ve had my own problems and I told Oscar that if he ever needed someone to call, I’d be there. He called me a few times and I tried to be there for him.”

Cooper added, “Oscar’s such a really nice guy. But when you lead that type of lifestyle where everybody knows who you are, it’s not easy staying out of trouble.”

Then there was the breakup with longtime business partner Richard Schaefer, a well-connected Swiss banker who joined De La Hoya and helped build what has become a business empire.

Initially Schaefer, who was the CEO of Golden Boy Promotions before leaving in 2014 in order to form his own company, Ringstar Sports, handled only the business end, often working with fighters and managing their careers. Schaefer then switched gears and began lining up deals for several major boxing matches.

When De La Hoya was in rehabilitation, Schaefer began taking over more responsibility. Critical was that Schaefer allowed many of the promotional contracts under Golden Boy with adviser/promoter Al Haymon to expire, which obviously left the company vulnerable.

In June 2014, De La Hoya sued Schaefer for $50 million and the case was settled by an arbitrator in De La Hoya’s favor.

De La Hoya recently expanded Golden Boy Promotions to include MMA. The company’s first venture will be a third meeting between former UFC superstars Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, set for Nov. 24 at the Inglewood Forum.

“I’m really looking forward to getting involved with MMA and building a new business,” he said recently. “If any fighter who is an MMA fighter wants to explore a different avenue, come knock on our door, give us a call. I’m really excited about starting Golden Boy MMA. When we do things, we do them the right way, just like we’ve done in boxing.”

Don Chargin, who just passed away at age 90, joined Golden Boy Promotions as a senior adviser late in his legendary career.

With more than six decades of experience under his belt as a matchmaker and promoter, Chargin, dubbed “War A Week” by sportscaster Jim Healy after making so many fan-friendly fights at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, was a valuable asset for De La Hoya.

Chargin was perhaps even more of an asset for Eric Gomez, president of Golden Boy, who said he owes Chargin a huge debt of gratitude for teaching him how to be a matchmaker.

No, De La Hoya isn’t perfect, but he has operated Golden Boy Promotions at an extremely high level and has been a boon for boxing.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

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The Fight of the Century: A Golden Anniversary Celebration

Arne K. Lang

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In professional boxing, fights can be rank-ordered as generic fights, big fights, bigger fights, mega-fights, and spectacles. The first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier wasn’t merely a spectacle, but the grandest spectacle of them all. This coming Monday, March 8, is the 50th anniversary of that iconic event.

Ali-Frazier I was staged at three-year-old Madison Square Garden, the fourth arena in New York to take that name. It drew a capacity crowd: 20,455 (19,500 paid). An estimated 60 percent of all the tickets sold fell into the hands of scalpers.

The fight was closed-circuited to more than 350 locations in the United States and Canada. At some of the larger venues, it established a new record for gate receipts, and this for an attraction that wasn’t produced in-house. In Los Angeles, 15,333 saw the fight at the Forum and 11,575 at the nearby Sports Arena.

Bill Ballenger, the sports editor of the Charlotte (NC) News, saw the fight at the Charlotte Coliseum. He reported that the audio – Don Dunphy did the blow-by-blow with Burt Lancaster and Archie Moore serving as color commentators – was loud enough to be heard outside the arena and that many folks, either unable or unwilling to purchase a ticket, loitered outside and followed the action in 30 degrees weather.

An estimated three hundred million people saw the fight worldwide. In England, by some estimates, half the population tuned in, watching either at home on BBC1 or at a theater where one could watch the fight unfold on a movie screen. Now keep in mind that in England the fight didn’t commence until 6:40 in the morning on a Tuesday!

Inside Madison Square Garden, the large flock of celebrities included many folks one wouldn’t expect to find at a prizefight. Marcello Mastroianni, Italy’s most famous movie star, made a special trip from Rome. Salvador Dali was there and Barbra Streisand and Ethel Kennedy, widow of Bobby Kennedy, seated next to her escort, crooner Andy Williams. Frank Sinatra was there working as a photographer for Life magazine. Lore has it that Sinatra wangled the assignment after failing to boat one of the coveted ringside seats.

The scene was made brighter by human “peacocks,” the label applied to Harlemites with an outrageous sense of fashion, and the electricity was palpable. When Ali appeared at the back of the arena, making his way from his dressing room to the ring, everyone had goosebumps.

The late, great New York sportswriter Dick Young once wrote that there is no greater drama than in the moments preceding a big heavyweight title fight and that was never more true than on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden.

Ali (31-0, 25 KOs) and Frazier (26-0, 23 KOs) were both undefeated. Both had a claim to the heavyweight title, Ali because the belt had been controversially stripped away from him for his political beliefs. Opinions as to who would win were pretty evenly divided. In Las Vegas, Joe Frazier was the favorite at odds of 6 to 5. Across the pond in England, bookies were quoting odds of 11 to 8 on Ali.

Those that favored Ali were of the opinion that ‘Smokin’ Joe was too one-dimensional. That much was true. Joe was as subtle as a steam locomotive on a downhill grade. He ate Ali’s hardest punches, said Boston Globe reporter Bud Collins, as if they were movie house popcorn and he eventually wore Ali down. There was little doubt as to how the judges would see it after Joe knocked Ali down in the 15th round with a frightful left hook. When Ali arose, it appeared that he had been afflicted with a sudden case of the mumps. The decision was unanimous: 11-4, 9-6, 8-6-1.

This wasn’t the greatest fight of all time, but it was a fight that more than lived up to the hype. And, as several people have noted, the event took on a life of its own without the benefit of modern technology to push it along. The buzz was fueled in a large part by newspapers, the “antiquated” sort of newspapers that a fellow fished from his driveway or purchased at a newsstand on the way to or from work. If twitter and facebook had been around during Muhammad Ali’s prime, Ali would have blown the doors off the internet.

A cultural touchstone is an event that remains sealed in our memory. As we slide into old age, if we are lucky enough to live that long, we may not remember what we had for breakfast in the morning, but some long-ago events are as vivid as if they had happened just yesterday.

Boxing historian Frank Lotierzo has written poignantly about how overjoyed he was when he was surprised with the news that his father would be taking him to the fight. “To this day it remains the biggest thrill of my life!” wrote Lotierzo, who was then in the seventh grade. “And it’s not even close!”

I didn’t see the fight, but I can recall the faces of people that I overheard talking about it, people whose interest in the fight struck me as odd as I knew they had little interest in the world of sports. So, when the fight is replayed in its entirety on Sunday – it airs on ABC at 2 p.m ET and again at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN – I will be watching it for the first time. And it will be bittersweet as I will be reminded that I am in the twilight of my life and my thoughts will inevitably drift to my friends and loved ones that have left this mortal world in the years since that grand night in 1971 when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier locked horns in the Fight of the Century.

I get misty-eyed just thinking about it.

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Yoka TKO 12 Djeko in France: Claressa Pitches a Shutout on Ladies Day in Flint

Arne K. Lang

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Yoka TKO 12 Djeko in France: Claressa Pitches a Shutout on Ladies Day in Flint

March 8 is International Women’s Day which is actually a formal holiday in many parts of the globe. It was somehow fitting that female boxers were on display on the Friday feeding into it, a weekend without a must-see attraction on the men’s side.

Today’s activity began in the French port city of Nantes where 2016 Olympic gold medal winners Tony Yoka and Estelle Mossely, husband and wife, kept their undefeated records intact, both advancing to 10-0, against European opponents. Yoka (10-0, 8 KOs) was matched against Joel “Big Joe” Djeko (17-3-1), a 31-year-old Brussels native of Congolese and Cuban extraction who had fought most of his career as a cruiserweight. Mossely, a lightweight who now goes by Yoka-Mossely, drew Germany’s Verena Kaiser (14-2).

At the Rio Olympiad, Yoka got by Filip Hrgovic in the semis and Joe Joyce in the finals to win the gold, winning both bouts by split decision. Both would be favored over the Frenchman in a rematch fought under professional rules.

Against the six-foot-six Djeko, Yoka controlled the fight with his jab, repeatedly backing his foe against the ropes. Very few of Djeko’s punches got through Yoka’s high guard. Had the fight gone to the scorecards, it would have been a rout for Yoka, but it didn’t quite get there as Djeko turned his back on the proceedings midway through the 12th round after absorbing a sharp jab and it went into the books as a TKO for Yoka. At stake was some kind of European title or a derivation thereof.

Mossely’s fight with Kaiser, slated for 10 two-minute rounds, followed a somewhat similar tack, save that it went the full distance. With only one knockout to her credit at the pro level, Mosseley, typical of female boxers, lacks a knockout punch. But she’s a good technician and had too much class for the German.

Flint

A Covid-19 limited crowd of perhaps 300 was on hand to watch hometown heroine Claressa Shields oppose IBF 154-pound title-holder Marie Eve Dicaire at a 4,400-seat arena in Flint. There were five bouts on the undercard, three of which were women’s bouts.

Claressa

Claressa Shields

Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was seeking to become a four-belt title-holder in a second weight class, having previously turned the trick at 160. Dicaire, a 34-year-old southpaw, brought a 17-0 record but she had never won a fight inside the distance and all of her previous bouts took place in French-speaking Canada.

The self-proclaimed GWOAT, Shields has no peer between 154 and 168 pounds. Heading into this contest, she had hardly lost a round since meeting Hanna Gabriels and tonight was another total whitewash, her fourth overall in 10-round fights.

Claressa Shields, now 11-0 (2) may be too good for her own good. Her fights are so one-sided that they are monotonous. Her TV ratings have actually been falling. Today’s show was a $29.99 pay-per-view on FITE when the established networks refused to meet her purse demands. It will be interesting to see how many tuned in.

In another fight of note, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza, in her first fight as a bantamweight, dominated Toronto’s Shelly Barnett en route to winning a 6-round unanimous decision. There were no knockdowns, but the scorecards (60-54, 60-53 twice) were indicative of Esparza’s dominance.

Esparza, who pushed her record to 9-1 (1), came in ranked #1 by the WBC in the flyweight class. Her lone defeat came at the hands of rugged Seniesa Estrada. Barnett declined to 4-4-3.

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Arne K. Lang

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Ring City USA, a new promotional entity, debuted on Nov. 19, 2020 with a show staged in the parking lot of Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA. Ring City stayed outdoors for their first offering of 2021, but the company was a long ways from California. Tonight’s card was staged on a roundabout near a municipal gym in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

The headline attraction was an attractive match between junior middleweights Serhii Bohachuk and Brandon Adams. The bout was originally set for Dec. 3, but had to be pushed back when Bohachuk tested positive for the coronavirus.

Bohachuk, a 25-year-old California-based Ukrainian, had stopped all 18 of his previous opponents. He had never gone past six rounds. Brandon Adams, a former world title challenger, represented a step up in class.

Bohachuk was well on his way to winning a unanimous decision when the tide turned dramatically in round eight. Fighting on a slick canvas, Adams suddenly found a new gear, unloading a series of punches climaxed by a thunderous left hook as Bohachuk retreated. The Ukrainian beat the count, but was teetering on unsteady legs and the referee properly called a halt.

Adams was without his regular trainer, 80-year-old Dub Huntley, who remained back in LA as a health precaution. In winning, he elevated his records to 23-3 (15). It was his best performance since defeating Shane Mosley Jr in the finals of Season 5 of the “Contender” series.

In the co-feature, an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rico’s Bryan Chevalier improved to 15-1-1 (12) with a third-round stoppage of Peru’s Carlos Zambrano (26-2). Chevalier scored two knockdowns, the first a sweeping left hook that appeared to land behind Zambrano’s head, and the second a punch to the liver that left Zambrano in severe distress. The referee waived the fight off in mid-count.

The official time was 2:21. Chevalier, a tall featherweight (5’11”) made a very impressive showing; he bears watching. This was Zambrano’s first fight since April of 2017 when he was knocked out in the opening round by Claudio Marrero in a bout for the WBA interim featherweight title.

The TV opener was an entertaining fight between contrasting styles that produced a weird conclusion when Danielito Zorrilla was awarded a technical decision over Ruslan Madiyev. The bout was stopped at the 1:16 mark of round eight after Zorrilla sank to his knees after absorbing a punch to the back of the head. The ringside physician examined him for evidence of a concussion, but ultimately it was Zorrilla’s choice as to whether the bout would continue. He declined and was reportedly taken to a hospital for observation.

Madiyev, a California-based Kazahk, was the aggressor. He fought the fight in Zorilla’s grill, often bullying him against the ropes. In round five, he had a point deducted for hitting behind the head, squandering what was arguably his best round.

The fight went to the scorecards with Zorrilla winning a split decision (77-74, 77-75, 73-76), thereby remaining undefeated: 15-0 (12). Ironically, Madiyev (13-2, 5 KOs), suffered his previous loss in a similar fashion.

Madiyev’s new trainer Joel Diaz reportedly discouraged his charge from taking this fight for fear that he wouldn’t get a fair shake in Puerto Rico. Diaz’s apprehensions were well-founded.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Ring City USA

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