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Fighting for pride: ‘Golden Boy’ reflects on boxing career, heritage
After winning the gold medal for Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, Oscar De La Hoya raises both American and Mexican flags, honoring his heritage. AP Photo/Mark Duncan
After winning the gold medal for Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, Oscar De La Hoya raises both American and Mexican flags, honoring his heritage. AP Photo/Mark Duncan

Pride is among the most gratifying of feelings, as when one’s hand is raised in the air, while being crowned champion in front of millions of people.

Oscar De La Hoya—the renowned Mexican-American boxer-turned-businessman from East Los Angeles—has had a few of those moments throughout his career. From his amateur career as a boxer, where he captured a gold medal representing Team USA at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, to his hall-of-fame professional career that spanned 16 years, the so-called “Golden Boy” has won it all.

For De La Hoya, however, pride in his Latino heritage overshadows that of his boxing title belts and his gold medal.

“I’ve always stuck to my guns,” said De La Hoya, while visiting the Hayward-based training quarters of boxer Amir Khan on April 18. “I’m proud to be American and to have been able to have the opportunity to grow up here in the States, live here, represent my country and win the gold medal. But at the same time I was proud of my heritage. I was proud of my roots and that was important for me to show and prove.”

De La Hoya was only 19 when he captured Olympic gold, his image immortalized when photographer Mark Duncan snapped the shot of the Mexican-American kid raising both American and Mexican flags in victory.

But De La Hoya’s gesture and cultural pride did little to satisfy Mexican boxing fans, who refused to accept him as one of their own when he was starting his professional career.

“I was in a very unique situation,” said De La Hoya. “I was born here in the States with Mexican parents, and it was odd because you’re not from there, you’re not from here. You’re in the middle. It’s like, ‘Where am I from?’ So that identity, I’ve dealt with it every single day for many years.”

Mexican American boxer Oscar De La Hoya (right) defeats Mexican icon Julio Cesar Chavez on June 7, 1996. The victory catapulted De La Hoya’s boxing career, but he became villainized by many Mexican boxing fans. AFP PHOTO/John Gurzinksi
Mexican American boxer Oscar De La Hoya (right) defeats Mexican icon Julio Cesar Chavez on June 7, 1996. The victory catapulted De La Hoya’s boxing career, but he became villainized by many Mexican boxing fans. AFP PHOTO/John Gurzinksi

As De La Hoya’s star was rising in the media, he opted to do the unthinkable and fight Mexico’s aging national boxing icon, Julio Cesar Chavez.

“Julio Cesar Chavez was the king of boxing,” said De La Hoya. “He was the Mexican hero.”

On June 7, 1996, De La Hoya walked into the ring of Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace, wearing a robe and a pair of trunks depicting the colors of both the Mexican and American flags. The 23-year-old kid needed only one round to severely cut Chavez’s eyebrow with a quick and powerful left jab, ultimately dethroning the champion when the ringside doctor stopped the fight in the fourth round.

But De La Hoya’s convincing victory over Mexico’s favorite son came at a price: his win was considered an act of treason by many Mexican fans.

Still, after many bloody wars in the ring resulting in 10 world titles in six weight divisions, De La Hoya has become one of the best and most popular Mexican-American fighters in boxing history.

“It’s a tremendous responsibility that I embrace,” said De La Hoya. “I love carrying that weight on my shoulders and having that responsibility to become a figure that people can look up to. To be an inspiration to many out there has given me the drive and energy to do good things in life and you hope that people look at that and that people follow your footsteps or try and emulate what I’ve done.”

De La Hoya would remain a force in boxing, until his final fight in 2008, when he was brutally pummeled by Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao; the loss capped an illustrious career that included 39 wins (30 by knockout) and only six losses.

Since he retired, De La Hoya has focused his energy on his company, Golden Boy Promotions, Inc. And in somewhat of an ironic twist, the man who was once vilified by Mexicans for beating their hero in Chavez is now promoting Mexico’s biggest boxing superstar in Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.

“I think Canelo is the man,” said De La Hoya. “He’s only 25 years old, which is crazy. We haven’t seen the best of him, which is amazing, because he’s only getting better. Canelo has the same attitude where he wants to become a role model and an iconic figure.”

Currently, De La Hoya is traveling the country promoting the upcoming fight between Alvarez and Khan, which will take place in Las Vegas on May 7.

Story by: Alejandro Galicia Diaz