BOXING / TIM KAWAKAMI : After Two Months, De La Hoya Rediscovers the Excitement


The last time he was in camp, Oscar De La Hoya was on the fast track to collapse.

He was confused, cranky and either crazed by greed and his desire to be a movie star or courageously trying to extricate himself from a situation that had become too difficult to bear.

Not exactly a portrait of impending greatness, either way.

Since then, he has shed his old management team, canceled a fight, taken a two-month break from boxing, decided never to let any outsider make his career decisions and, to the shock of many, returned to his usual Big Bear training camp looking like a world-class fighter and acting like a grown-up.

There’s apparently nothing like a major dose of bad publicity and agreeing to dole out about $1 million of his future earnings to rid himself of Steve Nelson and Bob Mittleman, to prepare a fighter for the real world of boxing.


De La Hoya, who turned 21 on Feb. 4, seems to be handling his March 5 World Boxing Organization junior-lightweight title bout against Jimmi Bredahl at the new Olympic Auditorium as though it were his first fight, not an audition for some future movie role.

“I’ve only seen him like this once before, when he was training for his pro debut,” trainer Robert Alcazar said. “He’s like a kid with a new toy. He’s excited, he just can’t wait for the day.”

De La Hoya checked into camp at 138, eight pounds over the junior-lightweight limit. The 5-foot-11 De La Hoya has never made 130 in his professional career, never trained at anything much less than 133, and always was considered a more natural 135- or 140-pounder. And this time, he was coming in after not having fought since Oct. 30.

What happened? Training with the heat blasting to sauna levels, De La Hoya dropped to 133 faster than anybody, maybe even himself, expected, and the last few days, according to Alcazar, has weighed 131 immediately after his early evening, pre-dinner sessions.

Suddenly, De La Hoya, known to sneak a snack or two to his room in the middle of training, seems to have learned discipline. Last week, a birthday cake from HBO sat on his refrigerator, untouched.

Now, some are asking if he is too light, peaking too soon.

“We’re ahead of schedule, but it’s good,” said Alcazar, who wants to break camp two days before the fight with De La Hoya weighing 128, giving him some leeway once the distractions of home re-enter his life.


Those distractions--the push and pull of his family, his business associates and his boxing advisers--are what threatened to derail De La Hoya only two months ago.

But he says he has uncluttered the chain of command and taken responsibility.

“I guess I’m getting overanxious,” De La Hoya said, explaining his weight loss. “I want to get to it right away and prove to people that first of all, I can make the weight, and second of all, I’m going to be strong and win the title.

“I feel no pressure now. All I have to do is box and train, worry about nothing. When (Mittleman and Nelson) were here, there were just problems. They were bringing in their own team, own publicist, own lawyers, everything. . . .

“I wouldn’t say I’m my own manager now, but I’m on my own. I have my legal advice, my senior adviser and I have all these people who, when we have something to discuss, we all get together, kind of talk it over.

“It’s like a jury in some ways. It’s much better. Now, we don’t have people doing things behind our backs, doing things under the table.

“And I make the final decision.”

The key figure in the current arrangement appears to be local car dealer Mike Hernandez, a friend of the family who stepped in at the height of the crisis to settle De La Hoya down.


Hernandez is continuing as a senior adviser, and according to promoter Bob Arum, refuses to be paid more than $1 a fight while leaving De La Hoya’s training to Alcazar.

“He talks to us and he has no interest whatsoever in percentages or anything,” De La Hoya said of Hernandez. “He’s just there as a friend to maybe tell me a few things. The relationship we have is good.

“I trust him, he trusts me. We have good communication. It’s like a friend (advising) me.

“I could never really communicate (with Mittleman and Nelson). Something would always be bothering me, they were pressuring me into something, I would be unhappy--and they could see it, but I had no say in anything.”

Said Arum: “Luckily, he’s done what he promised, thrown everything at Hernandez, so he’s not distracted with it. The same vultures fly around all the time, and now they have to go through Hernandez, and that’s not easy.

“They look to me on the boxing promotion side, and they look to Hernandez on everything else.”

Assuming that De La Hoya defeats Bredahl and wins the WBO title, his new freedom from weight worries could open up new avenues. Until recently, the plan always was to win a quick junior-lightweight title, perhaps defend it, then climb to lightweight as soon as possible.


Now, De La Hoya is putting off the movie deals and considering staying at 130 and possibly winning one of the major junior-lightweight titles instead of rushing into the bigger divisions.

“It depends on the fight, how I feel,” De La Hoya said. “If I’m tired, if I feel weak, then I’ll just go up. If I feel strong and really feel overpowering, then I’ll stick around, no problem.”

Arum said it might do De La Hoya good to stay at 130 for a while, making sure his body is ready to take the shots of bigger fighters.

De La Hoya said he’d like to fight in May, possibly at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and his next HBO fight is set for July.

“The kid really has put all this other nonsense on the back burner,” Arum said. “I told him, ‘Oscar, I’ll keep you busy in boxing and we’ll keep making you rich.’ ”