Though even Oscar De La Hoya acknowledges that, for various reasons, he is no longer adored in his home community of East Los Angeles, he has never been bigger in corporate offices and advertising planning meetings across America.
Three years after winning the U.S. boxing team’s only gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics, and more than a year after a bitter split with his original managers, De La Hoya’s smile will soon be brought to you by Anheuser-Busch, and possibly by Coca-Cola and Nike and a host of others.
If De La Hoya, who already has a lucrative deal with B.U.M. athletic wear, beats Genaro Hernandez here Saturday, the marketing machine will move into full gear.
He already has a fight scheduled against Tracy Patterson, in December, at Madison Square Garden, still considered boxing’s Mecca and the best place in the world to catch the eye of national advertisers. And tentatively set for next year’s Cinco de Mayo weekend is a fight against Julio Cesar Chavez, probably the biggest Latino matchup ever.
By the end of that run, if De La Hoya is still undefeated, business executives forecast a financial career for him comparable with Michael Jordan’s, Arnold Palmer’s or Sugar Ray Leonard’s.
“He has a knowledge of the bigger picture and what’s going on and saying the right thing,” said Rich Rose, a top executive at Caesars World, Inc. “All in all, he is the most astute since Ray, and as good as any athlete I’ve had the opportunity to work with since Ray.”
Which probably is exactly the side of him that has soured hard-core East L.A. fight fans, who complain that he is too money-hungry to care about his roots.
But that savvy is what his promoter, Bob Arum, and his key adviser, businessman Mike Hernandez, want to capitalize on. Arum took De La Hoya to a convention of sports editors recently, specifically asking to meet with East Coast editors, and De La Hoya was a hit.
“Oscar has charisma, which is very hard to find,” Arum said. “But part of charisma, like Ali, like Leonard, is knowing instinctively what to say.
“People don’t like hot individuals. They don’t like people who lose their temper, say aggressive things. I’m guilty of that myself. People like cool personalities. You can get your message across in a cool way. And Oscar knows how to do that.
“We’ve got a lot of [Mike] Tyson out there, who gets so much of the attention. Oscar’s almost like an anti-Tyson.”
Said De La Hoya: “You just have to be a positive person about everything, present yourself well. In press conferences, just be a nice, positive person, be a good role model for kids. That’s what people love.”
De La Hoya already has a deal set up with Anheuser-Busch for a national campaign against drunk driving, and, according to Arum, has meetings scheduled with both Coca-Cola and Nike, which only recently signed its first boxer, Roy Jones Jr.
Fluent in Spanish and English, De La Hoya has a unique opportunity to cash in on both the Latino fever for boxing and the Madison Avenue quest for quality endorsers.
“Of all the great Latin fighters, and there’s been many, there hasn’t been one who’s been able to really appeal to both Anglo and Hispanic markets,” Rose said. "[Roberto] Duran never did. Chavez never did. I think Oscar has that opportunity.”
The goal for this stage of De La Hoya’s career has always been Chavez, and now that the showdown may be a reality soon, De La Hoya is confident.
“I know I’m ready for it,” he said, knowing he would have to move up from the 135-pound limit to Chavez’s 140-pound class. “He’s made for me. His style is made for me. It should be no problem.”
De La Hoya isn’t shy, either, about discussing his feelings for Chavez.
“In boxing, alone, he’s a hero to everybody, because he’s a good fighter,” De La Hoya said. “He’s a tough warrior, but that’s as far as it goes. If I were to say he’s my hero because he’s a great person and has a great personality, I’d be lying. It was over for Chavez a long time ago.”
Genaro Hernandez landed what might have been the hardest shot of the week at the final news conference here Thursday when he alluded to assistant trainer Jesus Rivero’s increased role as an adviser to De La Hoya--at the expense of oft-criticized lead trainer Robert Alcazar. Rivero was brought in after De La Hoya’s uncertain performance in February against John John Molina, has earned De La Hoya’s trust, and has clearly caused Alcazar serious discomfort.
“I know Robert Alcazar is not training him,” Hernandez said, as Alcazar grimaced. “Right now, somebody else is training him.”
As was the case in De La Hoya’s victory over Rafael Ruelas in May, Rivero won’t be in the corner during the fight and is not a threat to take over the lead trainer’s role. But Alcazar’s unhappiness at having him around could cause turmoil in the camp.
Rivero, 65, worked with flyweight champion Miguel Canto during the 1970s and was brought in when Mike Hernandez and Arum were looking to give Alcazar some assistance. De La Hoya calls him a teacher who is helping both him and Alcazar learn more about boxing and life.
Canto was retired from boxing for 15 years before Rafael Mendoza coaxed Rivero into drawing up the fight plan that helped Humberto (Chiquita) Gonzalez defeat Michael Carbajal in a 1994 rematch. When Arum called Mendoza, asking for candidates to help De La Hoya, Mendoza put Rivero and the fighter together.
“He saw I committed many errors [in the Molina fight],” De La Hoya said. “He said I didn’t know how to box. He told me that straight out. That’s why I like him.”
After the news conference, Alcazar tried to play down Genaro Hernandez’s jibe.
“Who cares? That’s the kind of class they’ve got,” said Alcazar, who emphasized that he is paying Rivero out of his pocket. “He’s helping us to get the most experience we can in the shortest time possible. Our goal is to beat Julio Cesar Chavez. Nobody knows everything in this sport. The mistake almost every team makes is thinking they can do it themselves.”
Promoter Peter Broudy of the Grand Olympic Auditorium, hoping to expand his audience, is bringing in former world champion Hector Camacho to headline the Sept. 21 card against Tony Rodriguez. Broudy is also talking about luring Roberto Duran to the Grand Olympic sometime in the next few months.
The MGM Grand is denying suggestions that there are plans to move the scheduled Mike Tyson-Buster Mathis Jr. bout from Nov. 4 to December, to avoid a conflict with the Caesars Palace Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield fight, also set for Nov. 4. The speculation also had the MGM, in order to get out of part of its six-fight deal with Tyson and Don King, allowing King to take Tyson’s first title fight to London, against new World Boxing Council champion Frank Bruno, in March. But an MGM spokesman said that the hotel-casino is pleased with its scheduled March 16 Tyson title date, was planning to start selling tickets for Nov. 4 sometime next week, and that, beyond that, it “wouldn’t comment on silly, ridiculous rumors.” However, the death of Buster Mathis Sr. on Thursday could push back the Tyson fight by necessity.
Monday: Mark (Too Sharp) Johnson vs. Marcos Pacheco, flyweights; Ricky Hesia vs. Javier Altamirano, welterweights; Forum, 7:15 p.m.