It May Be the Difference Between Champ, Chump
The gym on a cluttered street in East Los Angeles is a monument to that fabled American sports institution, the boxing cliche.
It is not really a gym, but an old church stripped of its pews. Where once there was an altar, there is a boxing ring. Where priests once vested, there is a bathroom with a large hole in its white plaster wall.
From the wooden rafters hang black bags and sour smells. From the wooden floor comes the tick-tick-tick of jump ropes.
For 30 years, the Resurrection Boys Club has lived up to its name, offering promise to street kids.
Of course, by charging the urchins only $4 a month, the gym is losing money. And, of course, its aging chairman, his family beset by health problems, has decided he must sell it.
That’s where this made-for-bad-TV fight scene really gets good.
In its final hours, this gym is being rescued by somebody who wandered through these doors as an 8-year-old . . . and 15 years later has emerged as a world champion about to engage in what could be boxing’s richest fight ever.
The kid’s name is Oscar De La Hoya. On Friday night in Las Vegas, he will earn $8.85 million fighting famed Julio Cesar Chavez for the World Boxing Council’s super-lightweight championship.
But the first thing to hit the canvas will be this cliche.
Because in the Resurrection Boys Club, many will not be cheering for De La Hoya.
Because many don’t trust him.
They do not believe he has actually agreed to pay about $450,000 for the place and plans to refurbish it.
They don’t believe, they say, because they have believed before.
And they have been burned.
“I do not listen to anything from Oscar,” said Manuel Torres, a retired World War II fighter pilot who has been gym director for nearly 20 years. “We always hear that we are getting money from him. And not once has he given us a nickel.”
Torres looked at the dozen youngsters flitting around the gym on this recent weekday afternoon.
“Ah, but these are just children,” he laughs sarcastically. “And who cares about children?”
Torres said that De La Hoya once announced at nearby Garfield High that he was donating money to the gym.
“All the papers ran the announcement, so when I went to buy things for one of our boxing shows, nobody in town would give me a discount,” he said. “They all said, ‘Oscar is taking care of you.’
“Well, Oscar never took care of us.”
Torres said that he has arranged for young boxers to attend De La Hoya’s fights, only to disappoint them when De La Hoya’s camp gave him fewer tickets than promised.
Torres pulled out a 99-cent notebook in which he keeps track of monthly club dues. According to the book, when De La Hoya was still training here several years ago, Torres was even paying his $15 monthly fee, the rate for pros.
Torres shook his head.
“When I read that Oscar was buying this place, I just about passed out,” he said. “We’ll see. We’ll see.”
De La Hoya, reached at his Big Bear training site this week, laughed. “I’ve heard this all before,” he said. “People say I don’t give back to the community, but I know in my heart what I’ve done.”
What he hasn’t done, he admitted, is ever pay to train at Resurrection.
“I didn’t even know it cost $15 a month,” he said.
He also admitted he has never donated money to the facility.
This is even though the gym has helped make him quite rich, something he notes on Torres’ favorite souvenir, a poster of De La Hoya with the inscription:
“Para Resurrection Gym. It took your gym to make me a champion. Oscar De La Hoya, 1993.”
“I have been waiting for the right time so I could really get something done,” De La Hoya said, noting that he has instead donated money to the more established Hollenbeck Youth Center.
He said he recently decided to buy the gym after hearing from former congressman Edward Roybal that it would have to be sold. He said this purchase will be the beginning of his new phase of philanthropy.
“After this fight, I want to dedicate myself to giving back,” De La Hoya said. “If people want to see, I want to show them.”
Roybal said De La Hoya has indeed given him a 10% deposit and signed papers that have put the deal in escrow--"I don’t know how they could get out of it now,” he said.
A doubting Torres, widely known throughout East Los Angeles for his work with troubled youths, asks, “Why does De La Hoya do these things?”
Above this murky issue floats one clear thought: Oscar De La Hoya’s hometown legacy will not be based on what happens in Friday’s fight, but afterward.
If he fulfills his pledge to the Resurrection Boys Club, believe the worldwide audience that calls him a champion.
If he doesn’t, believe those neighbors who call him a bum.