Leave Las Vegas or Los Angeles, boxing’s blase capitals, and the moment and the mania suddenly seem suited for Oscar De La Hoya.
In other places at other times, De La Hoya sometimes sounds as shallow and callow as anybody might suspect of a 24-year-old multimillionaire, somebody who was just named one of People magazine’s 50 most beautiful, recently posed for a Playgirl cover shoot and who just bought what he calls a “mini-mansion” in Bel-Air to add to his collection of luxury properties.
But wander with him through the river-banked streets of this downtown one mariachi-drenched night or cover your ears at the screeching of 150 females packed into a sweltering gym or watch this entire promotion ride his shoulders, and who can deny what De La Hoya has become:
Boxing’s last idol, and its greatest hope.
He tosses sweat-stained towels into the crowd, and girls fight for them; he throws his underwear out of the ring, and there is wild roaring and the crowd forces him to cancel his next workout for safety fears; he earns $4.5 million to fight journeyman David Kamau (who is getting $200,000), and promoter Bob Arum expects a crowd of 20,000 tonight at the Alamodome.
“The timing is just perfect, everything is perfect,” De La Hoya said recently. “Boxing needs a new hero, and I think I’m the one.
“It’s like Emanuel [Steward, his trainer] says, I can be the third hero of all time. I think I can do it.”
Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, then him? These are gigantic statements, maybe even foolish statements viewed with perspective.
Arum and others say to look at the numbers and the demographics: After setting a pay-per-view record for a non-heavyweight fight last April in his bout with Pernell Whitaker, De La Hoya is the market’s top draw; and, up to 40% of the TV viewers and ticket-buyers for De La Hoya fights are women, eight or nine times more than usually bother with boxing.
“Let me just say,” he began his news conference here on Wednesday with uncharacteristic joviality, “the women of San Antonio are beautiful!”
Later, the man who has appeared nervous and edgy during previous podium speeches explained his confidence.
“I felt comfortable because there were a lot of women out there,” De La Hoya said. “This is my field.”
Though he sounds coached when he repeatedly talks about how he’s “super single,” De La Hoya, who had a serious, four-year, off-and-on relationship end a year ago, says he is thinking of settling down, maybe even with a woman he has only recently begun seeing.
“There’s people that tell me, oh, don’t have a girlfriend and don’t get married soon,” De La Hoya said. “But if they love you and they’re your fans, they’re going to be your fans forever, no matter what. And I have fans like that.
“At the end of the day, I go home and I live by myself. And it is lonely. That’s why I’m looking for the right woman. And I think I found her. I think I may get married in a couple years. If that’s what’s going to make me happy, I’m going to do it.”
If his mother, Cecilie, were still alive (she died of cancer before he won a gold medal in 1992), De La Hoya says, so much would be different: His often-cold relationship with his father wouldn’t be so strained, his personal life would have more order and he’d have someone to come take care of him in lonely moments.
“She was more concerned with me as a person,” De La Hoya said. “I think if she was here now, she probably would have wanted me to be married and happy, with eight little kids. . . .
“She would have seen that boxing makes me happy, but my personal life is not really too good. If she was here, I would have been married. She would have pushed me to do that, that’s for sure. ‘I want grandchildren!’ ”
TALE OF THE TAPE
Assuming he gets past Kamau, up next is a $9-million payday for De La Hoya against veteran Hector Camacho in September in Las Vegas, then a scheduled bout in December, possibly against Wilfredo Rivera or Patrick Charpentier in New York.
After that? Almost certainly an April 1998 rematch of his controversial unanimous-decision victory over the slippery Whitaker in April.
While De La Hoya insists it’s not important to answer the Eastern opinion-makers who loudly protested the decision by walloping Whitaker once and for all, his actions say otherwise.
During a recent van ride, he listened intently to a tape of the postfight news conference, when Whitaker disgustedly pronounced the decision a farce and said he could have knocked De La Hoya out if he wanted.
“If I would have moved to my left and thrown more jabs,” De La Hoya said with a mischievous smile, “I would have knocked him out, easy.”
Genaro Hernandez finally received his championship belt from the World Boxing Council. Hernandez, who gave up his World Boxing Assn. junior-lightweight belt to challenge De La Hoya at lightweight in 1995, defeated Azumah Nelson for the WBC title in March, but the delivery had been delayed. Hernandez will carry the belt into the ring for tonight’s defense against 5-foot-3 Russian challenger Anatoly Alexandrov, who has been the No. 1 contender for two years. Hernandez is one of two fighters on this card, the other being San Antonio native Jesse James Leija, who have been knocked out by De La Hoya. . . . Kamau recently switched from longtime trainer Albert Davila to Rudy Hernandez, Genaro’s brother-trainer.
If all goes as Arum expects with Terry Norris’ attempt to break from promoter Don King, Arum hopes to make an October fight with Norris against highly regarded International Boxing Federation welterweight champion Ike Quartey. The winner could possibly move on to face the De La Hoya-Whitaker winner. . . . Mike Tyson’s thought process heading into his June 28 rematch against Evander Holyfield is clear: He underestimated Holyfield the first time, and he won’t now. “I never had dreams that he could fight that well,” Tyson said this week. “We’re going to find out if he is really a big boy this time.”
IBF junior-welterweight champion Vince Phillips is planning to face journeyman Mickey Ward in the fall, and if he wins, to go to Australia for a rematch with Kostya Tszyu, whom Phillips knocked out to gain the title. . . . Oxnard junior-lightweight Robert Garcia hasn’t been on TV much recently but has stayed on track for a title shot. He has landed a spot on the Holyfield-Tyson undercard and, as the No. 1 contender, will gain a mandatory challenge by early 1998 against the winner of the October IBF title fight between champion Arturo Gatti and Gabriel Ruelas. A rematch between Kennedy McKinney and Marco Antonio Barrera is in the works for the Gatti-Ruelas undercard.
How does WBC heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, who remained in Big Bear training for his July 12 title defense against Henry Akinwande, feel about sharing Steward with De La Hoya? “That’s fine with me,” Lewis said. “‘Emanuel’s a great trainer and there’s a lot of boxers out there that realize how great he is and want to utilize his talent. I have to understand that. I can’t have him all to myself, but the time I do have to myself I take advantage of.”