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Split Decision for De La Hoya

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For eight years, welterweight Oscar De La Hoya and promoter Bob Arum have enjoyed the most lucrative relationship outside the heavyweight division in boxing history.

But Tuesday, De La Hoya struck the legal blow he hopes will forever shatter that relationship, suing Arum in U.S. District Court, claiming the contract between the two is unenforceable.

“I was very surprised and disappointed by Bob’s recent comments to the press stating that I should retire from boxing,” De La Hoya said in a statement, referring to a recent article in The Times in which Arum said he hoped De La Hoya’s budding singing career was successful if he was ambivalent about boxing. “I am as committed to boxing as I ever have been and I want my next fight to be a rematch against Shane Mosley.

“However, it would be difficult to go forward with my career without the unconditional support of my promoter.”

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This is the latest in an ongoing series of disputes between De La Hoya and Arum, the man who turned the 1992 Olympic gold medal winner into the “Golden Boy,” a money machine in the ring, whose earnings over the eight years of their relationships are somewhere between $125 million and $150 million.

Arum, after turning down an offer from De La Hoya’s side of several million dollars to settle out of court, reacted angrily to the suit, vowing to fight back with a countersuit, threatening to go after any of De La Hoya’s handlers he felt were responsible for initiating the break and promising to keep De La Hoya tied up in court and out of the ring for the foreseeable future.

“Three weeks after the Mosley fight [in June], I bought Oscar a Ferrari for $230,000,” Arum said. “I bought him a condo in Cabo [San Lucas, Mexico]. I bought him his first cabin in Big Bear. Now he says our contract is not valid. What kind of . . . is this?

“We will file a counterclaim and go after Oscar and the people responsible for this for millions and millions of dollars in damages. Oscar may have lost close decisions to Mosley and [Felix] Trinidad, but we will knock this kid out. This litigation is going to be better than any fight. It will end up a mismatch. You’ll see. He can’t just walk away from this contract. I have paid him over $150 million. I am entitled to get something back.”

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While Richard Schaefer, De La Hoya’s chief advisor, insists that De La Hoya’s proposed rematch against Mosley, who beat him on a split decision, can still be held as planned Jan. 20, Arum says that wouldn’t be possible if De La Hoya sticks to the legal course he charted Tuesday.

“If he’s not interested in living up to his contract,” Arum said, “forget it. There is no way he’ll fight on January 20. This litigation will take months and months to resolve, if not years and years. In the meantime, let him sing his songs.”

Responded Jeff Spitz, an attorney for De La Hoya: “Because Bob wants to hang on to Oscar’s services, it is no surprise that he is putting up as big a stink as possible. But he will not stop Oscar from boxing.”

Said Schaefer: “If the promoter says it’s time for Oscar to retire, maybe the promoter should retire.”

Spitz is not disputing Arum’s contention that there are still fights remaining on the contract between Arum and De La Hoya. But Spitz is claiming that there have been violations in that contract in five areas that make it null and void. Spitz cited California law, the Muhammad Ali federal reform legislation and a state law that limits personal-services contracts like the one between Arum and De La Hoya to seven years. Spitz said the De La Hoya agreement dates to 1992.

Arum maintains there was a reaffirmation of the contract in 1996, ’97, ’98 and again in March of this year, the seven-year limit being renewed each time.

“When I presented Oscar with that Ferrari,” Arum said, “don’t you think that was the time to tell me, ‘We got a problem’?”

According to Arum, his contract with De La Hoya also involves HBO-TVKO as a third party. Arum says that De La Hoya won’t be able to fight for the cable giant if he breaks this contract and that no other promoter will sign with the welterweight for fear of being caught up in the litigation.

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“There are different agreements,” Spitz said, “but it’s all part and parcel of one promotional agreement with Oscar on the one hand, and Top Rank [Arum’s promotional organization] on the other. As Oscar’s attorneys, we feel very confident this contract is unenforceable for a variety of reasons under the laws of the state of California.”

Spitz says that there was indeed an attempt to reach a settlement.

“We didn’t want it to come to this,” Spitz said. “It is not our intent to spend years and years in litigation with Bob. But Oscar does not want to go forward with Bob Arum. We wanted to resolve this expeditiously and privately to the mutual satisfaction of both parties.

“Bob wants to continue to be involved with Oscar. Why? He must think there is some value in that.”

This is not the first time De La Hoya has publicly voiced his displeasure with Arum. At a news conference at Dodger Stadium several years ago, he told reporters that he was dissatisfied with the promoter. As a result, Arum modified his relationship with De La Hoya, making him a co-promoter.

But after one fight, De La Hoya, unhappy with that situation as well, decided to stick to fighting and allow Arum to be his sole promoter, going out of his way at his next news conference to heap praise on Arum.

But after the loss to Mosley, De La Hoya hinted at some dark plot to guarantee a rematch, appearing to point a finger at Arum.

When negotiations began for the rematch, De LaHoya, according to Arum, wanted $20 million to Mosley’s $10 million. De La Hoya then came down to $15 million. Arum said he held out for a split of $10 million each.

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Instead, De La Hoya has decided to pull the plug and see if he can do better on his own.


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