By Steve Kim
There was a time, not too long ago, when Oscar De La Hoya was just a figurehead at Golden Boy Promotions. He started the company over a decade ago but became an absentee owner as the years went on. His biggest contribution was his silhouette on the firm's logo. But in the wake of Richard Schaefer's resignation as CEO, amid rumors of a widening rift between the two men over the direction of the company, De La Hoya finds himself firmly back in charge.
It's a tumultuous time for Golden Boy Promotions, but not for the Golden Boy himself, who finds himself at peace, truly comfortable, perhaps for the first time, in his own skin.
He sobered up.
"Look, it's no secret I went to rehab," De La Hoya, 41, said on Tuesday, from his offices in Los Angeles. His transgressions are widely known. Type in "Oscar De La Hoya rehab" on Google, and you get 84,100 results. Stories like this pop up, along with more risqué and embarrassing photos that, let's just say, don't really fall in line with the macho world of professional prizefighting. Things came to a head last September, and he entered rehabilitation for substance abuse.
"I went to rehab to rehabilitate myself, my soul, my head, my body, my mind, my spirit, everything," De La Hoya explained. "It's no different when somebody goes into rehab for a broken knee. You have to go into rehab for that knee to get stronger, and where you can walk and eventually run, and then it doesn't bother you ever, again. That's exactly what I had to do."
After being beaten into retirement by Manny Pacquiao in December 2008, De La Hoya had found that free time was the enemy. There was only so much golf to be played, and after a while, the constant temptations simply became too great to resist. In many ways, the young man who came out of the 1992 Olympic Games with the matinee-idol looks and the Cinderella story -- fulfilling the wishes of his mother, Cecilia, who had passed away from breast cancer in 1990, by winning the gold medal in Barcelona -- never really had to grow up. He carried boxing as a transcendent figure in the 1990s and early 2000s, and whatever he wanted, he could have. It could be booze or women, and most of the time, it was both.
All that is expected to a certain degree during an athlete's career, as they sow their oats in their physical prime. What good is being blessed with looks and a left-hook if you can't cut loose a bit? But there's something a bit unseemly when that wild child never matures and evolves as an individual, and it's worse when he also has a wife and kids. As his tabloid headlines took up more and more bandwidth, Oscar became a punch line and a liability to those around him.
De La Hoya, who married and had several children with Puerto Rican pop star Millie Corretjer, said that "rock bottom" for him was very simple: "Looking at my family and thinking about the possibilities of losing them. I just had to get the bull by the horns and say, 'This is it, enough. I have to do something about this for myself,' and nobody told me to go. My wife didn't tell me, I got no pressure from nobody, because I had nothing but enablers around me. I had people tell me that everything was OK, everybody around me except for a couple of people," said De La Hoya. "So I'm glad I made the decision, because right now what I'm living now is the life I deserve to be living."
De La Hoya recently was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, in Canastota, N.Y. It was a well-deserved honor for the native of East Los Angeles who won various world titles as he climbed the ladder from junior lightweight (130 pounds) to middleweight (160 pounds). He battled the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez, Ike Quartey, Felix Trinidad, Fernando Vargas, Shane Mosley and Bernard Hopkins in a storied career that ended with a mark of 39-6, with 30 knockouts. De La Hoya was a polarizing figure to hard-core boxing fans who want their fighters to be a bit more rugged -- and not so damned attractive to their girlfriends.
In retrospect, there is now a deeper appreciation of what De La Hoya meant to the sport. He made it big; he made it important; he made us pay attention. And despite his transgressions, the public not only seems to forgive him, but to embrace his return to public life. "Y'know, America loves a hero, especially when he's down, and let me tell you, I was down and out," he admitted. "But I refused to stay down. I've accomplished so much in the ring. I know what it takes to get back up off the canvas and raise your hand in victory, and that's exactly what I'm going to be doing."
On Wednesday afternoon, De La Hoya was at the sweatbox that is the Westside Boxing Club, in a working class area of Los Angeles. A media workout was held for participants in this weekend's Showtime tripleheader, which Golden Boy is staging at the StubHub Center in nearby Carson. It's not the most high-profile card, but De La Hoya knows that his mere presence will garner a few more headlines for the show. He dutifully answers all the media's queries, and he signs autographs and poses for pictures for those who aren't part of the press corps. He's in his element, which is boxing. It isn't just his job.
In 2013, he had missed the biggest fight of the year (the contest between Floyd Mayweather and Saul Alvarez) as he was seeking treatment. For months before this fight, he had told everyone that it was a "can't-miss" bout, only to miss it himself as his personal demons overtook him. In 2014, De La Hoya said, "The difference is I'm present … I'm in the moment, and I'm enjoying every single second of everything. It's like I was inducted into the Hall of Fame last week, and I enjoyed every second of it. I enjoyed being with the fans, I enjoyed signing autographs, staying there literally for hours and attending every single event. It's what I was missing all these years."
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Steve Kim began covering boxing in 1996 and has been writing for Maxboxing.com since 2001. He is also a regular contributor for Boxing News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he tweets (a lot).