De La Hoya's perfect setup Boxing: The welterweight champion, who faces a rematch with Julio Cesar Chavez tomorrow night, enjoys the trappings of money and fame but isn't consumed by them.

September 17, 1998|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS -- In his meteoric six-year career, welterweight champion Oscar De La Hoya has been portrayed as boxing's new golden boy, a consummate pro who has captured titles in four weight classes and the first truly successful crossover fighter to win the admiration of Latin and Anglo fans.

Teen-age girls swoon over the handsome boxer the same way bobby-soxers fainted before Frank Sinatra 50 years ago. He has earned $80 million and, with the strong marketing support of promoter Bob Arum, could become the richest non-heavyweight in history.

Veteran trainer Gil Clancy gushed after watching De La Hoya -- who defends his World Boxing Council welterweight title tomorrow night in a rematch with Julio Cesar Chavez -- destroy France's Patrick Charpentier in three rounds last June.

"He could end his career in most people's eyes as the best fighter who ever lived," Griffith said. "There has never been a perfect fighter, but Oscar has so much potential."

The perfect fighter, the perfect image. Too perfect to be true? Well, yes.

In a frank interview with a Los Angeles Times reporter last month, De La Hoya sounded like any 25-year-old with millions of dollars.

"The story opened up my eyes," De La Hoya said. "And it made a lot of my fans see that I'm human. I think the Anglo community is embracing me more now."

In the article, De La Hoya acknowledged that he occasionally lets his guard down outside the ring. He said he visits strip joints south of the border, gets tipsy, gambles excessively at Las Vegas casinos and enjoys the company of beautiful women.

"Sometimes, I want to be human," he said. "A lot of people tell me I have fame and money and they'd like to be in my shoes, and I tell them, 'No, you wouldn't.'

"Once or twice a year, I just like to let loose. I go on vacation and want to have a good time. I drink, but I don't crave it. I have a low tolerance for alcohol. But it's frustrating to know I can't be normal."

But De La Hoya said he knows his limits.

"I tell myself, 'I have to stop this.' It's not me. I have control. I'm a grown man. I don't need anyone else to tell me what to do. If I don't do the right things, I can go down like anybody else."

De La Hoya, however, got fatherly help from Arum for his addiction to the baccarat tables. A lucky spree once brought $500,000 in winnings, but he quickly gave $200,000 back to the house.

With Arum's intervention, the major casinos have set a $25,000 limit on how much the fighter can gamble.

Said Arum: "In the 30-plus years I've been promoting boxing, Oscar is the most disciplined athlete I've ever known. But he is still a young man. He enjoys having a good time, but he also knows when to say when. He is not some cardboard figure who acts like a robot."

De La Hoya has had a child out of wedlock but is making no plans to get married.

"I know when I get married, I'll settle down," said De La Hoya, who is dating actress Shana Mokler. "She's the kind of woman I've always dreamt about," he said of Mokler.

De La Hoya talks of an acting career in the future. But for now, his focus is fighting and gaining a place among the immortals.

"When I look at the big picture, I can see myself winning titles in seven weight classes, possibly up to light heavyweight," he said.

But before he can be mentioned in the same breath as such legends as Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Willie Pep and Muhammad Ali, De La Hoya (28-0, 23 KOs) must not only withstand the test of time, but also face world-class competition.

To date, the skeptics say, the 1992 Olympic gold-medal winner has had few serious challengers.

He sliced and diced a past-his-prime Chavez in four rounds two years ago, but won a highly controversial split decision over clever Pernell Whitaker in April 1997.

Whitaker has been unable to get a rematch, and a showdown with International Boxing Federation welterweight king Felix Trinidad, who is viewed as De La Hoya's greatest challenge, has been put on hold.

"Boxing is basically an imposition of will on an opponent," said ring historian Bert Sugar. "De La Hoya has been well-promoted and marketed as the savior of boxing, an anti-Tyson.

"But he has shown some serious warts as a fighter, especially against Whitaker's left-handed style. To prove he belongs with the legends, let us first see how he fares against [World Boxing Association champion] Ike Quartey and Trinidad. Until then, save the pedestal."

Arum denies that De La Hoya has been overprotected. He has committed De La Hoya to a November match with Quartey and a February bout against either Oba Carr or former champion Frankie Randall. "There's a chance we could fight Trinidad on May 5 next year," said Arum, referring to Mexico's independence day.

In the meantime, Arum has propped up the likes of Darryl Tyson, David Camau and shopworn Hector Camacho, and De La Hoya has knocked them down like so many bowling pins.

And De La Hoya continues to strive for perfection.

"I'm still learning, going to school in training camp," he said. "I'm looking for the perfect performance. I watch films of Pep and Robinson. I understand that to be the best, you have to fight champions and undefeated fighters, and that's what I plan on doing."

Just perfect. Well, almost.

Fight facts

Who: Oscar De La Hoya (28-0, 23 KOs) vs. Julio Cesar Chavez (101-2-2, 84 KOs), 12 rounds

What: For De La Hoya's World Boxing Council welterweight title.

Where: Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, capacity 16,000

When: Tomorrow night

Co-feature: Yory Boy Campas (71-2, 61 KOs), vs. Larry Barnes (44-2, 17 KOs), for Campas' IBF junior middleweight title.

TV: TVKO, pay-per-view. Broadcast begins at 9 p.m.

Pub Date: 9/17/98

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