Set to take the desert by storm

Boxing: WBC champ Oscar De La Hoya says he is motivated heading into Saturday's showdown with Felix Trinidad in Las Vegas.

September 16, 1999|By LEM SATTERFIELD | LEM SATTERFIELD,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS -- Oscar De La Hoya says, heading into Saturday's fight with Felix Trinidad, he is "hungry once again."

Given his busy schedule and varied interests, it could be because he barely has time to eat.

De La Hoya, the World Boxing Council welterweight champ, is focusing now on the unification title bout against International Boxing Federation champion Trinidad. But that's just boxing.

On Tuesday, De La Hoya appeared on "The Tonight Show." He's done some acting, with cameos in several television shows, including the HBO series "Arli$$." De La Hoya helps sell McDonald's and Puma and wore a dairy mustache in a "Got Milk?" ad. He has a recording contract with EMI, is taking singing lessons and working on producing an album.

He has two children, one a newborn, and is engaged to one of the starlets of the TV series "Pacific Blue."

"When you go through other activities other than boxing, you don't worry as much about training. You seem to worry more about the future -- my family's future," De La Hoya said. "But for this fight, I am hungry once again."

The fight at the Mandalay Bay, one of the newest hotels in Las Vegas, will yield De La Hoya's largest payday, a guaranteed $21 million, and a likely $8.5 million for Trinidad (35-0, 30 knockouts). It also threatens to surpass 1997's Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson II heavyweight bout as the gambling city's largest fight gate.

The fight game's "Golden Boy" is worth an estimated $90 million, according to his promoter, Bob Arum. Over his six-year career, De La Hoya (31-0, 26 knockouts) has won five titles in four weight classes and been involved in three of the highest-grossing fights in Las Vegas.

A victory for De La Hoya, 26, who has said he wants to win as many as seven world titles, would set him up as boxing's most coveted opponent.

"But how would defeat affect your career?" one reporter asked yesterday at a news conference.

"I'm not thinking about defeat, first of all," De La Hoya said. "But to answer your question, I don't see any of my sponsors not wanting to be with me because of one loss. So it would not affect me because of the foundation I have built.

"What has attracted so many sponsors to this event is me," De La Hoya said. "We're representing boxing in a good way, and that's the reason all the other guys are on board with us."

De La Hoya closed camp for the first time in his career while training in Big Bear, Calif., but otherwise has maintained an active role in interviews and fight promotion.

Until his first public appearance at yesterday's noon news conference at Mandalay Bay, Trinidad had held closed workouts and secluded himself in his hotel room since arriving in Las Vegas 11 days ago from his home in Cupey Alto, Puerto Rico, early last week.

De La Hoya maintains the atmosphere has not distracted him.

"I'm at 146 right now, and I've been on weight at 147 for the past three weeks," he said. "It seems easier to make the weight now because I'm training harder and dedicating myself more."

De La Hoya is a third-generation boxer and a native of east Los Angeles. His grandfather, Vicente, competed as a 126-pounder in the 1940s. His father, Joel, was a lightweight boxer in the 1960s.

The youngest De La Hoya burst onto the scene, professionally, after capping his amateur career with an Olympic gold medal in Barcelona in 1992.

He captured the hearts of America by dedicating his Olympic honors to his mother, Cecilia, whose death of breast cancer -- shortly before De La Hoya's crowning gold medal achievement -- denied her son the opportunity to share it with her.

"Like Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar was an instant star," said well-known trainer Angelo Dundee, handler of both Leonard and Muhammad Ali. "They both had that same charisma."

While his Olympic glory, good looks and flash were endearing to the American public -- particularly women -- De La Hoya found it difficult capturing the hearts of Latin fans.

De La Hoya's victories over such other Latino warriors as Rafael Ruelas, Miguel Angel Gonzalez and Chavez "only won him further criticism," Arum said.

"They resented him for vanquishing their heroes," Arum said. "Oscar was this masterful boxer, but many of his countrymen felt it incumbent upon him to get in and bang with guys."

What has won over his male fans, Arum contends, is De La Hoya's split-decision victory in February over Ike Quartey. Each fighter was knocked down in the sixth round, but De La Hoya closed the show with a 12th-round knockdown, nearly stopping the previously unbeaten Quartey (34-1).

"When Oscar cornered Quartey in the 12th round and began unloading on him, you could hear the fans were completely behind him," Arum said.

De La Hoya admits having let the puncher's mentality get the best of him in his last fight, a late-round stoppage of perennial contender Oba Carr at Mandalay during which De La Hoya was in trouble.

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