By James Blears
The Oscar De La Hoya that most of us are accustomed to see, is that of the smiling, charismatic, debonair, wondrously gifted fighter, who won a gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, then embarking upon a dazzlingly brilliant pro career, conquering world championships in six weight divisions …The Golden Boy Poster Pinup, who`s since progressed into a very successful Boxing Promotions career.
Sometimes, what you see is what you get, but it`s an altogether different, more down to earth, and away from the limelight scenario, in this conversation with Pepe Sulaiman, as part of his series: “The Interview I never had.”
Courteous, erudite, and wise, there`s a definite melancholy tinge and even shades of sadness to Oscar on this day. Is he considering and seeking a new path in his life, with tinged regrets that the most spectacular phase of it is now forever gone, although certainly not lost in the mists of time?
The boyish then youthful visage, has been replaced by a maturely handsome face, sporting a beard flecked with gray. He`s also wearing a pale gray casual shirt. Part of the interview reminds me of one that Peter Sellers did with Michael Parkinson, in which he said that his greatest joy and satisfaction with films, was during that magical ephemeral moment when it was being conceived and achieved, living in the moment as it`s captured on film, rather than delving through dusty musty rushes later on.
Oscar said: “Boxing to me is my life. I owe everything to boxing. It was a way to let out my frustrations and it makes you mentally tough to a point where you don`t have to fight in the streets. It`s about taking you to a new dimension, where you`re a pushing yourself to the limit, and it`s a gift. My Father used to say…when do you see a rich kid become a world champion? It`s rare. With kids who grow up in poverty, the work ethic is different, and the heart is bigger. When the going gets tough…Boxing is a sport for the poor that the rich love watching.”
Oscar`s Grandfather Vicente fought in the Olympic Auditorium in LA. His Father Joel was a pro fighter, Oscar`s says his brother Joel Jr was more talented than him, but never had the desire to fight professionally. But Oscar did! Before that, he put everything into winning the Olympic medal especially for his Mother Cecilia, who was gravely ill, recalling: “The fact I had to do it for her, made me physically and mentally stronger, and brought me closer to her. Whenever I think of my Mother and it`s often, it`s about happy moments and happy times.
“Boxing is my comfort zone. There`s no other place I would rather be because I know I`m safe in there. Boxing will take you to a place that`s beautiful. Connecting that punch, feeling it in your fist, wrist, travelling all the way to your shoulder. It`s not a feeling of satisfaction. Rather it`s a feeling of second nature. To throw the perfect punch doesn`t happen often, but when it does, you feel you are the most gifted fighter on the Planet. Repetition makes it automatic , but there are certain fighters who can do certain things which are not teachable. They are divinely talented. And there`s the heart, which can push you over the finish line or make you quit. Either stand up or fold. It`s a very powerful tool.”
To great champions the spectre of losing is infinitely more piquant than the physical pain which comes, fades and goes. Oscar explains: “Fighting twelve hard rounds, you would think you would feel pain. But because of the adrenalin and the emotion, you aren`t focused on pain. You are focused on the pain of losing or the feeling of winning, so pain is obsolete. But the kind of pain that can stay with you forever is when you lose a fight. That loss can be painful for a lot of years. Sometimes it`s a pain that doesn`t leave you until you die. It can change your life and how you think about life. It can be dangerous if you don`t know how to handle it. When you lose, a lot of fighters end up by themselves, or even when they win. Boxing can be a very lonely sport.”
Oscar has channelled his experience and brilliance into promoting fighters. He said: “It involves a lot of work positioning your fighters, advocating for them to be in the top ten and then in the top five. It`s a constant job, staying in the action, even after you have retired. It`s a great way to fill the void.”
Oscar prefers boxing of the past when fighters were prepared to take more risks. Nowadays fighters: “Focus too much on being undefeated, fighting opposition which is not at their level. I think boxing should be more competitive. If you really want to be a champion, you should fight the very best.”
Life can imitate art. The film entitled: “Too Much Too Soon,” comes to mind. A glittering boxing career winds down to an end due to Father Time, and nothing ever again can be so bright, vital or vivid. Little comfort to fall back on the saying: “Life goes on.” Better to contemplate the last line of Mark Twain`s final book, the Mysterious Stranger: “Dream other dreams…and better.”
This is an extraordinary interview which explores the nature and the depth of the man and his sport. To see it in its entirety: https://youtu.be/MLIrRZnYaZY