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Oscar De La Hoya

Still The Champion

De La Hoya has continued his highly successful boxing career. In June 2001, he got his fifth title when he defeated Javier Castillejo in a 12-round unanimous decision to win the WBC Super Welterweight crown. De La Hoya had bulked up to 154 pounds for the match—unfamiliar territory for him—and even he admitted, "I have a lot of room for improvement" after the match. The win did put him in exclusive company, making him one of only three boxers to win five championships in five weight classes.

Oscar De La Hoya has sometimes been accused of forgetting his roots, of turning his back on his community. He has moved out of Los Angeles, to a house he designed himself in the mountain resort of Montebello, California. He also has a mansion in Bel Air. And with $110 million in earnings, he certainly leads a different lifestyle from the one he grew up in. But he continues to take a keen interest in his old community. Through the Oscar De La Hoya Foundation he sponsors Olympic hopefuls and provides educational sponsorships. And in 1997, he bought the Resurrection Gym where he used to train for $500,000. Renamed the Oscar De La Hoya Youth Boxing Center, it provides a place for students to go after school and, of course, a boxing program.

That is why it stung him when rival boxer Fernando Vargas accused De La Hoya of selling out, of turning his back on his barrio beginnings and of going soft. In September 2002 the two boxers met, and De La Hoya found his 11th round technical knockout of Vargas deeply satisfying. "He got under my skin, but I let my fists do the talking," said De La Hoya after the match.

De La Hoya's long-term goal is to win titles in seven weight classes, and he is well on his way. And many have noticed his skill. In May 2002 Sports Illustrated asked George Foreman who he thought was the best fighter in the world. "Oscar De La Hoya," he replied. "And we haven't seen the best of him yet."

A Little Bit of Tarnish on the Gold

Oscar De La Hoya's looks, charm, and "good guy" reputation have garnered him lucrative endorsement contracts and favorable press attention. But in the area of personnel, this has been tempered with harsh criticism of his ruthlessness. De La Hoya has gone through a string of managers and trainers, starting with the well-respected Shelly Finkel, who had also managed Evander Holyfield. Brought in to help usher De La Hoya into pro boxing, Finkel had invested a great deal of money into the youth, even paying for his mother's chemotherapy and later her funeral. "But after Oscar kept the promise he'd made to his mother and won the 1992 gold medal, becoming the most marketable face boxing had seen in more than a decade, he signed with little-known managers Robert Mittelman and Steve Nelson. Finkel still hasn't gotten over it," wrote Sports Illustrated reporter S.L. Price.

Mittelman and Nelson didn't fare much better. In December of 1993, he broke with them "in an abrupt and muddled bid to seize 'full control' of his career," wrote another Sports Illustrated reporter. That same year, De La Hoya brought on Mike Hernandez as his business manager. In 1999, De La Hoya fired him, and accused him of skimming. Hernandez in turn has sued Oscar for breach of contract and defamation.

In 2001, De La Hoya himself turned to the courts to end his longtime association with promoter Bob Arum, claiming that he had been badly promoted. He also began telling reporters that he had been badly trained by such well-respected names as Gil Clancy and Emanuel Steward. Few would dispute De La Hoya's natural talent, but there are some who wish he would remember the help he has received along the way.

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