Tuesday, May 1, 2007

EVERYTHING IS GOLDEN


LAS VEGAS - He’s Oscar De La Hoya and everything is golden.

Wherever he goes he attracts crowds of affectionate followers. They’re anxious to get close to the handsome man with the inky black hair and the movie star face. Grown-ups nudge little children out of the way just to be near him.

The autograph hounds force slips of paper in front of his face and then he’ll sign his name hundreds of times. Over and over he’ll sign “Oscar” with a big “O” and then he’ll smile at you. If you’re lucky, he may even shoot you a wink of the eye.

Before he married the beautifully demure Millie Corretjer and became a father, women of all ages would throw themselves at his feet and mob him at public events. After 15 years in the fight racket, he’ll stroll through the casinos and hotels on the Vegas strip and the cocktail waitresses and blackjack dealers yell out they are hoping he wins, and they tell him they are betting on him, too.

He is what his nickname implies: “The Golden Boy”. So strikingly handsome that HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant once called him “George Clooney with fists.” Fight fans love him, women swoon for him and the suits from corporate America chase after him in an attempt to get him to endorse whatever it is they are trying to hustle.

On Saturday night, the King Midas of the fight game will bring the entire city of Las Vegas to a standstill.

Even for Oscar De La Hoya’s standards, this is big. Really big.

His fight against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is already the highest grossing fight of any fight ever staged in Las Vegas, the boxing capital of the world. The tickets sold out in a matter of hours to the tune of nearly $20 million and the people will be hanging from the rafters in the “house that Tyson built” – the MGM Grand Garden Arena. If you want a seat you can still get it from the on-line ticket scalpers, but it will cost you $22,800 for a chair twenty feet from the ring.

When asked if he has been involved in a bigger fight than this, Oscar just grins and shakes his head, “No, this by far has to be the biggest…it just feels and it seems much bigger than any other fight I've been involved with. Leading up to the events, just with all the interviews I've been doing, photo shoots in various magazines and people wanting to go to the fight, celebrities - it just feels really big. When I was involved with the Trinidad fight we didn't have this, we didn't have all this. It's really exciting, this is what it's all about,” he says.

And then he smiles the same way he did on the night he won the Olympic gold medal in 1992.

He has a quick and ready smile and after the numbers are tallied for Saturday’s fight he will have a lot more to be happy about because he alone will become the undisputed king of pay-per view. Over the years his fights have brought in over half-a-billion pay-per view dollars and he will surpass Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield by becoming number one on that list.

Oscar De La Hoya understands the business of boxing perhaps as well as any fighter that has ever lived. You are as apt to read a story about him in the Wall Street Journal as you are in The Ring magazine. He is the President of Golden Boy Enterprises, owns his own lavish $15 million office building and is involved in everything from boxing promotions to real estate development to newspaper publishing. And he has plans to one day open his own bank.

The only thing blocking the immediate door is of course his opponent – Floyd Mayweather, Jr. The 30 year-old Mayweather wears the black hat in this epic and he cast himself in the role of the villain early on in the promotion.

With a record of 37-0 (24) KO’s he is generally regarded as the number one pound-for-pound boxer on the face of the planet and he is not shy about letting anyone know it. His forked tongue lashes out and stings as often as his quick and speedy punches do. He makes no secret about his feelings for De La Hoya or his company, “Oscar De La Hoya is a fighter with no personality and all of those guys over at Golden Boy are nothing but puppets!” snarls the petulant Mayweather.

In this insensitive era of hip-hop, Mayweather counts as one of his closest friends the rapper 50-Cent who will lead him into the ring against De La Hoya singing the words to his as yet un-released new single. The singer has also reportedly bet $1 million on Mayweather to beat De La Hoya.

The diminutive Mayweather, who is called “Little” Floyd by his father, Floyd, Sr., makes no apologies for his behavior or his harsh viewpoints. “My lifestyle is flashy and flamboyant, forever,” howls Floyd. “Come May 5th it’s blood, sweat and tears for Floyd Mayweather!”

De La Hoya has been forced to listen to Mayweather’s childish rants and comedic carrying on for the past three months. In February, the two embarked on a nationwide, multi-city press tour to hype the fight and during that time Mayweather tore the lid off his garbage can of trash talk and emptied its contents in De La Hoya’s face.

He appeared genuinely upset and when asked what he thought of Mayweather’s behavior, Oscar was blunt. “What I’ve learned is that he’s a little brat.”

The two men could not be more opposite and that’s why this fight resonates with mainstream sports fans. It’s the age old battle of good versus evil.

While De La Hoya is conservative, soft-spoken and reserved, Mayweather does everything over the top. He wears a wristwatch the size of a small pie plate and it is festooned with so much bling that the numbers on the face of the watch can’t be seen. He carries around thick wads of one hundred-dollar bills that weigh his pockets down like the packs on a mule’s back. While De La Hoya trains everyday at the same time, Mayweather will strike out the door for roadwork at two o’clock in the morning if the urge strikes him.

Even though Mayweather’s antics are helping to hype the promotion of the fight and add over $25 million to De La Hoya’s already morbidly obese bank account, Oscar is unimpressed by Mayweather’s unpredictable behavior and it has left him shaking his head on more than one occasion.

When asked if he figured a boxing promotion needed a good guy and a bad guy to be a blockbuster, Oscar was convinced that it didn’t. “No, not at all,” said the polite and cordial De La Hoya. “You had one of the biggest fights to date with Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield and nobody was a villain there. I mean, both of them were respectful and were nice. It was just that people wanted to see that fight. You know, the fact that he says, ‘Oh, I cast myself as a villain.’ No he didn't, that's just the way he is.”

Even though De La Hoya the fighter seems to despise Mayweather’s mouthy insults, the businessman in him understands that this is what sells tickets. After all, De La Hoya hand-picked Mayweather as the opponent, selected May 5th otherwise known as Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican national holiday for the date of the fight and he negotiated many of the terms under which the fight will be contested. If he’s upset with Mayweather’s tone, he really has nobody to blame but himself. “He got under my skin,” says De La Hoya, “but he didn’t get into my head and that’s what’s important.”

At age 34, there won’t be another fight like this one for Oscar De La Hoya. His career as a prizefighter is in its last twilight. And, despite the gnat-like barbs of “Pretty Boy” Floyd, he seems to be enjoying this last big go-round.

He’ll make one more appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno as he always does the week before his fights. They’ll announce his name and the audience will cheer and the women will scream his name and they’ll coo over his good looks. Then he’ll fly into Las Vegas on a private jet and be shuttled through the streets of town in a stretch limousine. He’ll emerge from the car and the sparkling neon lights will reflect in his soft brown eyes. He’ll make his grand entrance into the foyer of the MGM Grand Hotel and once again the flashbulbs will be blinding and people from around the world will crowd around and strain to get close to him.

He’s Oscar De La Hoya.

And everything is golden.


May 2007

1 comment:

dwpboxing said...

Great recap of the Oscar phenom. TK.