Oscar De La Hoya shows restraint, says relationship with Canelo Alvarez is 'just business'

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

Oscar De La Hoya uttered three words that were easy to miss but could be so important for the future of his Golden Boy Promotions and boxing in particular.

The 1992 Olympic gold medalist remains one of the greatest boxers of his generation, a rare combination of speed, power and aggression. He won his first 31 fights and only struggled after he’d abused his body with hard living outside the ring.

He succeeded Mike Tyson as boxing’s biggest draw, a mantle he passed to Floyd Mayweather Jr. after their epic 2007 fight sold a staggering and then-record 2.46 million on pay-per-view.

But as much as he was known for his talent and his ability to sell tickets and pay-per-views, he was also known for getting into bitter feuds.

He had infamous battles with his one-time promoter, Bob Arum, both as a fighter and later when both were promoting. He battled the media, he battled Mayweather Jr. and now, he’s in something of a battle with his biggest star, Canelo Alvarez.

At the pre-fight news conference in Las Vegas, days before Alvarez defeated Sergey Kovalev to win a light heavyweight belt, De La Hoya and Alvarez sat next to each other and barely acknowledged the other’s existence.

De La Hoya gave a rollicking interview to Yahoo Sports last week (watch full interview above) in which he told the story of the Mexican government asking him not to wear the country’s flag on his shorts during his 1996 fight with the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. In addition, he said a drug cartel showed up at his training camp in Big Bear, California, and threatened him if he won.

“Imagine the pressure,” De La Hoya said. “It was crazy.”

He told of how excessive partying took its toll on his career and potentially kept him from upsetting Mayweather. And he said that Mayweather’s father, Floyd Sr., and Jesus Rivero were the best trainers he ever used.

But the real significance of what he said came in his discussion of his issues with Alvarez. He didn’t take it personally, as he has so often in the past. He didn’t lay into Alvarez or make a defense of his own actions.

He said three words that showed he has a far clearer understanding now of what is important: “It’s just business.”

Canelo Alvarez looks at promoter and former boxer Oscar De La Hoya during a news conference Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

He’s been on both sides of these feuds. As a fighter, he first became outraged at Arum following his fight with Felix Trinidad over how much Arum made off the show when it did way better than expected in pay-per-view sales. De La Hoya had opted to take a guaranteed flat fee as opposed to working off a percentage of sales.

That led to an off-and-on feud with Arum that lasted for more than a decade and still occasionally flares up.

It had to be humiliating for him to sit next to Alvarez at the news conference before the Kovalev fight with not only a room full of media observing but also a cable television audience.

They ignored each other and clearly acted as if the other didn’t exist.

Alvarez is hugely important to Golden Boy’s short- and long-term future. He’s the biggest draw in the U.S. and, along with Anthony Joshua, one of the biggest worldwide.

In his discussion about Alvarez, De La Hoya was careful to walk a fine line. He didn’t essentially lay down and allow Alvarez to do as he pleased, but nor did he lob any bombs at his star.

“It’s all business,” he said. “In all these years I’ve been in boxing, inside the ring and outside the ring, I’ve learned it’s all business. In boxing, there is no loyalty. It’s sad, but that’s what I’ve lived. Canelo’s a great fighter and I consider him my friend. But it’s business, that’s it.

“You learn how to maneuver and you keep your guard up. That’s basically it. Me being a fighter, I know how to protect myself. I take that into my business life that I have now as a promoter and I use it to the best of my ability. Fighters are fighters and you have to protect yourself at all times, just like [Hall of Fame referee] Joe Cortez always said.”

The key is to work in concert. As a promoter, he needs to understand that it’s Alvarez’s career and Alvarez needs to fight the bouts he wants. But it’s De La Hoya’s job to present him all of the options and push for the ones that make the most sense for the fans and the business, as well.

Arum has navigated that minefield magnificently over the years, though he’s had his share of dust-ups with his fighters. De La Hoya and Mayweather are prominent among them. There are few fights that did not happen that should have as a result of Arum and that’s to his credit.

That’s something De La Hoya has to follow, as well.

By showing restraint and not teeing off on Alvarez when he had the opportunity, it was a sign that he’s learned how to play the game. 

The more successful he is at that, the better it is for the fans who want to see all the best fights made.

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