As Oscar De La Hoya puts it, when you’re groomed for greatness, there’s a chance you’re destined for doom as well. Oscar De La Hoya has seen both sides or success, and is now telling every detail of his storied life and career.
The boxing icon, now one of the sport’s most prominent promoters, bares every championship and scandalous detail in the new two-part documentary, The Golden Boy, which premieres July 24 on HBO and HBO Max. For De La Hoya, coming clean with his demons is sort of like a therapeutic cleanse of decades worth of locked up secrets—and he says letting it out feels good. “It’s real and it’s raw,” De La Hoya tells M&F. “It’s not sugar coated, it’s me literally speaking the truth.”
De La Hoya was quickly anointed as a pugilism prodigy, logging in more gym time before reaching kindergarten than most people will in their lifetimes. At age 6, De La Hoya was already lacing up the gloves, out for morning runs while other kids his age were learning math.
His day were consumed with boxing—sparring, lifting, even adhering to a regimented diet before he even turned 7. The “military style” regimen, as he called it, continued throughout his youth, with a daily regimen of sprints or six-mile runs, followed by 12 rounds of sparring and capped with an evening weightroom session. All for the goal of Olympic gold.
“It was literally a 24/7 job,” De La Hoya says. “Your mind had to be laser focused 24/7. So when it came to boxing, you’re in it to win it and become a world champion. And it was a [full-time] job.”
He became a worldwide phenom in 1992, when he won the gold medal at the 1992 Olympic games, his greatest moment as an athlete, he says. The greatest moment of his career he says, was dedicated to his mother Cecilia, who died of breast cancer in 1990. “I literally felt numb on top of the podium,” he said. “When I listened to the U.S. National Anthem, I literally couldn’t smile, couldn’t laugh, couldn’t cry. I was just numb because all the hard work since I was 5 years old, literally paid off that that moment right there.
From there, he won his first 31 bouts, and immediately became the face of boxing. He went on to win 10 world titles in six different divisions, including wins over icons Julio Cesar Chavez, Pernell Whitaker. The final years of De La Hoya’s 39-6 career was slightly more humbling—with embarrassing knockout losses to Manny Pacquaio and Bernard Hopkins were some of the early signals that the golden era was coming to an end.
Now, as part of his Winning Strategy, the key to De La Hoya’s happiness is balance. Although he works hard daily in the gym, no longer does the former champion to the line toward overdoing it. Although his routine still consists of jump rope and shadow boxing, he’s traded in the gloves (for the most part) and is pulling out the golf clubs. “If I could do it every single day, I’d do it,” he says.
Winning Strategy: Oscar De La Hoya
1. Admission Is Better than Suppression
I grew up with trauma since birth. When I was 6, my inner circle labeled me as the next great champion. And everybody treated me differently, so something changes inside of you. You keep winning fights and championships and everybody praises you—and you start to believe it. Then you start living a life, a life that is not yours.
So finally, after all these years, winning the gold medal, winning world titles, having the world on of me, criticizing me and watching me under a microscope, I always felt like I always wasn’t being myself.
So telling this story now on HBO Max my way, it’s kind of liberating. It’s kind of very therapeutic for me to just tell it the way it was, and to tell the real story, the truth. So it’s kind of like freeing myself from the world.
[Keeping it bottled] was both physically and mentally draining. Luckily I had boxing as an outlet to let out my frustrations—I could go in there when I was angry and hit someone without getting arrested. It was my escape, my office, my safe haven. And so everything that I lived through and endured in my personal life, boxing was my way out.
2. Stay Fit Through The Madness
I was a robot, trained and conditioned right from the start. I laced up the gloves at 5 years old, and everything I did—including having a diet at 6 and 7 years old—was for boxing. My parents just conditioned me to be a freakin’ robot. And military style was all I knew: You did this at this time, go to sleep at 8 p.m., wake up at 5 a.m. to go run at an early age. It’s a part of my lifestyle.
I’ve toned it down a bit. My life right now is more balanced. Before it was all boxing, just focusing on the big picture—that was becoming world champion and gold medalist and making everyone happy. And now my life and lifestyle is all balanced. There’s nothing that I’ve focused more. There’s nothing that I focus less on. I just try to balance everything out.
Today, I love jumping rope. At 50 years old, after all the pounding of the pavement all those years when I was a kid, my knees and ankles are a little you know banged up but the jumping of the rope in the in the soft pavement feels great. I do a lot of weight training, small weights and a lot of shadowboxing. Basically, I try to shadow box and jump rope almost every day. I just keep it to an hour.I have one of those thick, heavy ropes that weighs around five or six pounds. I can do that maybe for 12 three-minute rounds. It keeps you in great shape. Your arms get pumped up, the conditioning is great. And it’s fun.
Before when I used to fight, at my peak I’d be in the gym all day. If I finished my sparring and weight training I’d still want to do something, because, as an athlete, you want to make sure you’re ready, physically and mentally. Now I just keep it to an hour. Like I said everything’s balanced. And I know in my mind that when I’m jumping that rope when I’m doing my weights like I’m getting some great work in but I don’t overdo it.
3. Evolution over Complacency
I see myself in these kids I’m promoting. I see their talent and their potential. You know, there’s no other promoter in the world that has laced up the gloves the way I have, and so I give him all this information, this knowledge outside the ring and inside the ring, so it’s it’s been an easy transition for me.
I enjoy it. I love it so much the sport has given me everything I have, and I owe everything that I have to boxing. So you know the fact that I’m still in it, promoting these young guys, you know, like the Ryan Garcias of this world promoting Canelo [Alvarez] and, you know, having to promote [Manny] Pacquiao and [Floyd] Mayweather and all that. It just It keeps me in the game. It keeps me It keeps me sane. And it keeps me at peace.
If I ever had complacency, I would have fallen off easy because I was always fighting at the highest level. So every opponent that I had was very dangerous. So if I ever got complacent after winning my first world title, I would have lost I would have been eaten up by the fighters who are training harder who are wanted more.
I think mental toughness is just as important as the physical work. It’s easy not to train. It’s easy to just say you know what, I’m gonna take a day off, but it’s so tough to tell yourself every single day. I have to do this, I want to do this. And I want to stay at the highest level. I want to compete with the best.
I sometimes surprised myself that I had that mentality for so many years after fighting so many world titles and so many world champions, but that’s exactly what it takes.
4. Bounce Back from Adversity Better and Stronger
One of my biggest regrets was when I was knocked out by Bernard Hopkins. I was moving up to middle weights and he was the middleweight king. And I was gunning for my sixth division, my 10th world title. He hits me with a body shot. And you know, the one thing that I do regret the most is not getting up. Not because mentally I couldn’t, but and didn’t have the strength too. But physically when he hit me, too, that you know, hit me on the body shot to deliver. It’s like, I was okay, in 11 seconds, but that’s one second too late, because now I’m calling it out. That’s the one that’s the one moment that I most regret.
I remind myself to always be mentally strong, you know, because the mind is very, very, very powerful. I mean, the mind can take you to places that you never thought you can go physically and mentally. So that’s that’s the one thing I always remember is if if it hurts, just push yourself. Push yourself because literally there is no tomorrow.
5. Mentor the Next Generation on Mental Toughness
We’re living different times. You know, fighters like myself, Floyd Mayweather. We have this toughness in us because of the way we grew up. It’s a different era. The fact that I can talk to these kids [about mental health] helps. A lot of kids can can fold so easy, and so me telling these kids, that it’s gonna be OK, you can train hard, and you can balance your life. You have to push them and so, as a promoter, I try to I try to be sensitive. I try to be balanced with my messaging to them. They appreciate it because I did come from that path.
It’s [also] about respecting what you’re doing. If you really want it, then go out there and do it 1,000 percent. Don’t half-ass it. Don’t don’t cut yourself short, because you’re no different than me and I’m no different than you. The only thing that’s different is how you think, that’s the bottom line. So I tell these kids, if you think you’ve pushed yourself to the limit, then guess what, you have another extra 10 or 15 percent left in the tank. That’s that’s exactly what I tell them. And for most cases, it’s worked.