Oscar De La Hoya is an Olympic gold medalist and a 10-time world champion in six different weight classes, a feat accomplished by no other American boxer. He was The Ring magazine’s fighter of the year in 1995, and at one time generated more pay-per-view income than any athlete in history.
Since retiring as a fighter, he’s become a successful promoter. As president and founder of Golden Boy Promotions, he has some 90 boxers under management, including world middleweight champion Anthony “Canelo” Alvarez. De La Hoya recently helped Alvarez sign the richest athletic deal in sports history: a five-year, $365-million contract.
With so much accomplished, it’s a wonder De La Hoya hasn’t returned to his corner in search of a stool to sit down. Despite his tremendous record of success, however, for this longtime Pasadena resident, the fight continues. He’s casual and confident, generously unhurried with his time, his famous good looks unmarked by his career in the ring. He’s still the Golden Boy. Charming and affable, but clearly on a mission.
While De La Hoya is understandably proud of all he has achieved in boxing, he remains motivated to honor the deathbed admonishments of his mother—to give back to the East Los Angeles community that he came from.
De La Hoya’s mother died of breast cancer in 1990 at age 39, two years before he won gold in Barcelona. But she knew her son was destined for greatness, and before she passed she told him, “The more you make, the more you must give back.” It’s something he took deeply to heart and has never forgotten.
De La Hoya’s philanthropic efforts began intuitively, by “literally giving back door to door,” he says, “going to families in East L.A. where I grew up and handing out money, or whatever we could. Whether it was groceries, or turkeys at Thanksgiving.” Soon the extent of the need and the quality of effort required to meet it became evident, and De La Hoya looked to organize a professional philanthropic organization.
In 1995 while he was still boxing professionally, De La Hoya established his namesake foundation to provide educational and athletic opportunities to underprivileged East Los Angeles youths. Beginning with a youth center, appropriately enough on the former grounds of the Resurrection Gym where he trained for the Olympics, the De La Hoya Foundation now serves thousands annually through a number of charitable endeavors.
The foundation began to expand its work in earnest with the establishment of a charter school in 2003, “the first high school to be built in East L.A. in the last 70 years,” De La Hoya says. Built on land purchased and donated by the boxer, the Oscar De La Hoya Ánimo Charter High School now serves more than 600 ninth through 12th grade students, 100 percent of whom are minority and 95 percent economically disadvantaged. Fittingly, the campus—home of the Boxers—includes a boxing gym for after-school programs, the kind that launched De La Hoya’s career. “We’ve had a few national champions to come out of our facility,” he says proudly.
As the foundation grew, the influence of De La Hoya’s mother continued to inform her son’s philanthropy. While sick with cancer, she was treated at White Memorial Medical Center. Despite succumbing to her illness, De La Hoya says the quality of care she received had a big impact on him. “I just remembered the staff as being so gracious, and so kind. They felt like family,” he says. Nearly 20 years ago, in honor of his mother, De La Hoya donated $350,000 to fund the Cecilia Gonzalez De La Hoya Cancer Center, which now offers some of the most advanced cancer detection and treatment facilities in the nation.
The foundation’s support of White Memorial has continued to grow, most recently with last year’s $100,000 donation to the hospital’s cleft palate program. Over the past decade, donations from the foundation also helped build the Oscar De La Hoya Labor and Delivery Center and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at White Memorial.
For De La Hoya, the rewards he gets from giving back are every bit as tangible as those bestowed by boxing greatness, and he seems to cherish them equally. He tells a story of being “stalked” in a grocery store by a young boy he thought was in pursuit of an autograph. When the kid finally caught up, he tearfully and profusely thanked De La Hoya for saving his mother’s life. “She went to your hospital,” the boy told him.
Still visibly moved, De La Hoya says, “It’s gratifying to be associated with the hospital, but I told him ‘I just help out. Thank the doctors, the nurses. Everybody there who made it possible.’”
While Oscar De La Hoya has never forgotten his East L.A. roots, he’s called Pasadena home for the last 19 years. We asked the boxing champ to tell us about his connection to the city.
“I’ll tell you a cool story,” De La Hoya begins. “I lived in East L.A. until I was 16 years old and went to the Olympics. At 9 years old, my trainer would pick us up after school in this little Datsun truck, so we’d have maybe five little kids in the back and one kid in the front and he’d take us to a boxing gym in Van Nuys. He would drive the 710 and come up … almost every day. I saw all these huge homes and one day asked him, ‘What is all this? It’s amazing.’ ‘Oh that’s Pasadena, where the rich people live,’ he said. And I just thought to myself, One day, one day.”
De La Hoya was living in Bel Air when he met his wife 19 years ago. “She didn’t like the Westside,” he says. Recalling those training trips from his childhood, he suggested they check out Pasadena. “We went to San Rafael Estates and walked the streets,” he says, “and I thought, Wow, it’s beautiful and so quiet. We thought, Yeah, this is it.
“We stayed there for two years, then we had kids so I had to get a bigger place. I had always wanted to build that dream home, so I found a beautiful estate in San Rafael on 4 acres, but we had to do a lot of work on it. It took us three years. It was a historical landmark, and Pasadena is very tough. I learned that the hard way,” he says with a laugh. “We’ve been there ever since.”
When it comes to pay-per-view sports events, few athletes have had the success of Oscar De La Hoya. With more than $700 million in receipts over his career, he was once the highest-grossing pay-per-view athlete in history.
Now in partnership with DAZN (pronounced da-zone) a live sports streaming platform, De La Hoya is hoping to disrupt the long-established pay-per-view model. “People don’t want to be told what, when, and where to watch. They want to watch what they want instantly,” he says.
Set up as a subscription service ($99.99/year or $19.95/month), the no-contract fee gets you access to any and all of the more than 100 fights per year livestreamed by the network. By partnering with De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions and others, DAZN gets exclusive rights to livestream some of the world’s most popular fighters, to which DAZN subscribers get an all-access pass.
“It’s a game changer for the sport,” De La Hoya says. “I think boxing is on the rise. All my inventory I’ve been accumulating for the last 20 years since I started Golden Boy Promotions is available, so you can watch my past fights, some of [Floyd] Mayweather’s fights that I own, [Manny] Pacquiao’s fights, and so on. It’s truly transformative.”
Photography by Brooke Mason