The first thought that came to my mind mere moments after HBO’s two-part documentary on Oscar De La Hoya, “The Golden Boy,” started is this film is going to be the antithesis to Showtime’s competent, but very guarded recent documentary on Andre Ward, “SOG.”
While Ward’s film was solid enough, it reflected the protective nature of its subject. What becomes clear early on in “The Golden Boy” is that Oscar came to give it up raw, and unburden himself from both secrets and lies.
The somber tone is obvious from the beginning, as present day Oscar (shot in intimate black and white) makes it clear he is here to discuss the pain in his life.
Learning Some Reasons For Continuing Pain
De La Hoya often speaks on the edge of tears, with a near constant lump in his throat. What we learn over the next 2 1/2 hours, spread over two segments, is that Oscar, for all his extraordinary success in the ring and out, is quite aware of his perception, and the fact that despite collecting eleven titles in six different weight classes over his illustrious career, that he did not reach his full potential.
Oscar was a great boxer, who, through many distractions, did not become the all-time great that his remarkable skill set should have allowed him to become.
Much of his relative shortcomings as a boxer can be laid at the feet of a very difficult childhood. His father, a former pro boxer himself, was domineering in a way that may have gotten Oscar ready for greatness, but also made him feel unloved.
Even worse was the abusive physical and psychological mistreatment at the hands of his mother.
While it’s very clear that Oscar De La Hoya loved and still loves both of his parents very much, his upbringing instilled in him a deep insecurity that would result in the abuse of alcohol and the inability to sustain relationships with the women in his life and with his own children.
Brand Building BS
For what I believe is the first time, a lie is exposed that his cancer-ridden, dying mother never asked Oscar De La Hoya to win the Olympic gold medal for her. It was a falsehood that Oscar seemed to need to create not only a narrative that would provide him purpose, but it also exposes a young man constantly trying to seek his mother’s approval, even after her death.
This is a very sober and often dark film. That’s not to say that there are no notes of joy, such as seeing Oscar so naturally take to charming the media with his good looks and radiant smile, but the film (totaling over two and a half hours and split in two halves) also reminds you of what a phenom De La Hoya was in and outside the ring.
Due to Oscar’s long history as a fighter with HBO, the in-the-ring footage is readily available, and for those of us who may have forgotten, or whose recency bias more easily recalls his late career disappointments against the likes of Hopkins and Pacquiao, seeing Oscar’s rise is absolutely electrifying.
His speed and punching power were absolutely among the greatest in the history of the sport for a significant stretch. De La Hoya was also one of the rare crossover athletes from the world of boxing who transcended his sport. He quickly became an expert, and ubiquitous, pitch man for products far and wide.
Perversely, that which made him famous outside the ring, hurt him in his sport. Oscar De La Hoya grew up a second generation Mexican American, but his pretty face and ease within the world of commerce rubbed many the wrong way in his East LA birthplace and in his parents’ native home of Mexico.
Never was this malady more evident than at the scene of his greatest triumph: Oscar’s first fight against Julio Caesar Chavez.
Chavez was and is a cult-like figure in his native Mexico, and for many a year, seen as the baddest boxer on the planet. He held tight to his Mexican culture so thoroughly that it was impossible to disconnect him in any way from his origins. Oscar’s story is much different.
De La Hoya Struggles With Identity
While he was and is extremely proud of his Mexican heritage, he also embraced the “land of opportunity” to such a degree that many from his culture did not see him as a “true Mexican” fighter.
When he and Chavez took to the ring in what was a true event fight, Chavez was coming off his Richard Steele-aided last second comeback victory over Meldrick Taylor. Being ten years older than Oscar at the time, the tread was starting to show on his wheels. That being said, Chavez was still seen as a highly formidable fighter not far removed from his peak.
But on that night, De La Hoya took a poorly-trained Chavez to school, landing lighting quick and laser focused combinations at will, bloodying Chavez to such a degree that the fight was eventually stopped before a stunned pro-Chavez crowd, and likely many a dropped jaw watching on TV.
Chavez was seen as an indestructible warrior, and De La Hoya destroyed him.
On top of that, in their rematch, De La Hoya was even more dominant, making Chavez, the venerable warrior, quit on his stool. Oscar De La Hoya never got the credit he deserved for taking down Chavez not once, but twice.
Even Oscar’s own father can be seen in the film saying that if both his son and Chavez were in their prime, that Chavez would have likely won. Meaning, De La Hoya’s accomplishment was diminished outside of and inside his own home. The hurt from the lack of respect De La Hoya received is palpable.
Oscar De La Hoya, Underachiever?!
Oddly, despite all of his accomplishments in the fight game, De La Hoya is seen as an underachiever, even by himself.
Despite owning wins over greats like Rafael Ruelas, Chavez (X2), and Pernell Whitaker, there is a sense that De La Hoya was capable of more.
While he deserves extensive credit for what he did do in his boxing career, his bizarre loss to Felix Trinidad, along with losses to greats like Shane Mosley (SD and UD in their rematch) Bernard Hopkins (KO), Floyd Mayweather Jr. (SD), and in his last fight against Manny Pacquiao (TKO) gave the sense that Oscar was a shortfaller when the lights were brightest.
One wonders how much his outside of the ring issues played a part in his late career disappointments. In “The Golden Boy,” Oscar De La Hoya is revealed as quite a hound, carrying on with scores of women, producing multiple children out of wedlock, and suffering from a serious alcohol problem.
Behind that bright smile was a young man desperately seeking love that he should have received at home, and then looking for it in all the wrong places. There were front page controversies too. Such as photos of De La Hoya posing in wigs and lingerie with a Russian sex worker, and multiple rape allegations (none that were proven).
Despite the Flaws and Missteps, ODLH Has Built Impressive Resume
What may be most remarkable about Oscar’s story is how he managed, after years and years of getting in his own way, to transition to great success in the business world as a promoter.
So many boxers with problems such as his end up losing it all despite accumulating extraordinary wealth.
Oscar De La Hoya knew to leave boxing while his faculties were intact, and created a boxer-friendly promotion company that now showcases some of the biggest fights in the sport.
Yet still, one can see his search for peace has not been completed. One hopes that through this incredibly revealing and bold documentary, expertly directed by Fernando Villena, that Oscar can move forward, discover that peace, and find that most elusive of accomplishments in the lives of former fighters—a third act.