Cable Operators

A Fighter With a Touch of Gold

9/27/2010 1:09 PM Eastern

Complete Coverage: Hispanic Television Summit 2010

In the summer of 1993, during a 10-city press
tour for the George Foreman-Tommy Morrison
fight, HBO Sports executive Mark Taffet
found himself chatting away on the train with
heavyweight champion Foreman.

Somewhere between Philadelphia and Washington,
D.C., the pair started talking about the future of HBO’s
pay-per-view business, which had officially made its
debut in 1991 with an Evander Holyfield-Foreman
heavyweight championship from Atlantic City, N.J.

All of a sudden, Foreman pointed his giant finger
toward a kid sitting two seats in front of them and
told Taffet without hesitation: “That, my friend, is the
future of boxing.”

Foreman was pointing at a young fighter with a
golden smile — a kid, really — who was riding with
them and fighting on the undercard of the Foreman-
Morrison fight. His name was Oscar De La Hoya, he
was 20 years old and a year earlier, he had brought
home a gold medal from the Summer Olympic
Games in Barcelona.

10-TIME WORLD CHAMP
Foreman’s forecast, as recounted by Taffet, couldn’t
have been more accurate. Sixteen years later, by
the time of his retirement from the ring in April 2009,
De La Hoya was more than just a 10-time world
champion in six weight divisions.

He had also become the all-time leader in pay-perview
boxing, breaking all records in number of fights,
buys and revenues, with a total of 19 PPV fights
registering 14.1 million buys and revenue of $696.4
million, the highest number in the history of HBO’s
PPV business.

DeLaHoyaMayorgaDe La Hoya, better known as America’s “Golden
Boy” and the biggest money earner in the history
of boxing, is only 37 but will deservedly receive a
Lifetime Achievement Award in Hispanic Television
from Multichannel News and Broadcasting &
Cable
on Sept. 29, at the eighth annual Hispanic
Television Summit in New York City.

“Oscar De La Hoya led the way toward not only the
boom of the pay-per-view business, but the boom of
Latino markets in the growth of the boxing business,”
said Taffet, the senior vice president of HBO Sports. “He
set box office records that may never be matched.”

Today, De La Hoya continues to make headlines
through his rapidly growing enterprise Golden
Boy Promotions, his philanthropic ventures, his
investment in Hispanic-targeted media, his recent
acquisition of interest in MLS’s Houston Dynamo
and even real-estate development.

Oscar De La Hoya was born Feb. 4, 1973, in one
of the roughest areas of East Los Angeles, going to
the gym and learning how to defend himself from a
very young age. His memories of the very fi rst time he
wore a pair of boxing gloves are not exactly pleasant.

“I was 4½ years old and I used a pair of gloves
against my 10-year-old cousin,” De La Hoya said in
a recent interview with MCN and B&C. “He punched
me on the nose so badly I started crying [...] and
that’s how it all started. My dad started taking me to
the gym. He wanted me to become a boxer.”

As a child, visiting relatives in Mexico, De La Hoya
showed a fondness for soccer, playing in dirt fields with
the local kids in Tecate, Baja California. The boxing
gene ultimately kicked in, though, and the middle child
of three went on to make a career of the sport. His
grandfather, Vicente, was an amateur fighter in the
1940s, while his father, Joel, boxed professionally in
the 1960s. “Boxing runs in my family,” he said.

De La Hoya, who always showed
a fascination for yet another Olympic
gold medalist, Sugar Ray Leonard,
began to take boxing very seriously
at
the age of 15, ultimately earning a
spot at the 1992 Olympic Games in
Barcelona, where he defeated Marco
Rudolph by a 7-2 decision in the
fi nals to become the only U.S. boxer
to
win the gold in the 1992 Games.

Footage of the 1992 Olympics
shows an emotional De La Hoya
upon hearing the final decision: He
kneels down on the ring, crosses
himself and, looking up to the
sky, blows a kiss. The young gold
medalist dedicated his victory to
his mom, Cecilia Gonzalez, whom
a year earlier had succumbed to
breast cancer at the age of 39.

“She had told me to continue
fighting and win the gold for her,”
De La Hoya later remembered. “The
most important thing I’ve done in
my life was winning the Olympic
gold medal for my mother.”

The Olympics marked a turning
point for De La Hoya, who soon
after (in November 1992) won his first professional
fight in a first-round knockout of Lamar Williams
in California, kicking off an extremely successful
record. In 1994, he won his first professional title, the
junior lightweight championship of the World Boxing
Organization.

On May 6, 1995, De La Hoya made his pay TV
debut, fighting his first pay-per-view bout on HBO
against Rafael Ruelas. The fight, in which the Golden
Boy knocked Ruelas down twice, ending the fight in
the second round, generated 330,000 buys and $9.9
million in revenue for HBO, doubling the 165,000
buys and ($5 million) generated by the first Hispanic
pay-per-view fight ever: the 1993 Michael Carbajal
vs. Humberto “Chiquita” González match.

In the days prior to De La Hoya’s first PPV fight,
there was tremendous buzz in the media. Here was
a humble, U.S.-born Olympic gold medal winner of
Latino origin about to face off against a Mexicanborn
fighter who was already a star among his
countrymen. It was the perfect combination of
factors to make an almost-perfect product pitch for
the nationwide U.S. Hispanic TV audience.

In no time, De La Hoya became a PPV cash cow
for HBO — so much so that boxing historian Bert
Sugar once called him “boxing’s ATM machine.”

De La Hoya’s PPV golden touch reached its
peak on May 2007, when a fight against Floyd
Mayweather Jr. generated 2.4 million pay-per-view
buys, and total PPV revenue of $134.4 million,
according to HBO. After that, De La Hoya would go
on to do only one more PPV fight, the historic bout
against Manny Pacquiao in December 2008.

PASSING THE TORCH

Billed as “the Dream Match,” the fight drew more than
1.25 million buys and generated more than $70 million,
officially propelling Pacquiao to superstar status in the
U.S., as De La Hoya lost via technical knockout.

For many boxing observers, the December 2008
De La Hoya-Pacquiao bout was the unofficial
ceremony in which the Golden Boy “passed the
torch” to the young Filipino champion.

Barely four months after his defeat to Pacquiao,
on April 14, 2009, De La Hoya officially announced
his retirement from boxing.

In his retirement speech, the athlete talked
about the need to help the sport of boxing and
his being in a privileged position to do so. His
boxing firm, Golden Boy Promotions, has grown
rapidly to become a major player in the launch and
development of young minority fighters.

Founded in 2004 with longtime friend and
business partner Richard Schaefer, the Los Angelesbased
company now has some 60 fighters under
contract and produces more than 70 international
events each year, generating annual revenues “in
excess of $100 million” and reporting double-digit
market share growth, according to the company.

“People made fun of us,” Schaefer said of the
early days of Golden Boy Promotions, of which he is
CEO. “How can a kid from East L.A. who didn’t even
finish college and a guy from Switzerland possibly
succeed?”

September