Oscar De La Hoya’s New Fight


Complete Coverage: Hispanic Television Summit 2010.

Just over two weeks ago,
boxing’s heavyweight
champion of the world
fought and it was not even
carried on live television
in the U.S. So clearly, the
sport needs a hero outside of the ring
as badly as inside. And the man who
may be right for the job has carried the
sport once before: Oscar De La Hoya.

One of the most decorated fighters of
all time, no boxer has ever generated
more pay-per-view revenue, as the
wildly popular De La Hoya captured
an Olympic gold medal, several
championship belts and the adoration
of tens of millions of fans along the
way. But now retired and branching into
business, De La Hoya is ready for what
may be his toughest battle yet: getting
the murky business of boxing cleaned
up and back on top of the world.

Under his Golden Boy banner, he
is building a boxing empire while
also branching out into several other
endeavors, from real estate to owning
a piece of Major League Soccer’s
Houston Dynamo.

On Sept. 29 in New York, De La
Hoya will be honored for a lifetime of
achievement in Hispanic television at
Broadcasting & Cable and Multichannel
’ eighth annual Hispanic Television
Summit. Prior to that, he sat down at
his Golden Boy offices in Los Angeles
for a wide-ranging interview with B&C
editor in chief Ben Grossman. An edited
transcript of that conversation follows.

How is business?

The business of boxing is going great
considering the economy. People are not
spending many dollars these days, whether
it’s in the movie business or on television or in
sports. But boxing seems to always survive.
Even if you are living paycheck to paycheck,
you seem to find a way to gather up friends and
buy a pay-per-view fight. But our business in
real estate development has been put on hold.
It’s too hard to be in the positive these days.

Do you have a typical week?

I don’t have a typical week. Depending on what
kind of business we are tackling, any given
day is different. Right now, I am busy with the
Houston Dynamo. We just got approved to
build a stadium. I sometimes travel to games;
I am very hands-on with what we are involved
with. And we are doing more than 70 fights a
year all over the world. I go to about 20 a year,
so that keeps me pretty busy — and with a lot
of frequent-flier miles. A lot of times I come to
the office; we have a lot of meetings. We also
want to make Golden Boy a lifestyle brand with
things like cologne and clothing.

Are you worried about the state of boxing?
No. Boxing, like every sport, has its ups and
downs. A peak of popularity, and then a downturn
to a sport where people still watch. There are
times the NBA ratings spike, but then there are
games that are not so interesting. Boxing right
now needs superstars; it needs names to bring in
the general audience. That’s what we are lacking,
but it will always be a sport that will survive no
matter what. From Muhammad Ali to Sugar Ray
Leonard to Mike Tyson to Oscar De La Hoya,
there have been people to carry the sport. We
just need to wait for that next superstar. We have
to be patient, but it will happen.

The heavyweight division has long defined
boxing for mainstream sports fans, and the
champion just fought untelevised. Is this the
low point for that division?

The heavyweight division basically doesn’t
exist. And that hurts to attract the general
audience. When you talk about boxing, yes,
you talk about heavyweights like Joe Louis and
Ali and Tyson, because they are strong and
big and can knock you out. Everyone wants to
see the heavyweight champion of the world.
It hasn’t taken boxing back a step, but it has
neutralized it a bit popularity-wise.

But that’s OK; within Golden Boy, we are
planting those seeds and in the next two to
10 years we are going to have many new
superstars of the sport. We have identified many
young fighters — 17 and 18 years old — who
are going to be ready for the big-time stage in
the next five years. In boxing,
you have to be patient. We are
not a sport that is an organized
sport or a unified sport like the
NBA or baseball or MLS; we
have many promoters in the
business, which is obviously a
negative. So, it’s very difficult
to make the right fights, but
Golden Boy has been able to
sign big fighters, to now be the
primary sponsor for HBO, and
we do all the exclusive shows
on Univision—about 50 a year.

Isn’t boxing’s biggest problem
its lack of one organization? Doesn’t the sport
need one commissioner and organizing body?

The Don Kings and Bob Arums have had a
chokehold on this sport for the last 40 years.
They’ve been able to put great fights on,
they’ve been able to promote the sport, yes,
but I believe the days are long past of the way
they promote. Now, we have to think outside
the box; we have to think like the NBA and
MLB and have one commission and one major
promoter in the sport.

That’s one of the reasons I commend UFC for
what they have done in such a short period of
time; they are the only real player in their category,
the mixed martial arts world. They have been able
to organize themselves, have all the TV dates, a
pay-per-view every month; that’s why they are
valued at more than $1 billion. They are doing the
right thing, and it’s time for boxing to do the right
thing, as long as we don’t have those obstacles
named Don King and Bob Arum.

How does that actually happen? You want
Golden Boy to replace them?

Absolutely. We need to sign all the talent and
get all the TV dates; then you can have your
own agenda and have a schedule for the fans
and the sport. You can do a monthly PPV, a
bi-weekly HBO fight, you can have the best
fighters fight each other. When you have five or
six promoters, it’s very difficult.

So, is your plan to take over boxing?

My plan is not to take over boxing, but really
do what no other promoter was able to do, and
that is have unified rules and one commissioner
and make sure the fighter is taken care of and
is not cheated out of anything. That’s one of
the reasons boxing hasn’t really taken itself to
the next level, because we cannot make those
big fights and a lot of times promoters are the
ones in the way. We are very transparent with
whatever we do with our fighters, and in a way,
yes, we do want to take over. Well, we don’t
want to take control of boxing, but we want
to do the right thing for the sport. Have one
[entity] running it like UFC. It’s very confusing
with all these championship belts—my idea
would be to have one champion in each
division. There should be one heavyweight
champion, not 20 like we have now. Too much
confusion. We have to weed out the bad and
bring in the good.

The only fight everyone wants to see is Floyd
Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Will it ever
get done?

I believe so. My philosophy is Mayweather just
fought two or three months ago. Floyd is saying,
“I just made $65 to $70 million in two fights. Why
am I going to rush to fight again; why should I
be pushed? I will fight when I want.” We feel that
early next year, first quarter of next year, we are
optimistic it will happen. It has to happen. Floyd
knows it’s the biggest fight out there, and they
don’t call him “Money Mayweather” for nothing.

So, is Floyd scared of Manny?

No. There is no fear in boxing.

I don’t mean scared of
getting punched in the
face; I mean scared of
losing his legacy.

He probably does have
fear in losing. He does
have fear in having that
one loss, and probably
thinks people will not
accept him anymore.
But all the experts know
that Floyd will outbox
[Pacquiao], probably
easily. Styles make
fights, and Floyd is a
special fighter inside the
ring. Outside the ring is a
whole other story.

Floyd made a rather profane and racist video
and then had some problems with the law in
the last couple of weeks. Has this hurt him?

Has it damaged his legacy? I don’t think so.
Once he steps inside the ring and wins, people
tend to forgive. People tend to forgive winners
and champions. There is no room for what
he said [about Pacquiao in the video], from
anybody’s mouth. But once he steps inside the
ring, America is very forgiving.

We have heard some concern from cable and
satellite operators about a lack of big PPV
fights coming in 2011. Are you concerned?

I’m really not concerned, because next year you
will be having Manny fight, you will be having
Floyd fight, and those are the two fighters driving
pay-per-view. When you have Floyd’s number
and Manny fighting a Joe Schmo generating
600,000 buys, next year will be a big year for
boxing once again. You never know what’s going
to happen; right now people are saying boxing is
declining or dying. But as soon as we have that
next big fight, it will be a big sport again. Boxing
is a roller coaster and that’s what is frustrating
to us, because we don’t have control over it, but
eventually I strongly feel it can change because it
is a sport that everyone loves.

How are things with your TV partners?

Obviously, HBO and Showtime and ESPN
have done a great job. [HBO’s reality series]
24/7 is fantastic. But our ultimate goal is to [also] have boxing on free TV, on
the ABCs, CBSs and NBCs of the
world; we feel eventually it’s going
to happen. Now that we’ve attracted
corporate America with our sponsors
like McDonald’s, AT&T and DeWalt,
we have many sponsors that are now
realizing through boxing that you
can promote your brands at pennies
on the dollar compared to the other
sports out there.

Have you spoken with any broadcast
networks yet?

I don’t think it’s time now. We have
an agenda and lots to do, but it’s not
ready yet.

You co-produced an MMA event with
Affliction and Donald Trump. Will you
do more in the MMA world?

It was a huge success, but we have to
focus all our energies in the sport of
boxing because there is so much room
for growth. We don’t want to veer off
and lose our focus, so no more MMA.

Is MMA succeeding at the expense
of boxing?

I don’t buy that. The audience is
different. MMA has its die-hard fans
who generate 300,000 to 500,000 payper-
view buys on a monthly basis.
So, they have that audience, that diehard
fan base. If they do a major fight
— I think the biggest one was Brock
Lesnar, that generated close to a million buys
— do we feel the boxing fan is overflowing into
MMA? No. Because when we do a big event,
we break records and do 2.4 million homes.
MMA has only broken a million a couple of
times. We’re not worried; we don’t feel the fans
are running toward MMA. As long as we put
on the best fights, we will keep our fans and
hopefully attract new fans. I think both sports
help each other.

Could you have ever fought in MMA?

If I had trained for a couple of years. I once
wanted to take [second-tier] boxers who can
still strike and train them for about two years
for MMA, but I just never followed through on
it. I would love to see an Anderson Silva go up
against a Bernard Hopkins or Chad Dawson in
the boxing ring. He would get knocked out with

Why did you get involved in soccer?

Anschutz Entertainment Group is an investor
in Golden Boy, and we were talking about
soccer with [AEG chief] Tim Leiweke and my
CEO, Richard Schaefer. Soccer — especially
for Latinos — and boxing are the sports that
capture the imagination, going back many
years. The opportunity presented itself; Tim
mentioned that if we wanted to get involved,
there is a team for sale in Houston. Obviously
we were pushing to be involved with the Los
Angeles Galaxy, because this is my home, but
we made the perfect choice. Now that we are
approved for a stadium, I think the Houston
market will be one of the most important for
Major League Soccer. And it’s not just driven
by the Latino community, which is a plus for
us. We just had 19,000 people the other day
and we are in last place. And the stadium we
are playing in is a dump. We are optimistic that
once we have a brand-new stadium, we can
sell out every game.

Were you always a soccer fan?

Absolutely. It was either soccer or boxing and
fortunately—or unfortunately—I was forced
into boxing. It was us kids playing soccer in
the street barefoot. We would travel almost
every weekend across the [Mexican] border
to a little town called Tecate, where they make
the famous beer. Most of my relatives worked
there, and that’s another sponsor we were
able to attract [to Golden Boy]. We would play
soccer every weekend. Then sometime the
fathers would be hanging out drinking their
beers, and they would bring out the boxing
gloves and start matching the kids
up against each other for their
enjoyment. That’s how it all started.

Any other places in sports
entertainment you want to expand

We are going to stick with boxing
and soccer. There is still tremendous
potential there.

What if Los Angeles gets an NFL
team? Would you want to be

We have talked to a few people.
We’ve obviously mentioned it to Tim
Leiweke, and he has his partners.
We’ve discussed that it would be
wonderful to have an L.A. kid like
me to be involved with a football
franchise. But that’s a few years away.

I’ve heard that others have pitched
a boxing or fighting channel. Is that
something Golden Boy should be

Absolutely, especially with the library
we have. We are always building our
library, fights and interviews past and
present. I wouldn’t make it a boxingspecifi
c channel, but a fight channel.
Richard Schaefer’s kids, who are 13 or
14, looked up online any sport having
to do with fighting, and there were just
tons and tons of sports that most of
us have never heard of all across the
world that fall into the category of fighting. So,
the idea would be to not just showcase boxing,
but everything else like karate and mixed martial
arts. That is part of the long-term plan; one day
we will have the fight channel.

How are you feeling these days?

I feel really good, actually. The wife asks me
every day, “Are you OK?” I did have tests done
after every single fight. My last fight, they found
something that they couldn’t really understand in
my head. It didn’t help me to make my decision to
retire, but it was obviously a concern. I had second
and third opinions. It was something in my head
that they thought could maybe have an effect 30
years down the road, but they just weren’t sure.
Maybe they were being extra-careful. So, the wife
asks me every day how I am, but I don’t feel like I
was a fighter for the last 30 years.

Do you miss fighting?

I miss it to an extent where I sometimes
wake up in the morning and go jogging; then
I’ll sometimes shadow-box in the local park
in Pasadena where I live, and I will say to
myself, “You know, I still have it.” But then all
of a sudden my back starts hurting or I pull a
hamstring, and there’s the reality check.