LAS VEGAS — Oscar De La Hoya looked content. The chairman and CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, which he founded in 2001 while still active during a Hall of Fame boxing career in which he won 10 world titles in six weight classes, had a smile on his face as he walked into the room, greeted his visitor and took a seat on a plush chair.
He was wearing a comfortable-looking white bathrobe and matching slippers, then ordered a plate of soft tacos and a cup of coffee from one of the MGM Grand staff on hand to take care of his needs following his relaxing dip in the pool.
He had spent much of this Tuesday morning and early afternoon doing interviews and participating in the grand arrivals of Canelo Alvarez, his company’s most important fighter, and unified middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin. They will meet on Saturday (HBO PPV, 8 p.m. ET) at the T-Mobile Arena in one of the most anticipated fights in years.
With their big title fight next on the docket, Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin draw a distinction between their showdown and the spectacle that was the Mayweather-McGregor bout.
Ready for the real megafight of the century? Here comes Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin. Dotun Akintoye breaks down the tape.
De La Hoya is the proud architect of the promotion and the fight that so many have looked forward to for so long.
“When I started boxing, the biggest moment of my career was on top of that podium winning the Olympic gold medal (in 1992), by far,” De La Hoya said. “World titles come and go, but winning the gold medal was bigger. And now, as a promoter, I strongly feel that this might not be the pinnacle because I’m positive there will be bigger events I’m going to be part of, but this is what it’s all about. This is my gold medal as a promoter because this is exactly what boxing needs right now. Boxing needs this fight and I’m glad I was able to make it.”
The expectation is that Alvarez and Golovkin will produce nothing less than a classic battle. De La Hoya expects one too and he takes great pride in his ability to deliver the big fight fans have longed for. But for De La Hoya to be at this point, where he is grinding through the promotion of perhaps the best fight that could be made in boxing, it is even more satisfying to him because of where he has come from.
Nearly three-and-a-half years ago, many pronounced Golden Boy Promotions dead. The critics said it would never survive the resignation of longtime CEO and co-founder Richard Schaefer in June 2014 following his falling out with De La Hoya. After all, he had run the successful business day-to-day since its founding and built it into a powerhouse. De La Hoya was largely a figurehead.
But when Schaefer resigned and eventually gave up his piece of ownership in the company after a very public dispute with De La Hoya over the direction of Golden Boy, De La Hoya took control. He named himself CEO, rid the company of Schaefer allies, convinced partner Bernard Hopkins to remain and eventually promoted Eric Gomez, his best friend since childhood, to president.
And then he and his staff went to work rebuilding the company following the devastating departures of an enormous amount of talent, including Deontay Wilder, Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter, Daniel Jacobs, Errol Spence Jr., Amir Khan, Adrien Broner, Marcos Maidana, Leo Santa Cruz, Abner Mares and many other fighters. They left in January 2015 with manager/adviser Al Haymon, a close associate of Schaefer’s, as part of the settlement of a lawsuit between Golden Boy and Schaefer.
Since Schaefer’s exit, De La Hoya has shored up the company and while it still has not fully reloaded after losing so many top fighters, it has plenty of talent and remains a stalwart of the promotional business. “The expectations of people were so low but that’s the motivation,” De La Hoya said. “People were counting us out because we didn’t have any champion fighters or we didn’t have any prospects. I was always confident we could rebuild. But it just took time.”
In terms of talent, the biggest move was re-signing Alvarez, one of the biggest revenue generators in boxing.
“I think the critical part was continuing to establish the relationship we have with Canelo,” De La Hoya said. “That was key. The relationship that we have is unbreakable.”
Golden Boy also re-signed lightweight champion Jorge Linares, welterweight contender Lucas Matthysse, middleweight contender David Lemieux and signed world titleholders such as junior featherweight Rey Vargas and junior lightweight Jezreel Corrales and a number of prospects.
In terms of making sure the fighters have outlets on which to fight, De La Hoya re-established his relationship with HBO — where Golden Boy cards dominate the network’s schedule — after Schaefer had taken the company’s business to Showtime; found a deal at Spanish-language Estrella TV for a regular club show to develop young fighters in Southern California; and, in January, struck a deal with ESPN for a minimum of 42 cards over two years with a network option for a third year.
Of Golden Boy’s chances for survival after such massive upheaval, De La Hoya clearly takes pride in the fact not only is the company still around but as busy as ever.
“Never a doubt because of the loyal people that stuck with me, the loyal people that have always believed in me, especially Eric,” De La Hoya said. “Bernard Hopkins is a very important key to keeping this company together but when you have a competent, smart person that’s my best friend like Eric Gomez stick with you no matter what, and behind that you have everyone who believes in you, who trusts you, then from there you can have the confidence that you can build it back up better than ever.”
De La Hoya recalled the first day he went to the office following Schaefer’s exit when his employees had much uncertainty. He said his message to them was “just get to work.”
“I called a meeting and said to them, ‘Look, Golden Boy is me. Golden Boy we’ve built to be the biggest promotional company in the world today and without me there is no Golden Boy, without you there’s no Golden Boy.’ We were down but we were not out. I told them, ‘We still have the brand, we still have Golden Boy, we still have me, so let’s get to work.’
“We had to reshuffle. We had to reassess and reorganize but my company today is right where I want it to be. I feel comfortable. I feel I can finally trust once again.”
There have been bumps along the way to be sure. De La Hoya’s personal life has sometimes interfered with his business with the separation from his wife and a very public battle with alcohol and drug addiction that has led to multiple stints in rehab over the years and sometimes erratic behavior. A January drunk driving case against him is still pending.
“I’ve had issues like millions of people in America have had and mine are under a microscope, but the fact (is) I’ve weathered the storm,” De La Hoya said.
As the Canelo-GGG fight draws closer, De La Hoya said he has some nerves like he did when he was a fighter but that experience has taught him how to relax, hence the dip in the pool during a short break from his promotional duties Tuesday.
“It’s more (nerves because) of the business end of it, making sure everything is running smooth and making sure hopefully we hit those numbers we hope to hit (on pay-per-view),” he said. “There’s an expectation of doing between 1.5 and 3 million homes. That’s the window. There’s a realistic expectation that I have.”
And even if the pay-per-view doesn’t do the kind of gangbuster numbers De La Hoya hopes for, he still has a sense of accomplishment delivering such a big fight, especially after all he and his company have endured since 2014.
“It’s satisfying times a thousand,” he said. “When people believe that there’s no way you can come back, there’s no possible way you can rise to the occasion, it’s like a fighter — you stay down or you get back up.”