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Oscar De La Hoya: 'Boxing Wasn't My Passion, But I Excelled At It'


A young Oscar De La Hoya in the ring.
A young Oscar De La Hoya in the ring.

Oscar De La Hoya, after decades of grappling with soaring expectations and seeking escape through substance abuse, promiscuity, and alcohol, is reevaluating his past life. However, the concept of happiness and where it fits into his life often leaves him perplexed.

"Do I deserve to be happy?" De La Hoya often questions himself.

Defining happiness is indeed complex. The exhilaration of victory, fame, wealth, and admiration - are they the recipe for happiness? For De La Hoya - an 11-time world boxing champion across six weight divisions - they were not. Now, however, he seems to have discovered new paths to joy.

"For the first time ever, I'm creating my own happiness," he states. "I'm living free. I'm putting myself first. Yet, I occasionally question, 'Do I truly deserve happiness?'"

HBO's new two-part documentary 'The Golden Boy,' introduces us to a young De La Hoya, a boy from East Los Angeles pushed into a life of athletic training. As De La Hoya recounts, he was living out his father's dreams, then the dreams of his family, neighborhood, city, and nation. The first installment of the documentary opens with De La Hoya, known as "The Golden Boy" throughout his career, talking about the "darkness" that stemmed from fulfilling others' ambitions.

De La Hoya, a celebrated athlete and heartthrob, fell into the trap of addiction and abuse without a proper support system. In the documentary, he reveals his history with substance use, starting with drinking at family gatherings before he was even 10. As he grew older, he turned to drugs and alcohol to escape his "unbearable" existence. The documentary also addresses allegations of sexual assault, which were either dismissed or settled. De La Hoya does not shy away from discussing the highs and lows of his life in the film.

Regarding the film's release, he admits, "I've been prepared. I've wanted this documentary for years, mainly for myself, to liberate myself from my past. At 50, I've found peace."

Some viewers may question De La Hoya's truthfulness or the authenticity of his transformation. Surely, there must have been moments of clarity in his earlier life? Yet, he insists that his current state is unlike any previous phase in his life.

"I'm in control now of my destiny, my choices, and my thoughts," De La Hoya reveals. "I was essentially a robot. I was programmed to fight from an early age, to become a world champion, to become someone I don't think I wanted to be."

Currently, he enjoys up to 10 hours of restful sleep each night, aided by legal cannabis gummies. He doesn't lose sleep over the documentary, but he admits others might in his position. The two-part film reveals a significant confession from De La Hoya that he lied in the early 1990s when he claimed to have promised his dying mother that he would win the 1992 Olympic gold for her. The reality is that he never made such a promise. Instead, his mother abused him, and he projected that brutal pain onto his opponents in the ring.

The documentary also covers De La Hoya's personal life, including his children, whom he nearly abandoned with their mothers until recently, and his infamous pictures in women's clothing. After years of claiming these images were fabricated, De La Hoya confesses they were real – he wore the attire while partying with exotic dancers. "The documentary is as raw and real as it gets," De La Hoya states. "It's genuine. And that's exactly what I needed. What I wanted."

De La Hoya understands now that the truth sets one free. Today, he continues to work with Golden Boy Promotions, the boxing promotion he co-founded, but his life is more balanced, he says. He credits his girlfriend of two years, Holly Sonders, his "best friend," with providing the support that enabled him to make changes. "We don’t spend nights apart from each other," he says. De La Hoya, a father of six, has been married once before to singer and actor Millie Corretjer. But today, he says he experiences the joy of mutual connection.

Oscar De La Hoya with girlfriend Holly Sonders
Oscar De La Hoya with girlfriend Holly Sonders

Despite his achievements in the ring, De La Hoya admits, "I don't think I really loved it – I was just good at it. Focused and conditioned to do it, to become a world champion.”

For De La Hoya, boxing was a double-edged sword. It provided him with an outlet for his frustrations, anger, and the pain from his mother's abuse. But it was also a curse. "It changed my life but then again it ruined my life for many years," De La Hoya states. "I was trapped in my own body, living somebody else's dream." However, through the journey of making the film, he says he has found peace.

De La Hoya's key message is that people and relationships can transform, even late in life. His journey, as showcased in the documentary, might resonate with others who have undergone similar experiences. "It’s pretty cool that people are going to watch it and say, ‘You know what? I went through that as well,’” says De La Hoya. "Different but the same.”

The documentary concludes with the final fight of De La Hoya’s career against Manny Pacquiao. Pacquiao's dominance is evident from the start, but De La Hoya is undeterred. He confesses later that he had a thought of ending his life with one punch. “I just didn’t care anymore,” he admits. Death by knockout? He considered it a possibility.

Surviving that day, he retired from boxing. However, the feeling of emptiness followed, leading him back to alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity. Thankfully, De La Hoya persevered. The journey of making the documentary and meeting Sonders led him to stable emotional ground.

“I refocused. I rebalanced. I have that fighter’s mentality. I have that mentality of just keep going and not giving up,” De La Hoya concludes, implying his battle is far from over, but this time, he's fighting for himself.

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