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Boxing Book Club: American Son by Oscar De La Hoya

Oscar De La Hoya's "American Son" recounts some of his most famous fights, most bitter losses, and his historic split from promoter Bob Arum.
Oscar De La Hoya's "American Son" recounts some of his most famous fights, most bitter losses, and his historic split from promoter Bob Arum.

Matt Mosley returns to Bad Left Hook today for a look at Oscar De La Hoya's 2008 autobiography, American Son.

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"The credit belongs to the man.....who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

President Theodore Roosevelt

American Son by Oscar De la Hoya with Steve Springer

I bought the hardback copy of the book and it has a good look to it, with Oscar in a black and white photo on the front cover, leaning on the ring ropes, wearing a robe emblazoned with the American flag. I am of the opinion that some sports biographies dwell too long on the subject's childhood and background before getting to the reasons why they are actually famous, but this book does not do that.

It doesn't just skim over De La Hoya's upbringing either, though. It tells you as much as you need to know really, him wanting to be accepted by his father and to make him proud, his love for, and devotion to, his mother and his determination to win the Olympic gold medal in memory of her after she dies of breast cancer while Oscar is still a teenager.

He reflects quite a bit on his ring wars and it's interesting to hear his views on certain fights and certain things about fellow fighters. In documenting his two fights with the great Julio Cesar Chavez, which were huge events at the time, especially in the Hispanic community, Oscar talks of finally earning Chavez's respect after the second fight, when he beat him conclusively by eighth round corner retirement (Chavez was stopped on cuts in the fourth round of their first fight). JCC was getting near the end of the road and Oscar didn't fight him at his very best but, to be fair to Oscar, he was on the way up still and not quite at his peak either.

After watching Chavez on TV as a kid, Oscar says he saw him as this larger than life figure, a legend, and couldn't believe he was actually going to fight him. However, during the press tour to hype the fight he saw a side of Chavez, the womanising and the heavy drinking, that made him see him in a less flattering light.

As Oscar is heading out at 4am on an early morning run one day before the first fight he sees Chavez stumbling out of a limo after a night on the town. They acknowledge each other and Oscar smiles. He says he knew then who was going to win the fight.

De La Hoya found it hard to gain the Mexican general public's respect, partly for being born in America, partly for being a pretty boy and "not looking like a fighter, like Chavez," but after the rematch he goes some way to winning at least some of the fans over.

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He talks of his love for his kids but says he regrets having three of them out of wedlock to different women. He was quite the womaniser in his younger days, and a heavy gambler too, one time blowing $1,000,000 in one night playing baccarat.

Richard Schaefer is the man who persuaded him to quit gambling for good, and he speaks highly of Schaefer throughout the book, referring to him as "one of his best friends," noting he was the best man at his wedding, and now is godfather to his son, Oscar Gabriel.

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In recounting his excellent fight with Ike Quartey, where he won a split decision and both of them tasted the canvas (De La Hoya once, Quartey twice), he says of Quartey's power, "It felt like he had bricks in his gloves. Every blow stung."

One chapter is used to describe the fight with Felix Trinidad in 1999, which was the biggest selling boxing PPV for a non-heavyweight fight up to that point in time.

Oscar says he fought the wrong fight because his trainers Gil Clancy and Robert Alcazar had drilled it into him to box and move and were screaming at him to do so throughout the fight. He says he wanted to stand and trade with Trinidad and go for the KO. He also says he feels sure that he won the fight and doesn't know exactly why a rematch never happened. This was partly because Trinidad moved up to 154 lbs. after their fight while Oscar stayed at 147. De La Hoya does mention that he thinks the rematch would have happened had Bernard Hopkins lost to Trinidad when they fought at 160 a few years later.

Somewhat refreshingly for a boxer, Oscar admits that Shane Mosley deserved the decision in their first fight, but does add that he feels he should have gotten the decision in the rematch, as do I.

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In recounting his split with Bob Arum and Top Rank, De La Hoya does actually give Bob a lot of credit for how he guided his career and it's obvious the respect he has for him as a promoter.

In my opinion, Oscar comes across as a bit greedy when telling of his dealing with Arum. Obviously every fighter wants to get his due, and Oscar is the main man, but when he is asking for a higher percentage of the profits and then throwing in a request for a $250,000 Ferrari on top, Arum becomes hysterical.

Schaefer influences him in asking Bob for a percentage cut of the PPV buys, instead of his usual $20,000,000 guarantee, to which Bob agrees, but eventually they go out on their own, Schaefer leaving his high powered job as an elite investment banker to become the brain's behind the new Golden Boy Promotions.

To give Richard his due credit, it seems like he has, among other things, been one of the main people in keeping Oscar relatively grounded (the book was published in 2008, so recent events from last year, which are very notable on this topic, are not covered), along with De la Hoya's wife, the beautiful Millie.

There are plenty of other stories, like Oscar having to wait years to get back his Olympic gold medal that he gave to Arum as a gift.

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He says "fighters know" if they have won or lost a fight, whatever the judges may say, and admits that he "felt like a loser" after the Felix Sturm fight and told Sturm after that he had deserved to win, but also adds that he ate too much and came in too heavy in his move up to middleweight. He says he would beaten Sturm easily had he come in at a more optimum weight.

So there you go, even when a fighter admits he lost, he still makes excuses!

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Some really interesting stuff is covered near the end of the book, with Oscar letting us in on what Floyd Mayweather Sr told him about how to beat his son, basically saying that the way to do it was with the jab and that Floyd wouldn't be able to avoid a good jab.

Oscar was putting this theory into practice in his fight with Floyd for the first half of their fight, then he stopped, he says, due to a slight tear to the rotator cuff in his shoulder.

He says he didn't feel Floyd's power in his punches at all and can't believe that he knocked out Ricky Hatton, though Oscar is naturally bigger than both Floyd and Ricky.

De La Hoya does come across as materialistic at times, impressed by wealth and powerful people, reeling off all of GBP's business portfolios and boasting that they can buy out a lot of their competitors, but he has also done a massive amount for his community in East Los Angeles, and for Mexican-Americans and Hispanic people in general, and has put a lot of work into helping genuine, hard working immigrants.

He is the Golden Boy though, after all, and has been a millionaire and surrounded by money since his late teens. It's quite impressive, to me at least, that he managed to stay hungry throughout his career and not become mollycoddled and softened in this hardest of games by all the luxuries he has around him. That takes a lot of mental strength, I imagine.

Whether by design or by coincidence, he has opened the door for poor Hispanic people in coming from nothing to becoming the biggest name in boxing and conquering America. At the very least, he is surely an inspiration to millions.

I enjoyed this book, and found it easy to read. It's not quite a classic, but it is well written and gives a good insight into the man and will be of special interest to those who followed his boxing career.

Recommended: 8/10.

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