WEST LOOP — Chicago boxers had a rare chance to train with one of the world's greatest when The Golden Boy himself popped by a West Loop gym Thursday.
World champion boxer Oscar De La Hoya dropped in to teach a class at TITLE Boxing Club in the West Loop Thursday night. Now a boxing promoter, De La Hoya was in town Thursday to publicize his company Golden Boy Promotions' new partnership with Estrella TV, which will be televising a series of boxing matches this fall.
Before the boxing class, DNAinfo Chicago exclusively sat down with De La Hoya to talk Chicago, the future of the sport and who's the next champ-in-training to watch.
World champion boxer Oscar De La Hoya dropped in on a class at TITLE Boxing Club in the West Loop Thursday. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
'I Don't Miss the Punches'
In a career that spanned two decades, De La Hoya won a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics and defeated 17 world champions, wining 10 world titles in six different weight classes.
After being knocked out by Manny Pacquiao in 2008, De La Hoya retired from the sport, shifting his attention full time to promoting the next generation of fighters. Does the legendary boxer ever miss the thrill of the ring?
"I know I don't miss the punches. That's one thing I don't miss," De La Hoya joked. "I do miss the adrenaline when you're inside the ring. ... That adrenaline rush was just something else."
Is the adrenaline rush enough to bring the 42-year-old back in the ring with longtime rival Floyd Mayweather?
Despite reports De La Hoya was considering the move earlier this year, he shut rumors down in June, taking to Instagram to assert he was "never coming back."
But that hasn't kept him from critiquing Mayweather's matches. As Mayweather took on Andre Berto in a bout earlier this month to claim his 49th professional win and an undefeated record, De La Hoya wrote on Twitter: "I'm sure glad I decided for Disney movies with my kids tonight." When Mayweather announced his retirement, De La Hoya wrote: "Now that the worst boxing era is over, let's look forward to the next 10 years."
On Thursday, De La Hoya kept it simple: "I do respect his boxing abilities," he said of Mayweather.
World champion boxer Oscar De La Hoya (right) trains Eric Maletsky, a TITLE Boxing Club member in the West Loop Thursday. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
Boxing's Next Golden Boy
A crowd of young boxers are poised to bring the sport into a golden era, De La Hoya said at the West Loop gym. As a promoter, delivering the best fights for the fans is his goal.
"Now you're going to see the great fights happen," he said. "As long as the best is fighting the best, I believe better things are to come."
Golden Boy Promotions represents a stable of 90 fighters, and leading the pack is Canelo Alvarez, whom De La Hoya calls "the next big thing."
With good looks and a great fighting style, the 25-year-old Mexican boxer will bring "excitement back to the sport that we've been missing for a while," the promoter said. "He's the one who is creating the big ratings on HBO. He's the guy to watch."
Alvarez is slated to take on Puerto Rican boxer Miguel Cotto Nov. 21 in Las Vegas.
Oscar De La Hoya poses with Martin Ritter, a West Loop resident and TITLE Boxing Club member, at the West Loop gym Thursday. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
Scouting talent in Chicago
De La Hoya, a Los Angeles native, said Chicago has always — and will always — be an important city in the boxing world.
"Chicago has produced several world champions. It's been a while, but I remember we used to promote boxing here quite a bit with local promoters," he said. "The fan base is here [and] there's great gyms all over the place."
De La Hoya said he is starting to make connections again with local promoters and is scouting Chicago-born talent.
"There's a lot of kids out there who have the experience, who have the talent to make it real far. All they need is the opportunity," De La Hoya said. "Whether it's New York, L.A. or Chicago, you have tons and tons of talent and it only takes one."
De La Hoya, who is Mexican American but was granted Mexican citizenship in 2002, said Chicago's large Latino population contributes to the loyal fan base. His Mexican American roots gave him "an advantage," as a boxer.
"I was able to win an Olympic gold medal for the U.S., but being of Mexican descent, I kind of captured both worlds," he said. "It gave me an advantage because I was not only able to cater to the Latino fans, but just to the world in general."
Oscar De La Hoya trains boxers in the West Loop Thursday. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
Where Have All the Heavyweights Gone?
De La Hoya said the current void in champion heavyweight fighters — the Muhammad Alis, George Foremans, Mike Tysons of the boxing world — is apparent. Athletic kids with big frames are pursuing football or basketball instead, he said.
"You have all of these big contracts in basketball, football, and all of these young kids are ... going off and playing other sports," the boxer said. "It's probably because of the image that any contact sport has. It's dangerous, you can get hit, you can get hurt."
But the void breeds opportunity.
"I truly feel that there's such an opportunity right now, for that next American heavyweight champion to emerge," De La Hoya said. "Whoever takes that chance, trains and takes it seriously, has the frame and the body, the discipline and talent, you're going to make some noise in that division. It's there for the taking."
A lot of noise, and a lot of money.
"Much more than any player can make playing football or basketball," De La Hoya said. "That's how important the heavyweight division is."
A young fan poses with Oscar De La Hoya at the West Loop gym Thursday. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
In addition to his work with Golden Boy Promotions, De La Hoya works to provide after-school programs for Los Angeles youths with the Oscar De La Hoya Foundation. The goal of the program is to lead young people toward leading positive lives and away from gang violence, delinquency and substance abuse.
The West Loop boxing club, 313 S. Peoria St., offers monthly and yearly memberships and has been open for one year. Nearly 65 percent of its members are women, according to owner Graham Goy.
Graham Goy, owner of TITLE Boxing Club West Loop with his daughter and Oscar De La Hoya. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
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