This De La Hoya Wants To Build From The Ground Up

He could be falling prey to “younger brother syndrome,” not measuring up, in the minds of others, or in the mind of himself. But Joel the boxing manager, the one with that most familiar last name of “De La Hoya”….it struck me when I met him the other day at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, while he watched over his kid Hugo Centeno, he seems to be in a good place.

Ok, for starters, if there were any syndrome in play, it’d be a variation of the “younger brother syndrome,” because Joel, 44, is 2 1/2 years older than his bro Oscar, the Hall of Fame fighter and current bight promoter who helms Golden Boy Promotions, the second most prominent company in that space.

Joel filled me in on what he’s up to today, and what he’s been up to in the fight game up till now. He’s been in the biz since he was a pup, as his dad played semi-pro baseball and his grand-dad boxed, and he himself fought as an amateur till he was 17. A left shoulder injury clamped down on his progress in baseball–he was a fastballer pitcher–and in boxing, as well. He adapted into a sideline role, watching over lil bro Oscar along with their dad. He oversaw Oscar’s camps, was often working the corner…and then he had to re-invent himself when Oscar hung up the gloves. “I took a hiatus,” Joel told me, as he watched 154er Centeno, set to glove up against James De La Rosa on Saturday night at barclays Center on a Golden Boy card, get a sweat. “That last fight, against Manny Pacquiao, broke my heart.”

People knew he could judge talent, and knew he had connections–duh–and knew from the way he ran camps that he had a way of managing people. “Hey Joel, I got a kid you should see,” he kept hearing. Finally, he broke down. He knew, when he decided he’d guide fighters, that he wanted hungry kids, and he likes them to be able to be versatile, to box but also bang, to also be the sort to close the show when they get a foe wobbly.

One in his stable has some of those good De La Hoya genes; cousin Diego De La Hoya, who was born in Mexico, is “a bad little dude,” Joel told me. He is Joel’s father’s brother’s kid, and he sports an 8-0 (6 Kos) record. At 20, he is one to watch, and no, not just because of that name. Joel isn’t wanting any favors given to him from Oscar, and knows that Diego will be judged even more harshly than a prospect named “Jones” because of that last name. Yes, he admits, the name can open doors…but it can close them, too, and it can result in a harsh glare of skepticism that could grind someone down. Yep, little brothers, Teddy Kennedy, Frank Stallone, they know about that…

“Diego has had to work,” Joel told me about the super bantam prospect. “That much harder! He has a target on his back. But he’s proven himself.” I agree; kid did more than 250 amateur fights. He wouldn’t still be in this if he hated it.

Others in the DLH stable include Francisco Vargas, a 20-0-1 guy with 14 KOs. Joel wants to build ground up, pretty much, with young guns, but Vargas is his oldster. He’s 29, and already has a nifty scalp to his credit. He beat JuanMa in July, and will fight TBA on Dec. 13 in Mexico.

Another Joel kid is Julian Ramirez, a 21-year-old Cali kid who’s 13-0, with 8 knocks. The featherweight is awaiting his next date, it might come in February on HBO Latino. Then there’s Alejandro (Alex) Luna, at 17-0 with 13 KOs; he’s a lightweight out of Cali.

Joel impressed me with a low key manner, a quiet confidence, and that grin you recognize from little bro. Word is he’s a gym rat, so yep, I’m guessing in a year, year and half, two years, when his stable is involved in title fights, there won’t be any whispers trying to tear him down for leapfrogging on little bro’s back. I told him as much and he shrugged, smiled, and said, “So far, so good.”