Twenty years ago on this day, May 6, a 23-year-old from East Los Angeles named Oscar De La Hoya stepped in the boxing ring against IBF lightweight titlist Rafael Ruelas and won by knockout in the second round at the Caesars Palace outdoor arena.
De La Hoya catapulted into being boxing’s largest money-maker after that clash between world title-holders. It was the one fight that made fans finally realize he was the real deal and not the product of a hype machine. He proceeded to win world titles in the junior welterweight, welterweight, junior middleweight and middleweight divisions.
Now, the graduate of Garfield High School heads the Los Angeles-based boxing promotion company Golden Boy Promotions. The top dog in its stable is the redheaded boxer from Guadalajara, Mexico, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
Facing Alvarez (44-1-1, 31 Kos) will be Houston’s James “Mandingo Warrior” Kirkland (32-1, 28 Kos) at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas on Saturday, May 9. HBO will televise the event that also features another young fighter from East L.A.
Kirkland, like Alvarez, has only one defeat on his boxing ledger. It’s something that many fail to realize. The mild-mannered Texan spent time in East L.A. years ago sparring with Sergio Mora and Alfredo Angulo. Back then, he was a fearless punching machine who seemed to relish exchanging angry blows with any and all. Outside of the ring he was somewhat humble but confident in his ability to war with anyone.
Take his knockout victory over Glen Tapia. Many felt Kirkland was the underdog going into that fight but he emerged with his hand raised like something out of an old Martin Scorsese film.
Kirkland hits hard, plain and simple.
Alvarez has that zeal to prove to everyone that he’s better than advertised. Some say he’s his own worst enemy and point to his lone loss that came to Floyd Mayweather a couple of years ago. The world told him he was not ready but he refused to listen. Confidence is his game. He has plenty of it to go with his fiery hair.
On Saturday, the winner will gain immense credibility and status as one of the best in the junior middleweight division. Kirkland or Canelo could possibly emerge as cash machines.
“Like they say anything can happen in a fight,” says Kirkland. “It’s definitely taking the right course.”
Alvarez has his career planned out. Simply beat Kirkland and march toward WBC middleweight titlist Miguel Cotto.
“I’m emotional about this fight. It motivates me tremendously it gives me that extra push and drive,” said Alvarez, who’s aware that more than 20,000 fans are expected to fill the stands. “It’s a big responsibility.”
Another East L.A. Product
When De La Hoya heard another boxer from East L.A. was creating a buzz in the international amateur boxing world he sent his people to sign Frankie Gomez. After a bidding war with rival boxing promotion companies, Golden Boy Promotions finally signed him. The official introduction took place at El Mercado on First Street and Lorena Avenue in 2010. Fans crowded the Mexican marketplace to take a look at the new find.
Could Gomez be the next De La Hoya?
That’s always been the question for Gomez, who has quick hands and quick feet along with the amateur pedigree that De La Hoya also possessed. But De La Hoya in his fifth pro bout was fighting contenders like Jeff Mayweather (23-2-2) when they met at Las Vegas. Three fights later he would tangle and defeat a former world champion Troy Dorsey. But that’s De La Hoya, who was a rare find in the boxing world. Most young prospects need a lot more seasoning.
“I think it was better moving slower. I’m more mature and think better in the ring now,” Gomez said.
Gomez (18-0, 13 Kos) has been sailing along in a steady progression of fights that allowed him to mature in the ring as his body grew stronger. Now he faces a real contender and former world champion in Mexico’s Humberto Soto (65-8-2, 35 Kos), who narrowly defeated John Molina last year.
Is Gomez ready to claim his place among former East L.A. champions?
“I know he has a lot of experience but this is my time to shine,” said Gomez while in South El Monte on Monday. “I know how to box in the inside, box in the outside. I’m ready. My old trainer was a professional boxer so he taught me a lot of tricks. I’ve been doing this since I was five and a half (years old). I got experience too in the amateurs and stuff.”
De La Hoya feels confident enough to put Gomez on the co-main event. He also feels confident that Saturday could reveal boxing’s future in Canelo.
Belasco Theater Thursdays
A Golden Boy Promotions show on Thursday May 7, at Belasco Theater features super bantamweights Manuel Avila (16-0, 7 Kos) and Erik Ruiz (13-2, 6 Kos) in the main event. Other hot prospects include Oscar Negrete, Nicolas Arce and Diego De La Hoya. Yes, he’s related to Oscar and remains an extremely talented fighter with world championship capabilities.
So far the fight cards at Belasco have been a tremendous surprise. Celebrities abound and the intimate setting is perfect to watch boxing. There’s no better boxing show.