Almost 20 years have passed since Oscar “The Golden Boy” De La Hoya and Julio Cesar Chavez last exchanged blows in the boxing ring. I was there for both encounters.
Yesterday, photos of the arrivals at the MGM Grand were sent all over the web including one of both Chavez Sr. and De La Hoya joking around and smiling.
It was June 7, 1996. The temperature in Las Vegas hit 107 degrees and was probably even hotter in the outdoor venue at Caesars Palace. With the asphalt absorbing the heat it was nearly unbearable on the bleachers where I was sitting.
Tickets for the De La Hoya and Chavez fight cost about $600 each so I was going to get my money’s worth and sat under the scorching sun with a large coke in my hand and a hat to cover my head. The bleachers were empty because of the heat.
I did not want to waste the money spent for the ticket so I watched a young Erik Morales, Butterbean, Diego Corrales and Johnny Tapia trade blows with others. It was the first time I saw most of them perform. Corrales and Tapia are no longer with us bless their souls.
In 1993 I had begun covering boxing for the L.A. Times and for its sister paper Nuestro Tiempo. But in 1995 the company lost ad revenue and was forced to cut more than 100 employees from its fold. I was one of those released.
De La Hoya and Chavez was a dream match at the time. Mexico’s “El Gran Campeon Mexicano” was almost mythical in his accomplishments. But here was a kid from East L.A. where I grew up and considered the heir apparent. I couldn’t miss this fight.
A UCLA buddy of mine decided to buy tickets and he found a pair for sale in the newspaper. Off we went for Las Vegas.
During the fight card, a few of my UCLA buddies came along and while I sat in the bleachers watching the fights under the blistering sun, they drank beer in the shade. Finally, the sun went down and by that time, here came the main event.
De La Hoya walked in with a fire red robe that covered his entire face. It was a very cool entrance and when he took off the cover he was all serious. The crowd cheered. Chavez marched in and the crowd cheered once again. At the time the kid from East L.A. was 20 and Chavez was around 33 and had already fought professionally 98 bouts.
As they were being announced people began filling the empty seats. One large man began shouting at me and waving his hand for me to go to him. I ignored the request. He kept shouting for me to “come here” and I looked at him and waved him off. Finally, he showed a police badge and I looked at him with a look of disdain and got up to see what he wanted. He told me I was under arrest.
As we walked down the bleachers De La Hoya and Chavez began trading punches. I was put in handcuffs and walked by the crowd of thousands who wondered what I had done. My buddies saw me walking in handcuffs and the buddy who had bought the tickets asked what happened?
The Las Vegas Police Officer in regular clothing asked to see his ticket. He showed it and was promptly arrested too. We both were taken to a small shack set up on the back of Caesars Palace. We both sat inside as the crowds cheered the action between the two prizefighters.
After interrogating us both separately and searching our wallets for stolen credit cards, we were released. But not until the fights were over. Apparently we had bought tickets from someone who purchased them with a stolen credit card. So we were set free but we missed the entire fight. The cops could have allowed us to see the fight but they purposely kept us until it was over. Nice guys.
Later, we tracked down the guy who sold us the tickets. We told him what had happened and he was apologetic and gave us tickets to the next De La Hoya fight against another Mexican champion Miguel Angel Gonzalez. The East L.A. fighter was knocking off Mexican champions one by one.
For the Gonzalez vs. De La Hoya fight we sat next to actor Mario Lopez. We had about nine of us sitting in the row. It made up for the lost sports moment of seeing Chavez and De La Hoya exchange blows.
In 1998, both would fight again. Las Vegas was filled to capacity with mostly die hard Mexican fight fans. There were literally thousands of fans with red bands wrapped around their heads when Chavez and De La Hoya fought again at the Thomas and Mack Center.
Now here they are again. De La Hoya is the owner of Golden Boy Promotions and Chavez a television commentator and father of one of the star participants. Both fought ferociously for 12 bloody rounds in these same Las Vegas streets. Both smiling and embracing like old friends. To see them embrace like that was kind of heartwarming. Warriors before and friends after.
Analyzing the Fight Cards
Jojo and Tino
As most project the fight between undefeated featherweights Jojo Diaz and Manuel “Tino” Avila looks to be the best on paper.
For the past several years Golden Boy has been amassing some of the best super bantamweights and featherweights in the Southwest. They have a stockpile of them and former Olympian Diaz heads the list.
A few years ago I remember visiting South El Monte Boxing Gym to see sparring take place. Every talented bantamweight and featherweight was lacing up gloves including Diaz, Oscar Valdez, Saul Rodriguez, Evgeny Gradovich and others. Even middleweight titan Gennady “Triple G” Golovkin was there with one of the featherweights.
Diaz held his own with all of the featherweights during sparring but it was clear who were the killers and who were the pretenders.
That’s the way I see this fight between Diaz and Avila.
The taller fighter is Avila a slick boxer-puncher from Northern California. He was slicing through featherweights for the past three years until last November in downtown L.A. He fought Jose Ramirez a rough and tumble guy who was bent on making it a mugging. The fight was filled with a lot of holding and not much punching. In the end Avila won but showed far too much patience.
You can’t be patient against speedy southpaw Diaz who can reel off combinations and scoot out of trouble faster than you can say likety-split.
Whoever wins there are many more on the Golden Boy stable waiting to take the loser’s place.
Tall and rangy Ryan Garcia (8-0, 7 KOs) is one of the prospects that Golden Boy sees as worthy of being on the main card. Lightning quick, with power in either hand, Garcia has blazed his way to the forefront.
Facing Garcia is Tyrone Luckey (8-6-3, 6 KOs) who has made a habit of knocking prospects off the ladder. He fought to a draw against Luis Lebron in his last bout and knocked out another undefeated fighter a couple of years ago.
“It’s not an easy fight,” said Eric Gomez, president of Golden Boy.
Garcia, 18, still has some holes to fill as a professional but his athleticism overcomes them. Reminds me of De La Hoya as a youth with all of those physical tools. Like De La Hoya, he will gather more skills and knowledge to load more bullets into his chamber in due time.
Marlen Esparza makes her second appearance as a Golden Boy fighter and this time has a live body in front of her in Samantha Salazar. It should be a much more competitive fight than her pro debut.
Esparza, a former London Olympics bronze medalist, has speed aplenty and knowledge accrued over the years as an amateur. Now as a pro the head gear is off and the gloves are much smaller.
Hopefully she gets someone to braid her hair or place it so she doesn’t get it in her eyes like last time.
Esparza’s fight will be televised on the free portion of the HBO pay-per-view that precedes the 6 p.m. telecast. Both Esparza and Ryan Garcia’s fight will be shown free on the free portion.
Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.