De La Hoya 2.0: Justifiable nepotism?
There was a time, not so long ago, when the De La Hoya name anywhere near a boxing event guaranteed attention and crossover appeal. That is no longer the case, even given Oscar De la Hoya’s role as promoter and a new brand of De La Hoya must fight his way up the ladder in search of such a legacy. That is Diego De La Hoya, 19-0 (9), the Mexicali-born cousin of the American “Golden Boy.” This is not an easy proposition, since it would take a Hall of Fame career just to step out of Oscar’s shadow. If that is to be a possibility, Diego has to overcome his toughest foe to date in former IBF world bantamweight champion Randy Caballero, 24-0 (14). The undefeated duo comprise the second televised fight on the undercard of the eagerly anticipated Gennady Golovkin-Saul “Canelo” Alvarez pay-per-view tonight (HBO Pay-Per-View, 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT), with the winner almost assured a title shot at junior featherweight.
Despite supposition by the masses, things have not come easy for Diego because of his last name. In fact, Diego’s surname and relation to Oscar De La Hoya spurns on the opposition and fans. They have made Diego a marked man, in boxing terms, from his teenage years on. Foes try harder to get a win against any De La Hoya, taking their resentment out (often via fouls and rough house tactics) on someone they only have assumptions and biases about. The standard belief is Diego must have been handed advantages, unspecified benefits not attainable to them, given his last name. This, in turn, has given Diego a hard edge and he fights with an attitude (perhaps even anger) because of the backlash.
All those negatives amassed on Diego’s shoulders and psyche, despite never meeting Oscar De La Hoya until after Diego turned pro in 2013. Now, the 23-year-old Diego is ready to leave all that behind and make a jump to reputational self-sufficiency that a world title would bring. The Mexicali mauler has earned his shot through hard work, competing in 250 amateur fights (239-11), while winning national titles. Diego barely lost out on an opportunity to represent Mexico at the 2012 London Olympics, to a four-years older Oscar Valdez. Even that came with controversy, as there wer a lot of politics involved, since Diego and Valdez split their head-to-head meetings that Olympic year. Instead of sticking around another four years, Diego turned pro to take his frustrations out at the next level.
Oscar and Diego De La Hoya are linked through their paternal grandfather Vincente De La Hoya, who was also the first boxer in the family, and Diego was born the same year Oscar won the first or his 10 world titles. Diego was pushed into boxing by his father; not to emulate Oscar’s successes, but because Diego was a hyperactive child and no other sport had the calming effects of boxing. He started age six (the gym was literally across the street) and Diego’s love of boxing never abated. Learned and matured so fast that Diego was sent to Mexico City, at age 14, to further his boxing education. Became inspired by his surrounding but also fueled by the name calling and harassment that come with the famous De La Hoya name.
Once Diego turned professional, he needed to prove himself all over again. This time he actually did have the support of his older cousin. Diego signed with Golden Boy Promotions, who knew of him but also scouted Diego as it would any other prospect. Oscar took the question of Diego head on, telling Andrew John of The Desert Sun newspaper, “The fact that he’s had to work hard for what he has is what’s made him the fighter he is today. The perception is going to be that I’ve silver spoon-fed him through his career but that’s not the case. He’s had to work from the bottom up and that’s the reason why he’s such a mature fighter. That’s the reason he’s so hungry, not only to prove to his fans, but to also prove to himself, that he can do it on his own.”
Frankly, it is an assumption Diego will probably never escape but, with every victory, the accusation will become fainter. Diego has come to accept it, “The last name’s always going to be there. ‘De La Hoya,’ you can’t get away from that but this fight is going to prove to everyone what this Diego De La Hoya’s about.” The slights may have shaped Diego’s ring style; he reacts to other’s offense and mistakes, countering out of his defense with quick reactions. A cool tactician, Diego causes foes to misfire and makes them pay for it with venomous flurries. Diego’s trainer, well-respected Joel Diaz, describes his protégé’s ring attitude. “I’m telling you; that guy has a lot of anger. That guy is crazy when it comes to fighting. Anybody in that division, he’ll take on.”
Diego De La Hoya and Randy Caballero know each other pretty well, since they train five miles apart (Diego at the Indio Boys & Girls Club, and Randy at Coachella Boxing Club) in California. They even sparred on a couple occasions but neither claims they have an advantage from those meetings six years ago. Diego is rated in the Top 10 by four sanctioning bodies, while Caballero earned praise and recognition for his time as a bantamweight champion and is ranked No. 4 by the WBC at 122 pounds. They are also both in the Golden Boy stable, so the loser takes a considerable hit to his title ambitions. For Diego, this is his version of Ike Quartey (whom Oscar De La Hoya needed to beat to earn respect from hardcore boxing fans), a real threat that must be overcome to prove Diego is more than a name.
Randy Caballero has become, perhaps, more known for his mistakes than winning a world title. Like Diego, he has been mocked but mostly by fans. Caballero lost the IBF title he won from Stuart Hall, on the scales prior to his first defense. Compounded that mistake by inexplicably losing out on a chance to support the huge Canelo-Miguel Cotto card, by coming in over the weight (a massive five pounds) again, forcing a cancelation of that title fight. It was a high-visibility shaming that Caballero says continues to haunt him to this day, “Everything was just gone at the blink of an eye and I witnessed it myself…It just hurts really bad. But being on a card like this has helped me get my motivation back. I’m eager to come back.”
Caballero has only fought twice in three years and it seems if he had no bad luck, he would have no luck at all. It started so well for Caballero, winning his world title at age 24, but the last three years have seen a succession of injuries (even a scorpion sting) and lost opportunities. This is why Caballero views this as a final opportunity to break into the consciousness of boxing fans in a positive way. Caballero is preparing accordingly, “I’m going to train hard and I’m going to make sure I pull off this fight because, after this one, I know for a fact that it’s going to open doors. I’m more than confident for this fight. I’m going to take this fight one step at a time. I’m going to be smart.”
This is an even matchup, both on paper and in the ring, as both men are an identical 5-foot-6, with 68-inch reaches. So this fight really does come down to whom the better boxer is. Given the duo’s aggression but lack of pure power, this will be a high-volume encounter most will enjoy. It should go the 12-round distance and would draw comparisons to a “B”-level Johnny Tapia-Paulie Ayala-type contest. I favor the slightly faster hands of Diego over Caballero’s experience and movement. If Diego emerges victorious, he will move one step closer to what his amateur trainer Francisco Obeso says has already happened in Mexicali, ”He is now Diego De La Hoya – not Oscar’s cousin.”