Oscar de la Hoya is continuing his long fight toward staying sober. (Jed Jacobsohn / Golden Boy…)
It is time for Oscar De La Hoya's two-year checkup. Not the medical kind, the public kind.
It was two years ago this week that boxing's Golden Boy suffered through the longest 18 holes of his life. Golf wasn't the problem. Hooked drives and missed putts weren't the source of his agony. Full disclosure was.
He was telling all. The Golden Boy was tarnished. His image was a fraud. He was an alcoholic. His disease led to his disrupting lives, messing up his family, making other people cover and alibi for him.
"I could manipulate you, man," he says now. "I was good at it."
He had hit rock bottom. One night, he woke up in the back of a limo, tossed the cocktail glass out of a window and ordered the driver to take him home to his wife, the Puerto Rican former singer Millie Corretjer, henceforth to be known as St. Mildred. He got the usual banishment to the couch, but this time, it was different. This time, he was the one wanting help, not just seeking it at the behest of Millie.
This time, the rehab would stick. He said that on the first hole. He said the same thing on the 18th. That is crucial.
His personal struggles are a fascination because they have not detracted from his great athletic and financial success.
He won an Olympic gold medal. He carried boxing for nearly a decade, as the heavyweight division either disappeared or went to Europe. He has a wall covered with more than two dozen title belts in different categories in his office. And when his boxing career wound down, he exited with a bang, not a whimper. One of his last bouts, his May 5, 2007 battle with Floyd Mayweather, sold 2.5 million pay-per-views, a record in the sport.
Now, at age 40, instead of squandering the spoils of his victories as so many athletes do, he runs one of the top boxing promotion businesses in the sport along with former banker Richard Schaefer. And he does so out of a high-rise building at the corner of Wilshire and Hope in downtown Los Angeles that he owns. At one point, Forbes had De La Hoya's net worth at $175 million.
"It's been such a beautiful ride," he says, "and at times, the worst ride you could ever feel."
He is a walking ad for Alcoholics Anonymous. He says he sometimes attends meetings six days a week, sometimes twice a day, sometimes as early as 5 a.m.
"I know where all the meetings are, all over the area," he says. "And usually, I'm the first one to raise my hand."
He says he has found perspective and reality.
"The fight life, that was easy," he says. "This is a battle I have every day. There I was, the Golden Boy [he puts his arms in the air in mockery of the unworthy adulation he accepted every day], and all the time, I felt like crap."
Now, he is zealous, as an addict apparently must be to control that addiction. Examples:
--"I am very proud of myself," he says. "Before, I may have talked tough, but I never had this kind of courage, strength, hope."
--"My expectations are none. There is no giving up. If you do that, it is fatal."
--"Now, things feel sincere."
--"I'm a nice guy, but I did bad things, made bad decisions. I can't go back."
In De La Hoya's case, the cliche is the perfect summary. He is in the fight of his life.
He says he has slipped a couple of times. Just admitting that is painful. Also vital. He says the key thing is, when that has happened, he has gone immediately to his wife. No denial. Just remorse and new resolve.
He says that one drink was never enough. In fact, 1,000 drinks weren't enough.
"If anybody thinks this is easy," he says, "I'll tell them I'd rather get in the ring with Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, George Foreman and Manny Pacquiao — all at the same time. That would be easier."
The fourth step of the AA program that De La Hoya has embraced is making amends. Recently, he stopped in at a liquor store in East Los Angeles, where he grew up. For years, he says, he and friends would steal candy from the store.
"It probably added up to hundreds of dollars," he says.
He walked in and told the owner he was sorry.
"He may not have even been the owner back then," De La Hoya says. "He looked at me kind of funny. He didn't say much, but he knew who I was.
"I walked out, had this great feeling and said, 'Wow.' "
De La Hoya says he has "about a thousand" of those meetings still to come.