If your future were as bright as Oscar De La Hoya's, you wouldn't do anything without sunglasses either.
So it was that family, friends and media cooled their heels for close to an hour last Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas while the Golden Boy's camp scrambled for shades. Who the hell had the shades! Finally a security guard produced a pair just stylish enough for De La Hoya, and the World Boxing Organization lightweight champion was ready to deliver his postfight address, a weird but winning homily of arrogance leavened with just the right amount (not very much, that is) of humility, the kind of fighter's rap that helps produce superstars.
"Oscar," a reporter suggested, "you seemed to be looking up at the clock in the middle rounds, as if you couldn't wait to get out of there."
De La Hoya, the lights glinting as much off his magnificent teeth as off the borrowed Ray Bans, rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I wasn't worried about the time," he said. "What I was doing, I was worried about this bruise under my eye, and I was looking at the [arena's TV] screen. I have a photo shoot tomorrow!"
De La Hoya may have been kidding about the photo shoot, but his preoccupation with his looks rankled some people in the postfight crowd. "Where do you get your modesty?" yelled one writer. He was actually angry. But how can you stay mad at Oscar, who in the next sentence will lament his own performance, saying, "I'm just a puppy in this sport, fighting against the big dogs."
De La Hoya's unmistakable charisma partly explains why he is well on his way to becoming boxing's next big attraction. Another reason was evident in the ring Saturday when he earned a unanimous decision over a three-time champion who was so tough he required two first names.
It was a 12-round stretch, and there was nothing truly impressive about his defeat of John John Molina. Still, De La Hoya mustered enough will, if not as much skill, as you would have liked to see, in surviving a canny and dirty fight. He was not particularly resourceful, but considering he was a 22-year-old puppy fighting the first big dog of his 27-month pro career, it was a promising enough evening.
For sure, many of us in the crowd of 6,272 would have liked some eyewear of our own—who the hell has the shades!—to shield us from the ugliness in the ring. A night that began with a huge upset, former Olympian Montell Griffin beating the formerly formidable James Toney in a light heavyweight match ("I was raised for this," the underdog said), deteriorated as the main event progressed.
De La Hoya, whose 16-0 record included 15 KOs, began the fight with a first-round knockdown of Molina, who had abandoned his junior lightweight title to move up and fight at 135 pounds and entered the ring with a 36-3 record. Indeed, De La Hoya sailed through the first four rounds, his jab impressive against Molina, who is listed at 5'8", three inches shorter than the champion.
But then Molina, recognizing that his only chance lay in a contained recklessness, began charging De La Hoya, winging and then clinching, and if his head happened to conk his taller opponent, that was a shame. The result was that De La Hoya, who had been a hero in headgear—the only U.S. boxer to win gold in the 1992 Olympics—was getting a very rough introduction to in-fighting.