This apparent diffidence has not played well in Los Angeles. In title fights at the city's Olympic Auditorium, he was a box-office bust. Fighting against crowd-pleasing Mexicans like Ruelas and Genaro Hernandez, he is considered the pretty boy and is, unbelievably, booed. "Jealousy," De La Hoya sniffs, though his refusal to pick up a Latin banner is probably more to blame. "I don't fight just for Hispanics," he says. "I want to break that barrier."
Arum is certain a victory over Chávez will help. "Unfortunately Oscar has had to fight very popular Mexican guys," says Arum, "and that hasn't endeared him to Mexicans." But that will change. "They'll have to love him," he insists, "They won't have anybody else."
However, De La Hoya's disappointment in his fan base, which was only checked when he fought in New York City to huge acclaim, has been debilitating to the point where he has even toyed with retirement. His love of architecture, born in high school and heightened in Barcelona when he glimpsed all those old spires, was suddenly pulling him from the game. Or so he said. Actually, he admits now, his obsessive attraction to golf had more to do with his threatened ring departure than did any alternative career or dwindling fan club. "I'm in love with the game," he said on an afternoon when he and brother Joel Jr., and two other camp members stole six holes on the closed Big Bear course. "After every fight, that's the first thing I do—play golf."
The Professor, though, hasn't permitted many outings such as this one. For most of the two months spent in training at Big Bear, De La Hoya has had to be content with the Golf Channel on his big-screen TV. This may be sorry news for Chávez. The Golden Boy says he is newly committed to his sport, aware of his growing place in boxing history and determined to secure it quickly. Chávez will not lose his greatness in an instant, and he's not likely to fold up against some cub like De La Hoya. Then again, if De La Hoya's plans hold, Chávez may turn out to be little more than a free drop on the Golden Boy's front nine.