Trinidad, meanwhile, made a virtual bombing run through the welterweight ranks. By the time he got to De La Hoya, he'd knocked out 30 men in 35 bouts. He would never be the crossover fighter De La Hoya was (that is, Trinidad would never make $8 million to $10 million a year in endorsements, as the media-friendly De La Hoya has), but he was seen as the inescapable opponent, the explosive fighter who might detonate America's new favorite son.
Even when King finally delivered Trinidad, giving the public that rare fight-two undefeated men still in their primes—Trinidad remained a secondary element of the promotion. He would collect $8.5 million against De La Hoya, but put it this way: Representatives of McDonald's, Budweiser and six other firms did not convene in the desert last week to dream up campaigns for the little guy from Cupey Alto, P.R. They were in town to ride Oscar's marketing momentum.
Because of the mechanics of the promotion, both Trinidad and King were largely silent during the buildup—King because he was subordinate to Arum, who enjoyed De La Hoya's pull, and Trinidad because, well, who knew? The fighter was a no-show at press conferences, suffered no interviews of substance and kept a closed camp. This was largely ascribed to the paranoia of his father, a man who goes by the name of Don Felix and controls every aspect of the son's career that King doesn't. Don Felix complained of "spies" but later let it be known that he simply didn't want anybody seeing how sharp his son was in training, lest De La Hoya decide to back out.
None of this, however, made Trinidad especially mysterious—just a little easier to overlook. What glimpses there were of him contributed to the simplicity of his image. The one time reporters were allowed in camp, they saw him hitting a heavy bag labeled CHICKEN DE LA HOYA. When they did quote him, it was to record his prediction of a sixth-round knockout. Standard stuff.
Even when the media pried into the father-son relationship, the kind that has tortured De La Hoya so publicly, the Trinidads failed to oblige. Asked how he avoided the tension that De La Hoya said his own father brought to camp, Felix seemed puzzled. Turning to his father, who is always at his side, he said, "He taught me my first punch and my second and my third." There didn't seem to be any tension at all.
De La Hoya remains haunted by his father's refusal to offer praise. Recently trainer Robert Alcazar said that Joel De La Hoya Sr., though generally not an overwhelming presence in camp, was an important and largely negative one. Joel always found something wrong. But during a visit to Big Bear he told Alcazar, "I like what I see." This was stunning, but it did not develop into one of those Hallmark moments. "I read that in the papers," Oscar said evenly. "I'd like to hear it in person once."
The ringside psychologists have had no trouble connecting De La Hoya's erratic ring behavior to his quest for his father's approval. Everything De La Hoya has done has been at someone else's suggestion. Arum has had him change trainers several times, waffling between defensive and offensive approaches. The trainers have all hewed to Joel's approach—until they've been fired, as Emmanuel Steward was in 1997. When Joel wasn't calling the shots, financial adviser Mike Hernandez or Arum was, "until I decided to take charge of everything" Oscar said during training.
Up in the high altitude of Big Bear, it must have seemed easy to declare independence. That is a world of Oscar's making (the log cabin is of his own design), and everybody is in sync with his wishes. It is an odd environment, as much about golf as about boxing. The camp's cook can be seen hunched over a practice green. "Maybe I don't need boxing," De La Hoya said. "I have my family [a lady friend and two children] and golf. I don't need as much as I thought I did."
In fact, against his father's wishes, he seized control of his empire, firing Hernandez and five others. De La Hoya's career, too, is now under his control, though Arum remains his promoter. "Maybe two, three fights," De La Hoya said in Big Bear when asked about his long-range plans. "What's to prove? This isn't a make-or-break fight for me. I've already made it."
This declaration of independence was encouraging, but it's something De La Hoya will probably have to savor more alone than usual under the whispering pines. His need to stand on his own two feet—on his toes, actually—for 12 rounds has placed him out of fame's rotation, at least temporarily. At the fight's end there was a dividing of the spoils as Arum and King battled on the dais, King hysterically exultant, Arum looking as if he'd swallowed expired dairy products. They argued over a rematch, which, given their mutual hatred, is not very likely. Redemption, for De La Hoya, is not at hand.