De La Hoya says he has never done anybody wrong. He believes he is often viewed as the sack of money that slipped away. "I realize how powerful the name De La Hoya is around the world," he says. "There are times I'll go places, let's say in Europe. They'll give me a hard time, and I'll mention 'De La Hoya.' Oh, my god. They recognize the name. Sometimes they don't recognize my face, but the name is a brand. People want a piece of it. Anybody who talks bad, they're just people who are not happy that I didn't stay with them or sign with them. They were 50 close!" He holds up a forefinger and thumb, an inch apart. "They were that close, and...no cigar."
It is the oddest of qualities, this crowing calculation combined with a need to ingratiate himself, but De La Hoya's train has always traveled on two rails: his father's cold ambition and his mother's sweetness. Many people, including Oscar himself, believe he'd be a different person had Cecilia lived; he'd be educated, he'd be happier, he'd be a better man. This is why, even as he has publicly yearned for just one approving word from his dad, Oscar has refused to let his mother die. In May he contributed $350,000 to place her name on the East L.A. cancer center where she was treated. During ring introductions for every fight, he stands, hooded, with his head craned back, staring at the ceiling and begging for Cecilia's blessing. This is why he has thrown himself so urgently into his singing, into the CD that will be released in September. "He's got more of his mother in him by singing," says Joel Sr.
"It's something he has to do so he can feel her," says Joel Jr.
The father has softened lately. After the Trinidad defeat, he went into the dressing room and told his son, for the first time since he was six, that he'd fought a great fight. "The very first time-when I lost," Oscar says. "I was shocked, like, 'Was that you? Say that again, please....' "
But there will always be a presence standing between the men, there but not there. In 1995 Joel Sr. remarried, and while Oscar doesn't begrudge his dad happiness, he can't say he likes the match. The woman's name is Cecilia, too, but she's "the total opposite of my mother," Oscar says. Thinking that "weird," he is barely able to acknowledge her. "We hardly even talk," he says.
He reveals this quite casually, as if discussing the night's TV schedule. He is sitting on the porch of his house in Big Bear, darkness falling fast, the mountain wind chilling his hands. He says, "After my mother passed away, when my father started dating three years later, he would bring around beautiful women who would talk to us and be very charismatic. Then he married this...woman. I was like, 'Man. Why'd he marry her?' I don't dislike her; I respect her a great deal. But he could've done much better."
Being Oscar means never having to buy a drink. It means never having to worry about bad breath or other men or trying to keep a flimsy conversation alive. Women want him. It is easy. For almost a decade, it has been too easy. "I always had the most beautiful woman in high school, but women were not like, Ohmigosh! about me," De La Hoya says. "I knew how to talk to women back then. I had to kind of lure them in, you know? I had the rap. Now I don't have to use it. Now it's a combination of money and fame, and I'm not going to say I'm a bad-looking guy. I say nothing and they...come to me." For a long time, he didn't worry about controlling himself. "I was like a kid in a candy store with a pocketful of money," he says. "I could get whatever I wanted."
Hernandez, the fighter's former business manager, says their relationship "started deteriorating on the basis of his personal life" rather than money issues. "If you want to be a champion or a role model, you've got to be a role model in the right way, and I just didn't agree with his behavior. I discussed with him that I didn't want anything to do with his personal life, and he kept dragging me into it."
In August 1997 De La Hoya got engaged to an 18-year-old woman named Cassie Van Doran and announced proudly, "She's a virgin." Less than two months later, another woman claimed that she was pregnant by De La Hoya, and he immediately admitted responsibility. (She would deliver a boy, Jacob, who has regular contact with De La Hoya.) The engagement to Van Doran curdled, and during the next two years De La Hoya would father another child, his daughter by Moakler; see a supermarket tabloid publish purported legal papers detailing his $2.5 million payout to a woman who claimed she began a sexual relationship with him when she was 15 (De La Hoya's lawyers deny that any payment was made); and fend off a sexual assault claim that the Los Angeles Police Department dismissed due to lack of evidence. "I was no angel, let's put it that way," De La Hoya says.
According to Hernandez, however, his relationship with De La Hoya really began to fray when a lawsuit was filed against the boxer in November 1998 by a Santa Barbara woman, Nicole Rao, who claimed that De La Hoya had raped and imprisoned her at his condominium in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, during a high school tap there in June 1996, when she was 15. De La Hoya and his camp claim that Rao's long delay in filing the suit proves her to be a gold digger, and they expect the case to be settled and placed in the thick file labeled, in Arum's words, "the cost of being Oscar."