His first bout was at the Pico Rivera Sports Arena. With a furious flurry of punches, little Oscar knocked out his opponent in the first round. "I was laughing so hard," recalls Joel. "I thought, Maybe I got something here."
Indeed. By the time he was 15, De La Hoya was the national Junior Olympic champ. The next year he won the national Golden Gloves 125-pound title. The year after that he was the youngest boxer at the Goodwill Games.
De La Hoya lives with his father, his older brother, Joel, his younger sister, Ceci, and his grandmother, Candelaria, in a bright and tidy one-story house five minutes away from the Resurrection. This part of East L.A., with its small, sunny yards dotted with palm trees and rose bushes, is a family neighborhood—but it is still East L.A. "A half mile down that way," says De La Hoya, pointing past a freeway overpass, "it gets real bad. There are killings all the time." He points the other way. "There are lots of drug houses just up the road, too."
And everywhere, it seems, are the gangs. Walking home across Sixth Street, De La Hoya hears the calls from the Boyz on the corner. "Rocky!" they shout. "Tyson!" It is a grudging tribute, acknowledgment that De La Hoya has made something of himself, that he has an identity of his own. "I've been asked to join gangs," says De La Hoya, "but I've never wanted to. I've always had something else."
While his renown as a boxer has given De La Hoya a measure of status in his neighborhood, it is not always enough. One evening last January, he was walking home from a friend's house when a pickup truck screeched to a stop at the curb beside him. Six young men jumped out and surrounded De La Hoya. "Three of them had guns," he says. "They pointed them right at my head."
After a harrowing couple of minutes, the thugs fled with De La Hoya's wallet and a camera he had slung around his neck. They later returned the wallet.
Despite such distractions, and the time he spends training and competing, De La Hoya graduated in May from Garfield High—the school made famous by the movie Stand and Deliver. He did miss his prom, however. That night, he was in Fort Bragg, N.C., outpointing two-time world champion Julio Gonzales in the U.S. Cuba dual meet. De La Hoya is also a talented artist who hopes to become an architect. After the Olympics, he says, he will begin taking college courses while he trains. In the meantime, his caricatures of teammates and coaches are in demand at the Olympic Training Center.
"Oscar's different," says Torres, who has seen too many promising youngsters from the Resurrection lost to the streets. "He knows what he wants."
What he wants, says De La Hoya, is not simply to be a great boxer, but an alltime great. "I want to beat what [Thomas] Hearns has done," he says, referring to the Hit Man's titles in five weight classes.
At 5'11", De La Hoya has the build and the tools to accomplish that goal. By the time he arrives in Barcelona he could weigh 139, maybe 147 pounds, and he could grow into a middleweight (160) as a pro. Smoothly muscled, he has the loose-limbed power of a Sugar Ray Robinson. His style is also well-suited to the pros, with a withering body attack and none of the amateur's tendency to slap or cuff.