Born on February 4, 1973, in Montebello, Los Angeles, California, Oscar De La Hoya's parents moved to the United States from Mexico before he was born. Boxing was a common thread in De La Hoya's family: His grandfather was an amateur fighter in the 1940s, and his father boxed professionally in the 1960s.
Oscar began boxing at age 6. His idol was the Olympic gold medalist Sugar Ray Leonard, who became a celebrity after the 1976 Summer Olympics before going professional; Leonard became the first boxer to win titles in five divisions, from welter to light heavyweight.
At age 15, De La Hoya won the national Junior Olympic 119-pound title; he took home the 125-pound title the next year. In 1990, he won the national Golden Gloves title in the 125-pound division and was the youngest U.S. boxer at that year's Goodwill Games, winning a gold medal. The joy of victory was tempered by the news that his mother was terminally ill with cancer; she died in October 1990, expressing the hope that her son would one day win Olympic gold. One year later, with a victory in the U.S. Amateur Boxing tournament (132 pounds), De La Hoya was named Boxer of the Year by USA Boxing.
International Boxing Star
With the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, fast approaching, De La Hoya turned his mother's dream into a strong focus for his training. After an upset victory in the first round over the Cuban boxer Julio Gonzalez, De La Hoya defeated Marco Rudolph of Germany to win gold and become the only U.S. boxer to take home a medal from Barcelona.
De La Hoya turned professional after the 1992 Olympics, winning his first pro fight in a first-round knockout of Lamar Williams in Inglewood, California, on November 23, 1992. He compiled an extremely successful record during his first year as a pro, and on March 5, 1994, won his first professional title, the junior lightweight championship of the World Boxing Organization (WBO), with a technical knockout (TKO) of Danish fighter Jimmi Bredahl in the tenth round of the fight. Four months later, De La Hoya captured the WBO lightweight title as well, knocking out Jorge Paez in the second round.
After a hard-fought victory in February 1995 over John Molina, the International Boxing Federation (IBF) junior lightweight champion, De La Hoya knocked out Rafael Ruelas in less than five minutes to win the IBF lightweight title and bring his overall record to 18-0.
Despite De La Hoya's status as the 'Golden Boy' of boxing, some critics thought he had simply not faced enough quality opponents. A majority of these doubts were erased in June 1996, when De La Hoya faced his biggest challenge to date in Julio Cesar Chavez, an experienced and popular Mexican fighter and the reigning World Boxing Council (WBC) junior welterweight champion.