Allison Kugel: So, you’re 22, learning along the way, and you are given this huge sum of money and no instructions on how to navigate it all.
Oscar De La Hoya: Right, and all I want to do is just have fun.
Allison Kugel: Of course (laugh)!
Oscar De La Hoya: People who were around me said, “Let’s travel. Let’s do this.” It was all reckless, and I’m just very fortunate I’m still alive. I think I’ve thought about committing suicide three times. I’ve been depressed 10 times over the course of my life. Luckily, I did have boxing as an outlet. The ring was my safe place, believe it or not. Getting hit, and punching someone, was my safe place. That is how much the struggle was outside of the ring.
Allison Kugel: Was it that you were in the zone when you were boxing and like everything else went away? Or was it a way to get the anger and the rage out?
Oscar De La Hoya: It was a way to get the anger and the rage out. I remember picturing my mom’s face in my opponents, and literally just getting angry. That is how bad it was at one point, and I’m lucky that I was able to manage it and kind of control it just inside the ring, to have it inside the ring and not outside of the ring, because who knows what I would have done.
Allison Kugel: I interviewed Mike Tyson years ago and he said, “I came to the conclusion at a young age that I couldn’t be the best and be happy. So, I chose to be the best and to sacrifice my own happiness.” Do you agree with that statement?
Oscar De La Hoya: I do agree with it now, but I didn’t realize what was happening as I was becoming this World Champion. As I was winning, I didn’t realize why I was winning. I didn’t understand why I had all this anger. It was all just normal. I was abused at home, physically and emotionally, but I just kept living my life. I would go to school as a kid, and I was always the quiet one. I was the shy one, and the kid who never had money. I was always made fun of. Boxing, for a strange reason, was my happy place. It was where I could get beat up and hit you back. Psychologically, it kind of screwed with me, but I never thought that I was unhappy. It was so normal to be who I was as a kid.
Allison Kugel: I want to talk about fatherhood. Your three older kids were interviewed in this documentary. Your first child, Atiana, who you had with Shanna Moakler, what was it about fatherhood that spooked you to the point where you said, “I’m going to give this over to Shanna and Travis Barker (Moakler’s ex-husband), and I’m just going to kind of divorce myself from this situation? What happened there?
Oscar De La Hoya: I basically ran away. I was scared. I was fearful. I did try to be a father full-time for a few years, and it was beautiful. It was amazing to raise a little girl, but there came a point where you say to yourself, “Wait a minute. You’re not worthy of this.” You convince yourself that you are not worthy of that love, that it is not possible in your life, because of not receiving that love when I was a kid. My father never told me, “I love you.” My mother never told me she loved me. She never really gave me a hug. When I would cry, she would start hitting me. That is how bad it was.
Allison Kugel: Did she give you, “I’ll give you something to cry about?”
Oscar De La Hoya: Oh, I got that all the time. I know I can be a father, but it comes to the point where you convince yourself that this is not you. This is scary. You are not worthy of this. You are not worthy of giving love. Then you start feeling sorry for yourself. Life starts just spiraling and you’re lost. All you want to do is drink and do drugs and escape. Luckily for me, when I was boxing, it kept me in line. I didn’t drink until my last fight with Manny Pacquiao. That’s when I knew it was all over and I started drinking. I always felt like I wasn’t worthy of anything, like I wasn’t worthy of love, and I wasn’t worthy enough to do the job.
Allison Kugel: Have you forgiven your dad for the lack of a conventional childhood? Where are you with that?
Oscar De La Hoya: I will start with my mother because she passed away in 1991. A few years ago I went to my mom’s grave and I had this big old ten-page letter. I go to her grave and I start crying. The first words from my mouth were, “I f*cking hate you.” I was so emotional about what she did to me and the love she didn’t give me. But, in the end, I was just so compassionate, and I said, “Mom, thank you and I love you.” I felt so free. With my father, he is still alive. He is still a hard a*s. He still is who he is. You saw him in the film (laugh). It’s funny because all these recent years I’ve been wanting to tell my father, “I love you,” but I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t know how to do it. I would play it in my head, and I always thought he would say, “What the hell are you talking about? What are you telling me you love me for? We are men. We are macho.” I remember one day a few years ago going up to him and saying, “You know what, dad? I love you.” I hugged him and he told me back, “I love you,” and started crying. In my head, I thought he was going to punch me. It was the opposite. So, I freed myself from my father. Now, I understand that is how he grew up and what he learned. I’m not going to be that person, so I’m free from my past demons. I had to do a lot of therapy. I went through rehab; I don’t know how many times. Maybe because I didn’t belong there, or I did belong there, but I did it and all that work gives you the courage to just be yourself.
Allison Kugel: The ongoing media narrative throughout your boxing career was that you won the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics because it was your mother’s dying wish…
Oscar De La Hoya: That was all a lie.
Allison Kugel: Who manufactured that narrative?
Oscar De La Hoya: It just happened. I remember when I won the Gold Medal. I was on the podium and the National Anthem was playing, and I was just numb. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t laugh. I couldn’t smile. I was just picturing [my mother’s] face, just numb. I got out of the ring and the commentator asked me, “How do you feel, doing it for your mom?” That’s when it took off. I was this shy kid from East LA. I don’t know how to act in front of the camera. I don’t know what to say, so you just go with it. It becomes overwhelming, and now that everyone is saying it, you don’t want to say, “Wait a minute, I didn’t say that.” You don’t want to disappoint people.
Allison Kugel: Since you struggled with your mental health and substance abuse, do you try to stay on top of the mental and overall well-being of the fighters that your company, Golden Boy Promotions, represents?
Oscar De La Hoya: Of course. And I give help to the fighters who ask for it. I think we are living in a different time, and it’s a whole new generation where there is more compassion and more love in the household, but when you are a fighter and you are winning tournaments and being put on that pedestal, you have that pressure on you. I can imagine what they are going through, so if you ask me for help, I’m going to be more than happy to help you out and give you my experience and my take on what I lived through, but you only have to ask for it. I can’t force it upon you. I can’t come in and say, “I lived this, and I lived that, so therefore you should live by this too.” The way it works is, you have to ask for it yourself, and that is exactly what I did. I’m 50 years old and I finally asked for help. It’s never too late.