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Diego De La Hoya looking to make his own career despite famous last name

Diego De La Hoya is Hall of Famer Oscar De La Hoya's first cousin, but he wants a career of his own in boxing. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Junior featherweight Diego De La Hoya is a blue-chip prospect, but with that famous last name come enormous expectations he is well aware of.

"I make sure I train hard to deal with that pressure," De La Hoya told ESPN through an interpreter. "Everyone wants to beat a De La Hoya. Ever since I've been training in the amateurs, everyone wanted to win against me because of my name, and so that pressure has been on me since before I was a professional."

The 22-year-old De La Hoya, who hails from Mexicali, Mexico, is the first cousin of former six-division world champion and International Boxing Hall of Famer Oscar De La Hoya, an idol of a generation of young fighters who also happens to be his cousin's promoter.

Some might wither under such a spotlight, but Diego De La Hoya said he has gotten used to it and uses it as a source of motivation.

"I deal with it by training hard," he said. "That's how I prove I'm good enough to have that name. It is difficult because everyone wants to beat me, but at the same time it does help me in opening a lot of doors, but it's about knowing which ones are the right ones to open. Oscar has made his own path in boxing, and now I am making sure I make my own."

"I'm sure it's a lot of pressure for him, but the kid doesn't show it. He's got a very good head on his shoulders. He doesn't worry about that. He is trying to make his own career and make his own mark. Sure, the name helps to market and promote him, but he's his own man."

Eric Gomez, president of Golden Boy Promotions

Diego De La Hoya's next step on that path will come when he squares off with Erik Ruiz in a scheduled 10-round fight that will headline Golden Boy Boxing on ESPN on Thursday (ESPN and ESPN Deportes, 10 p.m. ET) at the Casino Del Sol Resort in Tucson, Arizona. Cousin Oscar is scheduled to be ringside.

Golden Boy Promotions president Eric Gomez, Oscar De La Hoya's close friend since childhood, said he has liked what he has seen from Diego De La Hoya so far and has been impressed with how he has handled his family ties.

"I'm sure it's a lot of pressure for him, but the kid doesn't show it," Gomez said. "He's got a very good head on his shoulders. He doesn't worry about that. He is trying to make his own career and make his own mark. Sure, the name helps to market and promote him, but he's his own man. That's what we want to see, and that's what he has shown."

Thursday's card was originally set to air on ESPN2, but was moved to the higher-profile ESPN platform because of a change in the network's NBA playoff schedule, a change that will give De La Hoya even more exposure.

"I'm excited about that, but first and foremost I am focused on the fight, so I can demonstrate that I have the skills and talent that everyone is told that I have," De La Hoya said. "My focus isn't on who's watching, even though that's important. My job is to make sure I perform well."

Although Diego and Oscar, who is more than 20 years older than his cousin, are not close, they have been developing a relationship.

Diego said he purposely distanced himself from Oscar when he was an amateur "because of a fear that people would say I'm only where I'm at because Oscar is my cousin. When I started my pro career [in 2013], we started building a relationship. We have a good relationship."

Oscar has visited him in training camp and has passed along advice.

"It's a very good relationship," Gomez said. "Oscar has a warm spot for him. It's family, but at the same time Oscar knows the importance of not babying him and making him into a legitimate champion. That's more important to Oscar than babying him. They talk, and Oscar keeps tabs on him. Oscar always wants to be there to see him fight in person."

Diego De La Hoya (17-0, 9 KOs), who is managed by Joel De La Hoya Jr., Oscar's older brother, and trained by Joel Diaz, comes into the fight with even more motivation than his continuing efforts to prove that he can carry such a revered last name.

He enters the fight as a new father. His wife gave birth to a baby boy, Diego Jr., on April 21.

"I've never felt this way before," De La Hoya said. "It's something new to me, but this child does motivate me a lot. I am training for this child now, too, to make sure that he can move forward in his life and that he won't lack the things I couldn't have."

"Even though Ruiz has some losses, he is still a dangerous opponent. And I think it will still be a really good fight considering his experience and because of the styles we have. All of that talk about the future is based on this fight, so I have to make sure I leave the ring with my hand raised up high."

Diego De La Hoya

If all goes well for De La Hoya against Ruiz (16-6-1, 6 KOs), 26, of Oxnard, California, Gomez said the company would like him to next face a contender at 122 pounds with the possibility of a world title fight at the end of the year.

"The name aside, Diego is a very good fighter," Gomez said. "He is one of our top prospects. After this next fight [if he wins], he is definitely a contender and he can challenge some of the guys in the top 10. We feel toward the end of this year he'll be available for title fight. We'll keep tracking his development. He's still very young, but he has been passing every test."

Ruiz is durable. He's never been knocked out, but he is coming off a 10-round unanimous decision loss to former junior featherweight world titleholder Rico Ramos on March 11 and is just 3-5-1 in his past nine fights.

Gomez said that despite Ruiz's record he expects him to give De La Hoya a solid fight that will entertain the viewers.

"It's a good test for Diego," Gomez said. "He's had some good upset wins [against Hanzel Martinez and Roy Tapia]. It's going to be a tough fight. I'm really interested to see how Diego looks and see if we go for an eliminator. It depends how he looks. This is a tough guy, and, if Diego handles him pretty easily, we'll know it's time to move up the ladder."

De La Hoya said he knows moving up that ladder will come to a grinding halt without a victory.

"Even though Ruiz has some losses, he is still a dangerous opponent," De La Hoya said. "And I think it will still be a really good fight considering his experience and because of the styles we have. All of that talk about the future is based on this fight, so I have to make sure I leave the ring with my hand raised up high.

"After this fight, if I win, I would have to sit down with my team and see what's next, whether it's a top contender or a title fight. But I'm excited to know that Golden Boy has great plans for me and has such confidence in me. I just want to take my time and make sure I'm ready. I don't want to feel like I'm pressured into a title fight that I'm not ready for. I want to make sure whatever title fight I get into I have the ability to win."