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De la Hoya’s Back…Joel, that Is

(Hugo Centeno Jr. & Joel De La Hoya)
(Hugo Centeno Jr. & Joel De La Hoya)

For many years, you saw him in the corner of one Oscar De la Hoya. A good part of his adult life was spent not only working De la Hoya’s fights but coordinating his training camps. Aiding the career of the “Golden Boy” was a vital part of his responsibilities. Many figures - from trainers, advisers, managers and promoters - came through Oscar’s career but this guy was the one constant. He probably knew De la Hoya better than any person on the planet. This individual shared not only the same surname but the same blood. This would be Joel De la Hoya, who, when his brother decided to retire in 2009, also walked away from the sport of boxing.
But as you see undefeated junior middleweight Hugo Centeno Jr. enter the ring this Friday night as the headline performer on “ShoBox” versus KeAndrae Leatherwood, you’ll see a familiar face with him. That would be Joel, who has reemerged on the scene as a manager.
The question is where was he the previous few years in the wake of his brother’s retirement? It’s well known that Oscar had Golden Boy Promotions to occupy his time. As for Joel?

“I just lost so much time with the family. After he retired, I took a hiatus. My son’s 17 years old. I was with Oscar since ’92, the Olympics. So we were always on the road, always traveling. So I figured it would give me some time to catch up with the family, do a little traveling and do a little soul-searching, see what I really wanted to do,” he said last summer, while at the Maywood Boxing Club.
Oscar retired abruptly after his disappointing 2008 loss to Manny Pacquiao.
“I figured it would be coming soon,” said Joel, who’s several years older than Oscar, at age 42. “I was thinking more along the lines of a couple fights but he did the right thing. He did the right thing; obviously, I supported him 100 percent and there was a point where he was thinking of coming back and we talked. He made the right decision. It was the right decision for all of us.”
Being an integral part of a boxing entourage is very similar to being part of a traveling road show or circus. The good times and memories are seemingly never-ending but they will eventually come to a halt. After that, everybody has to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives once it all ends. Bundini Brown probably never had much purpose in his life once Muhammad Ali called it quits. Angelo Dundee kept training and Dr. Ferdie Pacheco became a television personality.
For Joel, after a few years away from the sport, he decided to go back to helping boxers.
“I was completely out of the picture once Oscar retired but I always had the passion for the sport. I’ve been in boxing since the age of seven,” explained De la Hoya, who kept tabs on boxing and Golden Boy Promotions during this stretch. “They’d call me for some advice on certain fighters, certain fights and that’s kinda how I made my transition. I figured, ‘Why not get involved?’ It’s something I know and do it in another capacity. But the bug has always been there, absolutely.”
Going back in time, the son thought to be the fighter in the family wasn’t Oscar but Joel. The often-told narrative had it that Oscar was the mama’s boy, more likely to go skateboarding than spending any time at the gym. So what happened?
“I was lazy, brotha!” he says laughing. “I’ll be honest; I hated roadwork but once I got into the gym, oh, I loved it, putting on the gloves, headgear, just the smell of being in there. But yeah, it was the discipline. That’s what I’m looking for in these kids, the discipline, the desire, the dedication - something I didn’t have.”
So do as I say, not as I did?
“Exactly,” said De la Hoya,” and that’s the kind of kids I’m working with. And they’re young; they’re coming up and I think what I didn’t show as a kid growing up, I think this translates over and this is what I’m working with right now with the kids I have.”
His association with “The Boss” - who has a record of 17-0 with nine knockouts - began about a year-and-a-half ago as a trainer at the Maywood Boxing Club, Ignacio De la Hoya, started the process of putting these two together. Centeno recalled, “My dad was having heart surgery; I was getting ready for a fight and my dad called ‘Nacho’ and asked if he could help me out in the corner for one of my fights. So somehow he got into contact with Joel and Joel told him he wanted to start managing fighters and he told him to come scout me, kind of, at a sparring session. So he went to watch me at the Maywood boxing gym and he kinda liked what he saw, saw something in me and the rest is history.”
He says of his manager, “Just being in those big fights, he’s been around. You can just tell; he’s taken a little bit of the best of everybody. He’ll tell me little techniques, little tricks he picked up from like Nacho Beristain or Floyd Mayweather Sr. and just different coaches from along the way that he’s picked up that he likes a lot.” Beyond that, in a harsh and often unforgiving racket, Centeno has a piece of mind from having De la Hoya mind his business. “Oh, definitely; this business is tough. This is my third manager going on four years now and my first two managers, it was a little tough. They were like used car salesmen. They just promise you the world and they’re just trying to get over.
“You can tell that Joel just takes his time; he knows what he’s doing and he’s always looking for the best in us.”
Along with Centeno, De la Hoya also handles the careers of Julian Ramirez and Francisco Vargas.
“I look at it this way,” he explained, “There’s a lot of talent out there that needs a lot of help, that can use some great advice and coming from the inside, from someone looking at things from the inside-out, I think my expertise, my knowledge within the sport that I’ve seen with my brother - through the bad, through the good - I believe I’ve seen it all and I can relate with these kids. I think that’s why I made that transition so easily. That’s why I know can help these guys because a lot of guys need the help. There’s a lot of great talent. These young kids, that little extra push I can give them I think will be great.”
One thing that’s evident about De la Hoya is that he is a manager who is very involved with his clients. He is a regular visitor to the local gyms, such as the Maywood Boxing Club and the Wild Card Boxing Club, to see his young boxers spar. But his involvement goes beyond his concern for their training. “In and out of the ring,” says Centeno, “at least for me, he’s always calling me, making sure I’m OK. If I need anything, he’s there.”
In Centeno, De la Hoya has an interesting project in which to work with. The 22-year-old from Oxnard is unusually tall for a 154-pounder but has yet to fully fill out physically. There are times when he still looks as gangly and unsteady as a baby giraffe trying to find his bearings on his feet but De la Hoya sees this as untapped potential. “Physically, he’s filling out, which I like; I’ve said that all along. It’s gonna happen; it’s just a matter of time. He’s a tall, lanky kid. That’s what he is and he looks so awkward because he’s tall and lanky and he’s young. A lot of people don’t realize that this guy’s a baby. He hasn’t grown into that man-body yet, that man-strength. But as far as boxing, I think he’s growing so much confidence from sparring with these guys at the Wild Card and he’s been coming along every single fight since I’ve had him.”
Centeno has gotten to work with the likes of world champions such as Peter Quillin, as he cuts his teeth in this game.
“I like his boxing style, got a great boxing style, uses the ring really nice,” continued De la Hoya. “He uses the jab really nice and he’s a thinker. He’s a thinker up in the ring. I’d like to see him let his hands go a little bit more, maybe sit down with his punches a little bit more. But he’s coming along; it’s gonna happen for him.”
De la Hoya, who lives in West Covina with his wife, knows the chances of ever being so intimately involved with a fighter as good as his brother and in fights of those magnitude are slim. Hey, “Golden Boys” only come along once in a generation but regardless, he’s glad to be back in the mix.

“Just being around the game, being involved and working with these kids in a way, filling that void. Taking me back to what I used to do - being around the game. I missed that while I was gone.”
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