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In his sixth and final defense of the WBO lightweight title, he knocked out Jesse James Leija (30–1–2) in two rounds at New York's Madison Square Garden. Until their rematch in 1998, Chávez stated that De La Hoya did not defeat him since the fight was stopped.

In 1989, he won the National Golden Gloves title in the bantamweight division. The joy of victory was tempered by the news that his mother, Cecilia, was terminally ill with breast cancer.

Nicknamed "The Golden Boy," De La Hoya represented the United States at the 1992 Summer Olympics, winning a gold medal in the lightweight division shortly after graduating from James A. He was born in Los Angeles, California, and comes from a boxing family. As a professional, De La Hoya won ten world titles in six different weight classes, including the lineal championship in three weight classes.

He officially announced his retirement in 2009, after a professional career spanning sixteen years.

On September 13, 1997, he defeated Héctor Camacho (63–3–1) by unanimous decision.