De La Hoya's Bout With Scandal: Will It KO His Rep?

The case of the boxer, the stripper and the alleged cross-dressing photos.

January 8, 2009, 12:12 AM

Nov. 17, 2007 — -- He may have faced dirty fighters in the ring, but boxer Oscar De La Hoya's latest brawl promises plenty of low blows.

The Mexican-American pugilist is being sued for $100 million by an exotic dancer who claims she was defamed and subject to emotional distress after she sold photos that she claimed depicted the boxer in women's lingerie and high heels while they partied together at a Ritz-Carlton hotel in Philadelphia last May.

But the worst damage may be to his reputation and not his career, say boxing aficionados.

Milana Dravnel, a 22-year-old native of Siberia, claims that she was pressured to recant the legitimacy of the photos by De La Hoya's attorney, Stephen Espinoza, during a September meeting when she signed a confidentiality agreement. In the document, she promised not to sell other photos and agreed that De La Hoya could recoup damages if she violated the agreement.

As a result, according to Dravnel, she forfeited the $70,000 she was due from selling the original photos to, a photo agency. She also claims that Espinoza told her that FBI detectives "were interested in speaking" to her, according to the lawsuit.

Dravnel's attorney, Salvatore Strazzullo, argues that pressuring her to sign the agreement actually proves the validity of the photographs. "Why would he [Espinoza] have her sign a confidentiality agreement if the supposed pictures are not true?" he told ABC News.

Dravnel said that she met De La Hoya while she was dancing at Scores West, a strip club in Manhattan, and that she was his mistress from January 2006 until this past May when she took the photos. Shortly thereafter, he stopped calling her.

"I felt taken advantage of after trying to help him," says Dravnel, who claims she was hurt that De La Hoya never called her to break off the relationship.

As for De La Hoya's image, the scandal will just reinforce his pretty-boy reputation among Mexican boxing fans, says author Gustavo Arellano, who writes a syndicated column, "Ask a Mexican."

"Long before those pics came out, he was always considered soft," says Arellano. "De La Hoya's fan base was always considered more female-oriented. Mexicans like boxers to be tough and macho, to be brawlers. He had technique, and he didn't brawl."

Arellano predicts that the boxer will be thought of as an insult to the profession. "Athletes usually get into scandal because of sex or corruption, not because you wear fishnet stockings -- that's unforgivable."

Legendary boxing commentator Bert Sugar is more forgiving and doesn't believe that De La Hoya's career as a boxer and promoter will be hurt by the scandal. "It's not quite [Sen.] Larry Craig and the 'wide stance,'" he quipped. "And he's not dressing up with boys -- he's dressing up with girls. Any PR is good PR, and if he can put money on the table, then it won't be a problem."

Sugar added that times have changed and though celebrities can no longer enjoy any expectation of privacy, society is also more nonchalant about such behavior. He recounted a story about baseball great Babe Ruth running naked down the middle of a train's dining car followed by a naked woman wielding a knife. "One of the reporters said, 'Well, there's another story we're not going to cover.'"

De La Hoya's attorney, Espinoza, did not return calls for comment. His spokesman said the lawsuit is "totally without merit."