De La Hoya faces Hopkins for ultimate gold
By Tom Gray. (September 4, 2004) 
Photo © Chris Farina
Bernard Hopkins vs. Oscar De La Hoya is only two weeks away. Can you believe it? It feels as though the boxing world has waited forever on a super fight that has everything you could possibly ask for. It has two pound-for-pound entrants, two living legends and two of the classiest fighters in the game, taking each other on in the first ‘four belt’ unification contest in history. It is generating enough money to pay Oscar De La Hoya a guarantee of $30 million and Hopkins $10 million and there isn’t a fan who doesn’t have an opinion on the outcome. The atmosphere at the MGM Grand will stand up to any in the past including Leonard vs. Hagler vs. Hearns vs. Duran. Put simply, this is BIG!

The general consensus is that Oscar De La Hoya will be butchered by the bigger, stronger, tougher and better conditioned middleweight champion. Bernard ‘The Executioner’ Hopkins knows as much about his craft as anyone in the sport; his ring acumen is simply incredible. He is a seasoned gladiator who trains religiously – even between fights – and who wears his opponents down like a virus. He hasn’t lost a fight in over a decade and his recent form, despite his advancing years, has been outstanding. Indeed, it is difficult to think of one fighter who has looked so dominant, while approaching forty years of age. The odds being posted in Vegas, which make De La Hoya a big underdog for the first time ever, are a reflection of the above resume.

There is no doubt that Oscar is looking down the barrel, but should he be written off entirely? He more than matches Hopkins in terms of talent, hand speed and elusiveness. There are also a lot of fans who deny De La Hoya his due as a true warrior, although there are several examples of his bravery littered throughout a twelve year career. The best single shots he has ever taken were deadly right hands from Ike Quartey in the ninth round of their memorable battle, and in his first fight against Shane Mosley in the final round when he punched back immediately, refusing to take a backward step. Unfortunately, the pretty boy looks and obvious charm don’t sit well with boxing fans who want fighters to look like pieces of chewed toffee, much like Bernard does right now, although I’ll not be saying that to his face. Sorry Champ!

‘The Fight of the Millennium’ is also to blame for Oscar’s reputation. The bout against Felix ‘Tito’ Trinidad, which was massively hyped in September of 1999, turned into a disaster for the East LA star. De La Hoya’s reputation of closing big when it mattered was replaced by the ‘chicken’ label, which has haunted him ever since. Is it true? No, it is utter nonsense, but the significance of the clash has left an indelible impression on fans throughout the world. Forget Oscar’s give and take brawl with Molina or the closing blitz against Miguel Angel Gonzalez; totally ignore the savagery of his last round assault on Ike Quartey or the destruction of Vargas. Let’s face it, Oscar is a chicken because of bad tactics in one fight. Yeah, okay!

When Oscar does stand in front of Hopkins in a fortnight, you can be sure he will display all the hallmarks that have made him a multi-weight world champion. Will it be enough? This will not be the same athlete who fought Felix Sturm in June, and it’s my belief that De La Hoya can sweep four of the first six rounds on sharpness alone. The fight is really about the last half, where Hopkins’ superior conditioning and size will come into play. My gut feeling is that Hopkins will close the gap and feast on the Californian in the closing rounds, which should be enough to pull out a close but unanimous decision. I’m leaving the door open though, because Bernard has to get old sometime and you never write off true world class talent. The sport is replete with upsets and anything can happen.

Let’s just hope that it is a great fight and both guys emerge with the credit they deserve. We’ll miss them when they aren’t around anymore.
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