After completing twelve rounds with Felix Sturm earlier this year, many boxing experts and fans alike believed they had just witnessed the end of the De La Hoya legend. When Oscar De La Hoya was given the controversial decision -115-113 on all scorecards - the emotion in the crowd was as diverse and confused as imaginable. Anger, grief, relief, and frustration filled the arena, mostly heard through a sea of boos. Oscar didn’t understand; the crowd's disapproval was a foreign language to a champion fighter who had gone through his career hearing nothing but praise from the boxing world as the most sought after athlete in the sport. Not even that multimillion dollar smile could save him now. Oscar looked out of shape, out of form and overweight against Sturm. It was without doubt the darkest hour in De La Hoya’s golden career.
But three months, a couple of inspirational speeches and countless smiles later, Oscar is forgiven and again the most talked about fighter in the sport. He is also now placed on the door step of immortal greatness only achieved by half a dozen or so fighters in the history of boxing. What a difference a few of months can make in the world of boxing. All that stands between Oscar and this rare pugilistic status is one man, undisputed middleweight world champion Bernard Hopkins.
The buzz surrounding this fight has not been felt in a non-heavyweight encounter since 'Marvelous' Marvin Hagler and 'Sugar' Ray Leonard crossed paths seventeen years ago. Many similarities can be drawn between the two fights: both fights took place for the middleweight championship of the world, and both middleweight kings are tough, solid and merciless text book fighters. While Leonard and De La Hoya are two marketing machines who have transcended boxing, don’t let their looks deceive you. They are both men with blistering hand speed, rare flare and underrated power. Both Sugar Ray and the Golden Boy were/are coming off mediocre performances and were/are foreign to the depths of the 160 pound division. And just like Sugar Ray did in 1987, Oscar De La Hoya will be facing an unmovable middleweight mountain rated by many as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport and thought to be a mountain too steep for the five division champion. There is no doubting the scripts are similar, but will the ’04 production be as fruitful for De La Hoya as the ’87 version was for Sugar Ray? Bookmakers, the majority of boxing purists as well as of course the man playing middleweight king this time around, Bernard Hopkins, are tipping an alternate ending. So different, in fact, that many pundits believe De La Hoya will not even be standing come the final bell.
However, I for one am not someone you will hear dismissing the Golden Boy’s shot at history this Saturday night and there are many reasons for this. Sure, Oscar’s performance against Felix Sturm was poor to say the least, but with all that extra baggage De La Hoya was carrying, getting a ticket into a September 18 meeting with ‘The Executioner’ was never going to be easy.
Oscar has promised this time around he will step into the ring no more than 156 pounds, four pounds lighter than he was in the Felix Sturm debacle. This loss of weight is going to be vital as movement is going to be the key if De La Hoya is going to pull this off. Just as Ray Leonard did seventeen years ago, Oscar must make the ring look a circular as possible, and the fewer corners De La Hoya finds himself in the better.
Toe-to-toe is where Hopkins is best, and if De La Hoya tests these waters, Hopkins may just live up to his nickname. At 39 Hopkins is an old dog, but he is someone who knows more tricks in these close quarter tussles than anyone currently fighting in the professional ranks.
For his part De La Hoya must keep Hopkins off him and avoid standing in front. It is vital that Oscar establishes his lightning left jab early and, every so often, throws in that new and improved right hand. Hopkins tends to loop his punches when storming in and a good speedy one-two could catch Bernard off guard and rack up precious rounds for the Golden Boy.
Hand speed is another key factor and an area where De La Hoya is superior to Hopkins and he must use this advantage to its maximum.
If Oscar elects to trade with Hopkins he will play right into Hopkins’ hands. The middleweight champion is a very smart fighter both offensively and defensively and has not got the short straw in the trade for over a decade.
In fact Bernard hasn’t lost since 1993, when Roy Jones Jr. magnificently boxed his way to a decision over the now undisputed middleweight champion. Jones’ style and skill that night may have been a dream to watch for those sitting ringside, but it was Bernard’s worst nightmare. Although De La Hoya may not be at the supreme level Roy Jones occupied a decade ago, Oscar has showed throughout his career he has the hand speed and footwork to execute a similar game plan which will be essential September 18th.
It may be ‘Year of the Monkey’ in the Chinese calendar, but 2004 has been ‘Year of the Upset’ in the boxing world. Danny Williams knocked out Mike Tyson; Lamon Brewster KO’d Wladimir Klitschko; and Antonio Tarver destroyed former pound-for-pound lynchpin Roy Jones in less than two rounds. If anybody can follow boxing's latest fashion and put the icing on the cake of a magnificent career, it is Oscar De La Hoya.
De La Hoya has stated on numerous occasions that he ‘sees something’ that can take him to victory. Robert Allen said after his third loss to Bernard Hopkins that Hopkins didn’t hit as hard as he once did. On paper you can see this clearly, as six of Hopkins’ last nine opponents have survived to hear the final bell.
This Saturday night when De La Hoya and Hopkins collide in the most historical fight in the careers of both fighters much more is at stake than simply belts and bragging rights.
On September 18th the red carpet will be rolled out and we will be ready for the biggest event of this year's boxing calendar. It’s already got an Oscar, The Executioner is waiting at bay ready to go, but who will take home history?
Will De La Hoya become another casualty of the Executioner’s 160 pound dominance? Or will Oscar over throw Bernard Hopkins’ nine year middleweight regime?
On this golden day in boxing history I can’t help but go with the Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya, to emulate Sugar Ray Leonard legacy, defy his critics and become undisputed middleweight champion of the world. And with Oscar not confirming his future inside the ropes past 2004, a win over Bernard Hopkins would secure the Golden Boy’s last hours in the ring as the finest of his twelve year career. It's his destiny.
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