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De La Hoya and Hopkins, Familiar Yet Distinct
By Martin Wade (April 7, 2004) 
As a child of the 80’s, I am no different than most, we are living in a marketing age rife with nostalgia from throwback jersey’s to the very shoes we used to play pick up hoops in as kids. So as a boxing fan you can understand my joy with the announcement that Oscar De La Hoya would target middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins for September 18th. In my excitement, I trolled all of the major boxing websites, reading countless mailbags and articles detailing what we generation X’RS want to believe is the modern day Leonard Vs Hagler. The similarities between the four fighters are striking, De La Hoya as the “Latin Leonard” oozing with commercial appeal and Hopkins the rugged, proven all time middleweight with “Philly” attitude. Yet, under deeper observation the similarities end there, because this fight can only compare to its predecessor on a purely surface level. Like every super fight this fight will leave its own unique brand on boxing lore, here are a few of the contrasts to consider.

In the Ring

Although De La Hoya is a sure shot Hall of Famer possessing a sterling resume to go with his bank account. He is fighter who lacks a definitive ring identity. He is not the athletic speedster Leonard was, and at this late stage the Golden Boy does not provide the consistent response to challenges that Ray did. Historically, De La Hoya tends to fade in championship heats when Leonard seemed to rise to a crescendo.

Leonard was also a master at adjusting to an opponent when De La Hoya seems to draw a blank. De La Hoya is simply a great fighter, and there is a separation between great fighter and force of nature. Sugar Ray Leonard was a force of nature and unlike Oscar, he seemed to know it. On the threshold of history (a chance at titling in 6 divisions) De La Hoya can only refer to his fight against an already faded Vargas as his hallmark performance. Leonard, by 1987 had proven many times he could be consistently better than great foes. De La Hoya is a boxing enigma if there ever was one, this intrigue regarding “which” Oscar will show up will make this fight the subject of surreal pre fight media analysis. I believe the 160-pound version of Oscar like Leonard will have a surprise for all; I just can’t assure you of what that surprise is.

Hopkins is easier to accept as Hagler’s equal based on his toughness and totality as an all time great middleweight. What separates them are not what we as boxing observers see (and what we saw last was a brutal display VS William Joppy), but what the De La Hoya camp believes it can see. When Ray Leonard claimed (to a friend) that he “saw something” in Hagler’s effort Vs Mugabi it was through the eyes of rare genius. At 39, Hopkins remains a ferocious, versatile 3-minute fighter and many observers doubt De La Hoya or Floyd Mayweather, SR. were able to “see” anything. Hopkins also possesses more length than Hagler making it easier for him to box in stretches and put himself in position to offset movement. Hagler, for all of his greatness took a while to heat up against Leonard, by listening to “Hard Nard’s” philosophy there is nothing that would suggest this will be the case on September 18th. I believe Bernard’s legs are the key to fight, resources that an opponent of Oscar’s class will not fail to do an appraisal of.

In the mind

Seeing these two ring luminaries in initial press conferences announcing this package deal (let’s not forget Robert Allen and Felix Sturm) lead me to the query: Can a fight be a “super’ fight with the absence of venom? I am of the belief that there will be no last meals, no condescending mind games (a Leonard specialty) or even a harsh word from “Big Floyd” himself. Both men seem to be on a mutual admiration tour not out of any ulterior strategy, but because they simply aren’t rivals. Like Hagler, Hopkins covets the notoriety and financial gain of beating the smaller stars, but he isn’t motivated by a personal dislike of Oscar. De La Hoya, by seeking the fight this year has already earned a great deal of respect and gratitude from Hopkins.

Hopkins has been repeatedly praising the Golden Boy for doing what no one else was stepping up to do and that was fight him. Will Oscar’s role as “El Benevolo” somehow pacify “Hard Nard?” Naaaaaaaaa. Leonard and Hagler were closer in age and size and it was Leonard who presented himself early on as the object of Hagler’s disdain.

Leonard ‘s earning power and mass media acceptance was a sore spot for a the marvelous one, who’s respect was long overdue. This drama simmered to a boil when Leonard left a disillusioned Hagler sitting at the super fight altar by inviting the marvelous one to his retirement announcement.

De La Hoya, long acknowledged as boxing’s golden goose was a mere junior lightweight when Hopkins started his reign of terror at middleweight. This 30-pound difference hardly positioned Oscar on Bernard’s radar as a “rival” to keep his eye on. If any fighter is embedded in Bernard’s psyche it is light heavyweight king Roy Jones, JR.

With a 1993 victory over a still green Hopkins Roy continues to tantalize and taunt Bernard with the mirage of redemption. One look at the heated exchange between the two fighters on an HBO doubleheader in 2002, illustrates the intensity that will be absent in the De La Hoya fight. Respectively De La Hoya’s contemporaries (rivals) will always be Shane Mosley, Fernando Vargas, and most notably Tito Trinidad. I would be hard pressed to believe that part of
De La Hoya’s attempt to climb “Mount Hopkins” isn’t the least bit founded in the upstaging of adversaries. I expect no flag throwing by Hopkins and no chants of
“Viva Mexico” from Oscar in this buildup because both fighters fight under the same flag, Green.

No need to reminisce, enjoy what we have before us today

If all goes as planned on June 5th, September will be upon us before we know it. The sheer wattage from the two future Hall of Famers will illuminate the greatness of our beloved sport. I too will participate in the feeding frenzy for information and non-stop analysis. I too may ask questions like if all fighters have lost to age, then why not Hopkins? And why not now? I look forward to eliciting response with the theory that De La Hoya has the heart to fight Bernard in enough “spots” to sway judges and Oscar’s fast, sharp punching will give Bernard fits. I too will fall under the spell and excitement that only a fight of this magnitude can create. But, the one thing I will not do is reminiscence; get all misty with nostalgia with the suggestion that we are watching a modern day Leonard Vs Hagler. Nope, not me, that’s what the Converse All Star’s and a 1986 Spud Webb jersey are for.

Questions or comments,
Martin Wade:
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