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Friday, June 4, 2004
Sturm reminds Oscar of himself

By David A. Avila

After more than a decade of glowing results in professional boxing for Oscar De La Hoya, the East Los Angeles native steps in the ring against an opponent who is much younger, stronger and possibly faster.

It has happened only once before in his career.

When De La Hoya, 31, steps in the ring at the MGM Garden Arena against Felix Sturm of Germany for the WBO middleweight title on Saturday, he faces a 25-year-old boxer who has never been beaten and is eager for the recognition that comes with defeating a mega-champion.

"I'm young, hungry, strong and I plan to attack De La Hoya with all I've got," said Sturm (20-0, 9 KOs). "There's no question I want to win this fight more than he does."

Even De La Hoya realizes the possibility of a major upset and the irony of it all.

"He reminds me of myself when I fought Julio Cesar Chavez," said De La Hoya (36-3, 29 KOs) about the age disparity between himself and Sturm.

In 1996, a 23-year-old De La Hoya met Chavez, who was 33 at the time, at Caesars Palace in a fight between an aging veteran of heroic proportions and a young budding superstar of unknown quality. Sound familiar?

That day youth overwhelmingly prevailed, as a taller, faster and stronger De La Hoya cut up Chavez's face with rapier-like jabs and uppercuts and ended the fight in four rounds by technical stoppage. De La Hoya won every round.

For years the pride of East L.A. has raked through five divisions, facing former world champions, knockout artists, speedy boxers, and future Hall of Famers, and beat almost all of them.

Before meeting Chavez for their first match, De La Hoya had overwhelmed seven world title-holders in Jimmi Bredahl, Jorge Paez, John Molina, Rafael Ruelas, Genaro Hernandez, and James Leija. Like a new car model fresh out of the factory, he overtook the old engines and raced on by.

From 1992 to the present, the fighter known as the Golden Boy has fought only one man who was younger than him; that was Fernando Vargas almost two years ago on Sept. 14, 2002. Vargas was 24, De La Hoya 29.

Now De La Hoya, who is showing signs of slowing a bit, faces a racehorse in Sturm who at 25 and slightly taller hasn't experienced the pangs of defeat nor the luxury of million-dollar paydays.

"He's a hungry fighter," said De La Hoya with a smile as he thought of the irony. "It's not going to be an easy fight. He doesn't know how to lose."

But De La Hoya knows no other gear. He's been like an Indy racecar speeding at 200 miles an hour. He doesn't have a school zone speed. For more than 10 years he's faced one title-holder or former title-holder after another. All total, 19 world-class fighters who had held a world title squared off against the Golden Boy. Since 1995 the only fighters he faced that had not won a title were David Kamau, Darryl Tyson, Wilfredo Rivera, Patrick Charpentier, Oba Carr and Derrell Coley.

That's one reason Bernard Hopkins respects and applauds De La Hoya, who he hopes to meet in September should he defeat Robert Allen. That's why he's rooting for De La Hoya to win; that and more than $12 million if they meet in the ring.

"Oscar has never ducked any opponent out there," said Hopkins, the undisputed middleweight champion with a record 17 title defenses. "I respect him for that. No other champion aside from me can say that."

Before fighting Vargas, skeptics said he couldn't carry his punching power in the heavier weight class, but an 11th-round knockout disproved that theory. Before fighting Shane Mosley for the second time, they said his speed was gone, but he out-jabbed the Pomona, Calif., speedster continuously in a surprising display of alacrity.

Once again all of those questions emerge as he moves up to his sixth weight class. He once held the 130-pound WBO title in 1994.

"This is not a joke; this is for real," said De La Hoya, answering naysayers who doubt he will fight Hopkins should he pass Sturm. "I'm more than willing to fight Hopkins. I just hope he wins because I know I'm going to win."

Philadelphia's Hopkins, whose maverick qualities have resulted in canceled fights, canceled contracts and verbal battles with fighters, promoters and lawyers alike, points to the September fight as vindication.

And with upsets raining on boxing like a tropical storm, Hopkins issued his own assurance that what happened to Roy Jones Jr. will not happen to him.

"I was surprised at what (Antonio) Tarver did. That made me go out and run an extra mile," Hopkins said. "It made me tighten up on everything."

On Saturday, Hopkins seeks a second win over Allen and De La Hoya seeks his sixth weight division world title. But seemingly lost among the possibilities is that two of the best fighters in the world could lose.

If De La Hoya loses?

"Why should I fight anymore," said boxing's biggest gate attraction during the last 10 years. "With Tarver proving that even the best in the world can lose, I don't know. We have to pray it doesn't happen."

Millions of boxing fans are praying that nothing upsets both De La Hoya and Hopkins from meeting in September.