LAS VEGAS -- Coming into this middleweight title bout, which turned out to be more mega-event than mega-fight, Oscar De La Hoya called Bernard Hopkins a bully. At the end of the day, however, the champ turned out to be a nice guy.
By landing a paralyzing left to De La Hoya's liver in the ninth round of their tactical showdown, Hopkins spared the Golden Boy from the brutal beatdown he was going to absorb in the final rounds of the contest.
By forcing De La Hoya to crumple to his hands and knees for referee Kenny Bayless' full 10 count, Hopkins allowed boxing's last superstar to keep his matinee-idol looks.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get stopped by a body shot," a humble and gracious De La Hoya said at the post-fight press conference. "It was right on the button [the liver]. I've never experienced that in my career. When you get hit like that you're stuck. You want to get up, but you can't. I wanted to get up, but I couldn't. Believe me, I wanted to."
Pay no attention to the ridiculous scorecard of judge Keith MacDonald, who had De La Hoya up by two points (77-75) after eight rounds. This fight was not even close. Hopkins, who improved to 45-2-1 (32), controlled almost every round with his superior ring generalship.
De La Hoya, who dropped to 37-4 (29) and suffered the first knockout of his career, was outsmarted and outskilled throughout the patient chess match.
"We thought he was going to pressure me more and try to muscle me more," De La Hoya said, "so it was more of a tactical fight, a chess match. It was more of a mind thing; who was going to connect more."
In the majority of the rounds, it was Hopkins who landed more clean punches while avoiding or blocking those from De La Hoya.
"He's a smart fighter," De La Hoya said of Hopkins. "I give him all the credit in the world. I came up short against a great fighter. I'm
disappointed, but I'm proud that I was going up against the undisputed
middleweight champion of the world."
Judges Dave Moretti and Paul Smith, who got it wrong with De La Hoya's fight with Felix Sturm, got it right with this one. Smith had Hopkins up by four points (78-74) at the time of the stoppage. Moretti had the champ up by six points (79-73; or seven rounds to one).
"The first couple of rounds, Oscar was giving me a different look," Hopkins said at the post-fight press conference. "He was trying to lure me in and counter me at the same time, so I had to lay back and lure him in and kind of turn it into a game of cat and mouse."
Hopkins was expected to try and hunt De La Hoya down from the opening bell, but the crafty veteran flipped the script by backing up or moving to either side behind his jab before ditching the chess board in rounds seven and eight.
De La Hoya had his moments in the fight -- his flurry at the end of
the second round, the body work in the fourth and his aggression in the sixth -- but after the seventh round it was becoming clearer what Hopkins was doing to the game, but outclassed, challenger. He was beginning to pick De La Hoya apart.
"I give Oscar great credit," said Hopkins. "The struggle was to get him to do what I wanted him to do in the early rounds. So I laid back and worked the jab, made him miss, and figured out how to hit him with lead rights until the openings began to show in the later rounds."
Hopkins' educated jab, sneaky right hands and nasty shots to the midsection not only began to tell on De La Hoya's stressed-looking body, but the punches also began to get into his head after the sixth round.
In the eighth round, De La Hoya took on the look of a desperate fighter. Aside from the parting hook at the end of the round, he seemed to be thinking: "What the heck am I going to do now?"
A minute and a half into the ninth round, Hopkins gave him his answer.
It was both wise and benevolent for Hopkins to go to De La Hoya's body.
It was smart because focusing on De La Hoya's head probably wouldn't have caused a knockout. It was an act of charity because there was a good chance that Hopkins was going to close in on De La Hoya in the championship rounds and make the frustrated challenger's face look similar to the lumpy swollen mess that he sculpted William Joppy's head into last December.
One left to the liver and everybody wins.
De La Hoya keeps his handsome mug intact and collects $30 million.
Hopkins, four months shy of his 40th birthday, makes the biggest purse of his career (at least $10 million, probably closer to $15 million) and he gets closer to his career goal of making 20 title defenses (De La Hoya was his 19th).
The MGM Grand's Garden Arena was sold out with a near-capacity 16,112. Close circuit ticket sells inside the hotel casino reached 9,384 (and there were other hotels on the strip that also carried the fight on closed circuit). Pay-per-view numbers for HBO PPV may reached 1 million, maybe more.
De La Hoya's legacy isn't hurt by this KO loss any more than Jose Napoles' was by losing to Carlos Monzon or Thomas Hearns' was by losing to Marvin Hagler. Looking at De La Hoya's body of work from lightweight to junior middleweight affirms his greatness, but the man just isn't a great middleweight.
With this win, Hopkins solidifies his legacy as an all-time great
middleweight in much the same way Monzon and Hagler did, by beating the best welterweights and junior middleweights of their day.
"I mentioned that I would be the first one to stop Oscar to [many
journalists] before the fight," Hopkins said. "I told them 'I'll be the
first. I'll knock him out or I'll force his dad to stop it, but I'll do it.'
People didn't believe me because his track record is to not get knocked out.
"But being the first to stop De La Hoya means a lot to me, because the two fighters of my era who will no doubt go down as legends -- Felix Trinidad and De La Hoya -- not only did I beat them, I knocked them out."
'Yawn' Manuel Marquez
Juan Manuel Marquez was always a controlled boxer/counter-puncher but before his tough fight with Manny Pacquiao this past May there would usually come a point in his matches when he would seize an opportunity to open up on his opponents and at least try to take them out with his accurate power shots.
But after outboxing Orlando Salido over 12 mainly one-sided and cautious rounds to retain his WBA and IBF featherweight titles by scores of 118-110 and 117-111 (twice), one has to wonder if the near-disasterous first round against "PacMan" wasn't on his mind.
Marquez's overly controlled ring generalship and Salido's unwillingness to take the initiative drew boos from the impatient crowd as early as the second round. Marquez, who improved to 43-2-1 (33), and Salido, who dropped to 23-9-1 (15), did not give the crowd anything to cheer about over the next three rounds as the champion would not open up offensively and the
challenger refused to lead for fear of being counter-punched.
Salido finally took some chances in the sixth and seventh rounds by marching forward and landing a few right hands, but Marquez regained control of the fight in the eighth. Although rounds 10, 11 and 12 featured some brisk exchanges, the crowd was relieved the bout had finally ended.
Marquez is now in position to pursue a lucrative rematch with Pacquiao, who dropped him three times in the opening round of their dramatic bout that ended in a controversial draw in May.
Wake up and smell the Kofi
In the first undercard bout of the HBO PPV telecast, junior middleweight contender Kofi Jantuah made short work of highly touted prospect Marco Antonio Rubio in the first round of their 12-round WBC 154-pound title elimination bout, knocking out the Mexican knockout artist with a single counter left hook
that ended the fight 33 seconds into the fight.
With that punch -- one of the best single knockout shots of this year -- Jantuah improves to 28-1 (18) and is now in line to challenge the winner of the Nov. 20 junior middleweight
title fight between Winky Wright and Shane Mosley.
"I got caught with a perfect shot," said Rubio, now 25-2-1 (23), who had built a glossy record beating a series of journeymen, shop-worn fighters and smaller men in Mexico. "I didn't see it coming. It happens."
Yeah, just ask Oscar De La Hoya.