De La Hoya plan: make noise, quiet critics

A victory over Hopkins would cement his legacy


September 17, 2004|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS - Oscar De La Hoya can expect the biggest payday of his career for tomorrow night's fight against Bernard Hopkins, but De La Hoya already is wealthy. What De La Hoya really wants is to enrich his legacy.

He sees the fight as a means of silencing critics who are skeptical of his heart, his stamina and his place among boxing's all-time greats.

"It doesn't get any bigger than this - fighting for the undisputed middleweight crown against the best fighter out there who hasn't lost in [11] years," said De La Hoya, 31, who will be in only his second middleweight fight. "It's a dangerous fight, a risky fight, but at this point, I need it to elevate me to another level."

The bout takes place five years to the day from De La Hoya's first and perhaps most embarrassing defeat - losing a majority decision to Felix Trinidad in a 12-round welterweight bout at the Mandalay Bay Hotel.

This time, De La Hoya (37-3, 29 knockouts) fights at the MGM Grand, where Hopkins (44-2-1, 31 KOs) puts his International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association titles on the line in what is expected to be the highest-grossing non-heavyweight fight. The two must meet a contract weight limit of 158 pounds (the actual middleweight limit is 160).

De La Hoya could earn more than $40 million to Hopkins' potential $16 million, by far the largest purse for either fighter. Worth an estimated $150 million, De La Hoya says he might retire, win or lose.

But in victory, De La Hoya would earn his ninth title belt in six weight classes, allowing him to leave the game without the need for rematches against the two fighters to have beaten him - Trinidad (once) and Shane Mosley (twice).

"Oscar has nothing to lose and millions to gain, but if he's looking to redeem himself, he's got to come this way," said Hopkins, 39. "If he pulls this off, it erases the Shane Mosley fights, the Trinidad fight. Beating Bernard Hopkins is the biggest fight of Oscar's career, but my motivation is not to let that happen."

De La Hoya agrees a win would enable him to retire not only as boxing's richest and most marketable non-heavyweight, but more importantly, with dignity and peace of mind.

"Speaking to the strength of the opponent, the size of the opponent, the magnitude of the event - I don't think I can motivate myself for a fight after this one," said De La Hoya, who decided to fight Hopkins after he "saw flaws" in Hopkins during his bout with Trinidad. "I'm thinking, `Hey, this is my last hurrah.'"

Considered by many to be the planet's best fighter, pound-for-pound, Hopkins has a 22-0-1 record with 15 knockouts since losing a unanimous decision to Roy Jones in 1993.

Hopkins is 18-0-1 with 11 knockouts in title fights, including a middleweight record 18 straight championship defenses.

So promoter Bob Arum agrees that if De La Hoya were to end Hopkins' reign, there would be little left in the ring worth fighting for.

"If Oscar beats Hopkins, he would have beaten the best middleweight of our era," Arum said. "He would be absolutely mad to do anything to hurt that legacy, and certainly wouldn't need any more challenges from a fight with Trinidad or Mosley.

"If he wins, he's going to do a victory lap, fighting a guy that's not a serious contender in order to say goodbye to his public. With what he has in the bank, that certainly wouldn't be about the money."

De La Hoya has gotten the most out of his crossover appeal. He lives and mostly trains at a mountain estate in Big Bear, Calif. De La Hoya, who is married to Puerto Rican singer Millie Corretjer, has landed commercial and sitcom cameos and is well-spoken enough to have cemented a future in boxing broadcasting. He already is serving as host of the new boxing reality showThe Next Great Champ. Also a talented singer, De La Hoya produced a Grammy-nominated album. He has contributed $1 million to a charter school named in his honor in his native Los Angeles.

As a fighter, however, De La Hoya still longs to repair the damage his reputation took as a result of his three losses, particularly to Trinidad, against whom he was boxing beautifully, far ahead on points and seemingly on the verge of a career-defining knockout.

But De La Hoya "got tired and ran for the last three rounds," Arum said. He then followed the flawed advice of his then-cornerman, Robert Alcazar, who told him, "You don't need the last three rounds. You've given him a boxing lesson."

With that, De La Hoya did an abrupt about-face, fighting in retreat, yielding momentum to Trinidad and leaving the decision to the judges. The win was Trinidad's 15th title defense since winning the crown in 1993.

Hopkins, who has studied more than 20 of De La Hoya's fights, said his opponent's toughness and resiliency are underrated.

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