LAS VEGAS - Undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins leaped onto the ring ropes, then did a goofy forward roll on the ring floor - even as Oscar De La Hoya flopped around on the canvas gasping for air like a goldfish out of his bowl from Hopkins' piercing left hook to the liver.
De La Hoya failed to beat the 10 count of referee Kenny Bayless, giving Hopkins a ninth-round knockout Saturday night at the MGM Grand over a man who never before had been stopped in a bout.
"It just paralyzes you," said De La Hoya, 31. "You can't do anything about it. You lose your breath. I just have to say that I never experienced that in my career.
"You're stuck, and I've never felt that in my life," said De La Hoya (37-4), who had risen from knockdowns to win fights on four previous occasions. "You want to get up, and you can't. It was the perfect body shot. When you get hit to the body, it's not how hard they hit you, it was just right on the spot. It was just - boom! - right there."
Hopkins' middleweight-record 19th straight defense and his 32nd knockout raised his record to 45-2-1. Hopkins added De La Hoya's World Boxing Organization crown to his World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation titles, improving his unbeaten streak to 23-0-1 with 16 knockouts since losing to Roy Jones in May 1993.
"It feels good that I'm here. There were a few bumps in the road, a lot of decisions that I made, whether you agree or disagree with them," said Hopkins, 39, who has bucked the system of boxing politics and has both sued and been sued by promoters.
"But you know that's all motivation for Bernard Hopkins to get where I'm at. Truthfully, I don't have axes to grind with anybody because I've succeeded in spite of, so why should I have anger in my heart?"
For future matches, Hopkins said he will likely team with Top Rank's Bob Arum, De La Hoya's longtime promoter and the architect behind Hopkins-De La Hoya. Hopkins has a goal of at least 20 title defenses.
Opponents might include the winner of an Oct. 2 middleweight bout between ex-champs Felix Trinidad and Ricardo Mayorga or the winner of a Nov. 20 junior middleweight fight between undisputed champ Winky Wright and Shane Mosley. A move to super middleweight could happen, and Hopkins also has shown interest in fighting light heavyweights Jones and Antonio Tarver.
"I'm looking to do big fights," he said. "Bring them on."
De La Hoya, who initially vowed to retire, win or lose, said after the fight that he might reconsider.
"I really can't say yes or no, because I really didn't think about it," De La Hoya said. "I know I can step it up a few more notches."
De La Hoya found himself in a tactical fight early on Saturday night. While Hopkins assessed De La Hoya's game plan, De La Hoya out-hustled him during exchanges, rallying with momentum-stealing flurries.
De La Hoya won the sixth round on two judges' cards, one of which had him leading the bout by five points at the end of the round. But Hopkins grew more aggressive, mostly behind right leads and sneaky crosses that won the seventh and eighth rounds.
"We expected more pressure from Hopkins," said De La Hoya, who was fighting as a middleweight for the second time. "It was more of a tactical fight. I was surprised."
Hopkins had said De La Hoya would discover during the course of the fight that his best shot couldn't hurt Hopkins.
"I'll look like a bully after that," Hopkins said before the fight.
That point came near the end of the eighth, when De La Hoya nailed Hopkins with a left hook, only to have the champion shrug it off.
"It was a decent shot, but Bernard knew it was about De La Hoya's best," said Bouie Fisher, Hopkins' trainer for all but two fights. "Then Bernard knew what to do, where the spot was. He knew just when to land that [body] shot. He's a complete fighter, a pro."