THE Oscar De La Hoya vs Bernard Hopkins superfight express was very nearly derailed on this day (June 5) in 2004 when the ‘Golden Boy’ was forced to dig deep to eke out a razor-thin decision over the unheralded Felix Sturm at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Never had a winner looked and sounded more like a loser. That was De La Hoya after relieving Sturm of the WBO middleweight crown and paving the way for the unification with the division’s real champion in Hopkins.
WBC, WBA and IBF boss Hopkins saw off old rival Robbie Allen earlier on the same show to set up the megafight in Vegas on September 18 that year.
Both Bernard and Oscar won unanimously over 12 rounds but while the former did as he pleased, the latter struggled to impose himself on a young and spirited champion.
It was De La Hoya’s first fight at middleweight (he began his career at super-feather), he did enough to win all right but never looked comfortable against an opponent whose surprisingly strong performance must be measured against the low expectations for him.
With the victory, De La Hoya became a six-weight world champion.
“It was a tough fight,” conceded a bruised Oscar. “I underestimated him, but then 160 is a great division.
“There are no excuses. Sturm came to fight, like everyone who fights me”.
Opinion was divided among the experts: Roy Jones thought it was close but thought Sturm had done enough, NY Daily News’ Tim Smith had it level (114-114) and Ron Borges (Boston Globe) scored it 116-112 for the ‘Golden Boy’.
Boxing News had Oscar up 115-113 and we noted that Hopkins would be a different matter altogether…
All photos: Action Images/Reuters