SEPTEMBER 18 is a bittersweet date in the Oscar De La Hoya calendar.
In his welterweight prime, he disastrously gave away the championships rounds and lost a highly controversial decision to Felix Trinidad in one of modern boxing’s grandest confrontations.
Exactly one year prior to that fight (1998), we saw the 25-year-old De La Hoya defend his welterweight crown to the great, but well past his best, Julio Cesar Chavez at the Thomas and Mack in Las Vegas.
De La Hoya had emphatically beaten the legendary Chavez in four one-sided rounds in 1996, so to see the 36-year-old Chavez give Oscar a terrific battle for eight rounds was a surprise to many.
De La Hoya’s black eye was testament to his tactics as he desperately sought a clean and decisive knockout, but perhaps even sweeter was the manner in which Chavez – who had fought beyond all expectations – bailed out on his stool. Refusing to come out for the ninth round.
He claimed his corner made the decision for him, but Julio, rocked at the end of a blistering eighth, and with a mouth full of blood had tasted enough and knew more pain was around the corner.
“It was a good, exciting fight” said De La Hoya. “There were a couple of rounds when we slugged it out. I could’ve outboxed him, but people want to see a real fight.
“He hits hard. But I took his shots. People now realise I can take a punch”.
“I give my respect to De La Hoya” admitted Chavez. “But I demonstrated that I can still fight. I was never in any trouble”.
Fast-forward to 2004, when in June, De La Hoya squeaked by Felix Sturm for the WBO middleweight belt to set up a huge fight with 160lb great Bernard Hopkins.
It went spectacularly wrong for ‘The Golden Boy’ who had the wind taken from his sails courtesy of a Hopkins’ left hook at 1-38 of the ninth round.
This was the only knockout defeat of De La Hoya’s glittering career.
In front of a packed MGM Grand – Hopkins just shy of his 40th birthday – methodically executed his gameplan to leave the sport’s brightest star writhing on the canvas as Kenny Bayless counted to 10.
De La Hoya had started brightly, but after five rounds, the Philadelphia legend began to take control behind a spearing jab. “I was trying to grab the cheese without getting caught in the trap” was how Oscar described his tactics.
“Never in my wildest dreams to I think I’d get stopped by a body shot” said the man from East LA. “But I have no excuses, he’s a great champion”.
Worth noting that De La Hoya had won his first world title way down at super-featherweight. Hopkins began his career as a light-heavy.
“I’m leaner and taller, but there wasn’t a great deal of difference between us because I came in so light.” mused Hopkins. “I’m not a big puncher. I’m a beat-you-up type of guy”.