Another summer was coming to a close as cooler weather and beautiful fall foliage was just around the corner. Beautiful to boxing fans was a highly-anticipated match that pitted two first rate, world class champions whose dossiers were comparable to a brilliant novel or a Michelangelo painting.
The year was 2004.
Billed as “It’s History,” this Middleweight showdown carried with it appeal, credibility and a genuine uncertainty of who would reign supreme. Odds makers quickly weighed in making Hopkins a 2-1 betting favorite while enthusiasts and pundits alike seemed evenly split on the outcome.
Fans swarmed the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to witness two future Hall of Famers do battle while HBO carried the fight live on pay-per-view.
Hopkins, 39, had not lost a fight since meeting Roy Jones Jr. in 1993. Over the past 11 years en route to meeting De La Hoya, he had decisively handled champions like Glen Johnson, Simon Brown, William Joppy and Felix Trinidad.
De La Hoya, 31, had been remarkably active and as successful as Hopkins. Wins over Julio Cesar Chavez, Pernell Whitaker, Arturo Gatti, and Fernando Vargas had launched him into another stratosphere. De La Hoya, however, was forced a little closer to earth after losses to Trinidad and Shane Mosley.
Despite just five losses between the two champions, their stock remained sky high and the enthusiasm of boxing fans ran at a fever pitch.
Both fighters weighed in under the 157 limit. Although Hopkins owned a two-and-a-half-inch height advantage, De La Hoya held a one inch reach advantage. On paper, the fight appeared to be a dead even heat.
Seconds before the opening bell, Larry Merchant opined, “This fight has been appropriately compared to Leonard-Hager, can it live up to that fight?”
The Golden Boy, who had won eight titles in six divisions, was the recognized WBO Middleweight world champion. Adorned in black shoes and black trunks, De La Hoya met Hopkins in the middle of the ring to begin Round 1.
The Executioner, the recognized lineal undisputed Middleweight kingpin, was outfitted in brown trunks and brown shoes. Hopkins was all too eager to meet De La Hoya head on in the opening moments.
The two moved gracefully from right to left and left to right, looking to use their left jabs in what was a chess match early on. The crowd traded chants of “Oscar, Oscar” with mixed cheers for Hopkins as he began stepping inside and popping De La Hoya with quick combinations and chopping overhand rights.
The opening rounds proved tactical as each fighter tentatively looked for opportunities to seize command. Although the pace wasn’t fast, the fighters’ boxing was first class stuff. De La Hoya’s flurries were now being matched against Hopkins right hand leads and physicality when the two wrestled inside.
As the rounds advanced, Hopkins stepped up his desire to bully De La Hoya. The Golden Boy responded by depositing body shots and scoring with his sizzling hand speed. Each fighter launched a left jab that registered a 10 on the Richter Scale.
After six rounds, Harold Lederman had the fight scored even, 57-57. CompuBox numbers through six were incredibly similar with De La Hoya having thrown just eight punches more than Hopkins and out landing him by a single punch.
Moving into the second half of the fight, the feeling was that a slow, subtle shift was taking place.
Hopkins appeared to begin taking physical control of the action. Right hand leads were still landing, however, De La Hoya was now pulling straight back. Jim Lampley quickly noted, “The first time that Bernard Hopkins is beginning to physically punish Oscar De La Hoya, particularly in close quarters.”
De La Hoya refused to back off or back down, continuing to step in and fire back. As the bell sounded to end the eighth round, Hopkins’ punch output was increasing while De La Hoya was now showing signs of wearing down under the Hopkins barrage. In simple terms, Hopkins was now getting the better of the exchanges.
Now in Round 9, Lederman’s scorecard demonstrated that Hopkins had indeed taken command of the action with a 77-75 advantage. Lampley quickly touched on the change in momentum. “De La Hoya’s face is beginning to show the damage from Hopkins withering power punching display in the last couple of rounds.”
De La Hoya was now in reverse as he looked to solve the riddle of how to keep Hopkins off him. The two moved inside to close quarters where Hopkins levied a left hook to the De La Hoya body. In an instant, the Golden Boy collapsed to his knees, curling into a ball while writhing in pain.
Lampley wailed, “Down goes De La Hoya from a body punch by Hopkins! First time he’s been knocked down in five and half years and he’s not going to make it up! It’s a Bernard Hopkins knockout of Oscar De La Hoya in the ninth round!”
Referee Kenny Bayless had reached the count of ten, ending the bout at 1:38 of the ninth round. De La Hoya pounded the canvas in disgust before finally rising to his feet.
De La Hoya was nearing the end of his storied career. He would fight just four more times, going 2-2 with wins over Ricardo Mayorga and Steve Forbes. His losses were in a competitive battle with Floyd Mayweather and an embarrassing beating to Manny Pacquiao.
The victory would be the last knockout win of Bernard Hopkins’ storied career. He would, however, fight on and leave an indelible mark on the sport. At age 51, Hopkins officially retired less than one month ago.
It was a memorable night between two legendary fighters. We boxing fans want to see more of it.