De La Hoya-Hopkins: Still On Course For Collision

08.06.04 - By Daniel Baguley: On Saturday night I think its fair to say we got one formality and one surprise. The formality being Bernard Hopkins easily, but unspectacularly, out pointing Robert Allen over twelve rounds to retain his World Middleweight crown. The surprise being Oscar struggling to outpoint a game and unfazed Felix Sturm over twelve fairly exciting rounds. The fight still appears to be on for September 18th but, one thing is for sure, Oscar has done nothing to convince me he will be able to beat the middleweight king Hopkins.

Bernard never really looked troubled for the duration of his fight but was definitely cautious and wary of what Robert Allen had to offer which, after all the big talk, wasnít much. Robert clearly wanted to get in to Hopkinsí chest and brawl and maul on the inside, which is exactly what Hopkins wanted to avoid. The champion moved around and made sure he did enough to win the rounds. He always looked as if he had the ability to step up a gear if he needed to which he did on occasion. This is backed up by the fact the 39 year old was dancing around in front of a rather forlorn looking Allen in the twelfth round. A superbly timed right hand floored Allen in round seven and he did well to get up. Hopkins went for the finish but Allen showed his experience and covered up to survive the rest of the round.

If Allen was tentative before he was even more so now and never really looked a factor for the rest of the fight. To be fair to the IBF number one contender he did manage to land a few power shots in the fight but his success was far too thinly spread to be enough to topple the prominent champion. The judgesí scorecards were a formality and Hopkins had upheld his end of the bargain. After the fight Bernard was very open with Larry Merchant admitting he had deliberately not taken any chances in order not to scupper the big fight, little did he know his worries were just beginning.

Felix Sturm had looked nerveless all week and actually looked as if he was thoroughly enjoying himself. He seemed to be lapping up the attention and excitement that surrounded such a big card. However, you always wonder with fighters making their big card debut whether they will carry that confidence into the ring. Well when Sturm entered the ring he still had the same _expression he had at the weigh in and again seemed to be soaking up the atmosphere. This was in stark contrast to Oscar De La Hoya who, to me, seemed a little flustered and, perhaps, nervous when he entered.

After the formalities the fight got underway and Oscar attacked fast in the first with a large flurry of punches. A number of them landed but Sturm, amazingly, still looked unfazed and started landing his jab that was to become a major factor for the duration of the fight. The way the five-weight titleholder attacked Sturm in the opening rounds, it was if he thought maybe he would crumble early. The fact that Sturm not only didnít crumble, but, came back with some sharp shots of his own suggests one of two things. Oscar hasnít carried his power to middleweight or Sturm has a solid chin. I think a mediocrity of the two is more the order of the day but Oscarís defence was non-existent as we witnessed him ship more shots than I have ever seen.

Round after round Sturm kept coming forward but Oscar, instead of using his skills, seemed to want to stand and trade. It was if he didnít think the German should be able to back him up so he wasnít going to. This was forcing De La Hoya to fight a game plan that isnít his natural one. Add that to the fact that this was Oscarís first fight at the weight against an undefeated, if untried, fighter and youíd have to say his tactics were downright silly. Thatís not to say they werenít giving him an element of success. Some of the rounds were close to call but it did appear, at times, as if Sturmís shots were having the greater effect as De La Hoyaís head was the one being rocked back. Felix isnít renowned for his power so I think itís fair to say that the Golden Boyís camp would have suggested he could take more chances. Chances he wonít be able to take against Bernard Hopkins, for instance.

In the end I believed it to be a fairly even fight and a draw would probably have been the fairest result but this isnít a fair game and the three judgesí identical scores of 115-113 to the Golden Boy will have certainly raised a few eyebrows. I am not, however, one of these hysterical people who believe it to be one of the most outrageous decisions ever witnessed. It was hardly another Lewis-Holyfield was it? My overall impression was of a close fight and I wouldnít have had many complaints anyway it went. Felix Sturm has certainly raised his stock significantly and with the imminent departure of the two destined for collision he will certainly be in the mix for future ďtitleĒ fights in the middleweight division.

I think when a fighter performs below par you have to be careful how you score the fight. What I mean is, that although Oscar fought some way below his usual high standard he did still do enough to win rounds. You have to be careful not to score rounds against him because you have expected him to do better when he may still have done enough to win the round. Iím not taking anything away from Sturm he did well but I think it was so close you canít really complain which way it went.

So now we can look on to the big one, September eighteenth. Iím glad itís on because itís not too often you get two such big stars willing to risk themselves against each other. After all the disappointmentís with the non surfacing of a Jones Hopkins rematch we will finally see Bernard in with another quality opponent, although Iím not making that statement based on his last performance! We will see a better De La Hoya against The Executioner. De La Hoya knows he will have to be better to have a chance of winning and I think he will want to give a good account of himself in his self proclaimed final fight. The man has the heart of a fighter and will want to win and heíll work like a dog to make sure heís right for the fight.

All that said I canít see him winning. De La Hoya will not have the power to worry Hopkins who I think will be much more aggressive. Heíll be too worried about having a bad decision go against him and will want to make it clear whoís the boss in the fight. I have huge respect for Oscar but I think this will be a case of whether Hopkins can become the first man to stop the Golden Boy. If this is my opinion you maybe asking yourself why am I so excited about it? Well the answer is nothing is set in stone! Bernard could grow old and the fight could turn into a battle of wills or Oscar could pull out something incredible and unexpected. This is a huge event and when you pit two fighters of such immense talent against each other you can never be quite sure of how it will unfold.

The best thing to do is soak it up. Neither man will be around for much longer and, love them or hate them they will be missed. I wish good luck to both men. Felix Sturm will come again and have another chance but for Oscar the end of the road is nearing.

Article posted on 08.06.2004

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