De La Hoya/Hopkins: Why ‘Oscar' De La Hoya will remain ‘Top Dog’

07.09.04 - By Lee Hayes: I am picking Oscar DeLaHoya to defeat Bernard Hopkins come September 18th, 2004. Some of you may be surprised; some of you may just feel I need a reality check. Allow me to explain:

First of all, I do not think that either man is capable of knocking the other man out. Both DeLaHoya and Hopkins have proven that they possess granite chins, throughout their careers. That combined with the fact that neither man appears to possess much in the way of one punch KO power lead me to believe that we will be in for a long, entertaining evening. Sure, it’s conceivable that either man could be worn down and stopped, late in the fight. But intuition tells me not to bet on that predicament. If I had to pick a slight favorite in this area, I would probably give the edge ever so slightly to Hopkins, because of his natural size difference.

Another factor in the outcome of this bout, is that both DeLaHoya and Hopkins like to move around on their feet, to create angles and wait for higher percentage opportunities to counter punch their opponent silly. If both men go in to this mode, it could potentially have several moments of non-action. I lean the favor in this department slightly to Hopkins, only because when fighting that type of fight against Felix Trinidad, he threw far more punches than DeLaHoya did, while counterpunching on his toes. Also, Oscar has fought much more flat footed since the Trinidad loss, and if he stays that way in this fight, he’s going to be in trouble.

This is not a fight where we will be easily able to compare common foe’s, going in. The reason is because the only opponent they have in common is Felix Trinidad, and in most expert opinions, Oscar did do enough to beat his Puerto Rican counterpart. It is also notable that by all means, it appears that DeLaHoya’s game plan was the foundation of the plan that Hopkins ‘executed’ to perfection. What, however, is not well known about Bernard’s battle with Trinidad, is that Tito had almost stopped Hopkins in the 4th round, with a debilitating left hook to the liver. He had paralyzed ‘The Executioner’, and possibly could have put him away, had Bernard’s sly savvy and ring experience, not allowed him to cover up the damage caused, and allow him to not surrender the psychological battle of the fight. Against Oscar, however, it is note worthy that Trinidad never had “the Golden Boy”, hurt in significant way. Here, the favor goes slightly to Oscar.

When one examines the two fighters, I believe that experience against top opposition is key. If truth be told, Bernard Hopkins has only ever faced two truly marquee names in his career. They would be Roy Jones jr., in May of ’93, and Trinidad on September 29th, 2001. We have already touched a little on the Trinidad affair, and credit needs to be given to Bernard for a masterful performance that night. Still, I believe he implemented DeLaHoya’s strategy, and simply improved on the one thing Oscar forgot to do…finish the show. Against Jones, Hopkins was rendered virtually non-consequential. He could not handle Roy’s footwork and movement, nor did he have an answer for the “superman’s” quick hands. It’s also noteworthy that there have been several middleweights and beyond that Hopkins has not fought during his prestigious tenure as champion. I’m thinking of Nigel Benn, Michael Nunn, James Toney, Chris Eubank, Steve Collins, Gerald McClellan, Julian Jackson, Terry Norris, the list is really a “who’s who” of the jr. Middleweight, Middleweight, and Super Middleweight divisions, with the exclusion of Roy Jones jr. Really, it’s not all that impressive that Hopkins did not face off against any of these men.

Oscar on the other hand, has toppled ex-champions and champions alike on his way up from 133lbs –his weight in his first professional bout- to now, fighting the reigning middleweight kingpin, in Hopkins. Oscar has not quite replicated the success he has had from Super Featherweight to Jr. Welterweight after he crossed in to the welterweight division and up. He won some, he lost some, but he always faced the best, and always put on a great show. When you are fighting the likes of Pernell Whitaker, Ike Quartey, Oba Carr, Felix Trinidad, Hector Camacho, Julio Cesar Chavez (twice), Shane Mosely (twice), Arturo Gatti and Fernando Vargas…escaping with a record of 7-3 (5) is no shame, in my books. During the same period of time, from 1997 to 2003, nobody in the world has faced better competition than Oscar DeLaHoya. Like him or not, “the Golden Boy” likes to test his skills against the best. He wins this area hands down.

Another possible invariable is the corner men. DeLaHoya has Floyd Mayweather Sr., who was a very naturally slick athlete that was never able to get it together enough to be a successful champion. In fact, Mayweather never won a major title, and professionally, sits beneath the wings of brother Roger, and son Floyd Jr. As a trainer, Mayweather appears to have had more success. Still, I can’t help but think he still talks and acts like his old crack head self, when he does things like degrade a honorable fighter like Arturo Gatti. (During the pre-fight press conference for DeLaHoya vs. Gatti, Mayweather Sr. said that Gatti had no skill, and was incredibly slow. He also at one point said that he himself would be willing to jump in the ring and “kick his ass”. Gatti replied with a simple, “you’ve got no class. Indeed. Outside of the re-birth of his right cross, Mayweather has not contributed a lot in the way of improvements for Oscar. In fact, amongst experts, the general consensus is that any chance DeLaHoya had in this fight went out the door once Floyd implemented the “shoulder roll” defense that Mayweather used through out his career. Certainly, if Oscar decides to fight that way, in close, his doom will be sealed, as Hopkins would most likely time the maneuver and step in with an over hand right-left hook combination all night long.

In Hopkins corner stand Bouie Fischer, the elderly trainer of Bernard’s for most of Bernard’s greatest successes as a fighter. Still, Bouie and Hopkins have become estranged on more than one occasion, and both men accused each other of not being trust worthy during their verbal battles with each other through the press. The feeling I get is that some damage was done, and that although they still work pretty decently together, that their bond has been breached and Hopkins –who is a paranoid personality by nature- most likely does not feel the way he once did, with his mentor.

My general feeling regarding the edge in trainers is that DeLaHoya wins, because my gut tells me that Oscar is way too smart to fight Mayweather’s “juke n’ jive”, inside defensive style. I believe he will dance on his toes, he will be in much better condition than he was against Felix Sturm last June. He knows he has to move on his toes and he will. He will reign in combinations from the outside, using rapid-fire body punches and the occasional hard left hook, to ward Bernard off of him. He’s only going to stand still in slight bursts, ala Ray Leonard in his classic fight with Marvelous Marvin Hagler, and his superior hand speed will allow him to out land Hopkins for the majority of the exchanges of the fight. Hopkins will be out of his habitat in this fight, because he will be forced to be the aggressor and all anybody has to do is take a look at Hopkins ineffectively chasing Jones Jr. around the ring to see how Hopkins enjoys being the stalker. The advantage here goes to Oscar.

The wild card in this fight may actually be how effective the jabs of each fighter are. Hopkins has a terrific jab in his own right, but when DeLaHoya cranks his out in rapid fire, putting his weight behind it, he has one of the best jabs in the game. I have to say, much like Ray Leonard did against Marvin Hagler, and to a lesser extent, Evander Holyfield did against Mike Tyson, Oscar DeLaHoya knows exactly what Bernard Hopkins brings to the table. He has been a very consistent fighter, and a very reliable technician. It’s DeLaHoya that brings all the intangibles and question marks. He’s the man to watch on September 18th. I, for one, will be betting on the Golden Boy.

This writer welcomes your thoughts and contributions:

Article posted on 07.09.2004

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