Bernard Hopkins Not Just Bigger Than Oscar De La Hoya

20.09.04 - By Frank Lotierzo - - The record book will forever say Hopkins KO-9 De La Hoya. For Bernard Hopkins that's great, because his fight with Oscar De La Hoya is the fight he will most likely be remembered for. What the record book won't indicate is how strategically and methodically Hopkins took De La Hoya apart.

I know the HBO announcers and De La Hoya himself don't even realize what transpired during the fight. Like De La Hoya, most think it was just a case of Hopkins being the bigger man. In other words De La Hoya was boxing well and was in the fight until getting caught by the bigger Hopkins. At first glance that may be how it appeared, but there is much more to it than that. The fact is Bernard Hopkins was the smarter and better boxer than Oscar De La Hoya. Yes, size played a role, but justifying Hopkins victory strictly to size is an injustice to him. He earned and deserves much more praise than that.

The conventional wisdom before the fight by everyone, including myself, was Hopkins had to make the fight the war that Marvin Hagler never could ignite against Sugar Ray Leonard. Everyone believed that De La Hoya would try and emulate Leonard's strategy against Hagler. Hopkins knew this, De La Hoya was no doubt planning on it, and those anticipating the fight expected it.

However, Mr. Hopkins had a different idea and completely turned the table on Mr. De La Hoya. Everyone felt De La Hoya would hold the upper hand if Hopkins had to go and look for him trying to make it a street fight. It's a fact that Hopkins is better when his opponent comes to him. But Hopkins is one of those rare fighters who can adapt to varying fighting styles. Something that many of histories greatest fighters had the capacity to do.

At the start of the fight, most were surprised when Hopkins didn't force it. De La Hoya had to be shocked and happy that Hopkins wasn't trying to impose himself physically on him. During the first five rounds the announcers were lauding De La Hoya for not running from Hopkins. They were saying De La Hoya fooled everybody and is fighting Hopkins instead of using the ring. That totally illustrates how Hopkins fooled not only De La Hoya, but the announcers and viewers as well. Hopkins said afterward that De La Hoya fighting him was a surprise. However, he said leading up to the fight that he would take Oscar out of his game and make him fight his fight. Hopkins set everybody up. What most don't understand is that the really great fighters see the whole fight even before it develops. Count Hopkins among them.

The fact is De La Hoya did not stand and fight Hopkins. The reason De La Hoya didn't move away was because Hopkins was not pressing him. De La Hoya didn't have to move, Hopkins was not trying to ignite the war we all expected. No, what Hopkins was doing was taking De La Hoya out of his fight and letting him gain confidence. Even Jim Lampley said that Hopkins was letting De La Hoya gain confidence with the way he is fighting. And that was exactly what Hopkins wanted, De La Hoya to gain confidence and think it was safe for him to engage with Hopkins. And that's exactly what transpired. Hopkins set De La Hoya up. And De La Hoya didn't even know he was being played by Hopkins leading up to the fight, saying how he was gonna jump on him from the onset. Hopkins never had any intention of going at De La Hoya like that.

What Hopkins did to De La Hoya was brilliant. Bernard Hopkins is the ultimate pro, being that he's calculating and patient, knowing exactly what he wants to do and he doesn't allow his opponent to get him out of his game. Once De La Hoya was confident and thought that he could take the fight to Hopkins and thought he was controlling it, he was finished. Now he was fighting the fight that Hopkins wanted him to fight and it was because Hopkins lured him to. Here De La Hoya was thinking that he was in control, when the reality was Hopkins was controlling him and just waiting for the right time to implement plan-B.

Once Hopkins had De La Hoya believing that it was he who was keeping Hopkins from pressing him, Hopkins turned it up and showed De La Hoya that he had nothing to do with it. De La Hoya had a pretty good sixth round and probably figured if he could pick his spots and not run out of gas, he'd be in position to steal the fight. Then Hopkins raised the rent on him.

Starting in round seven, Hopkins deemed it time to step it up and make De La Hoya fight, and that's exactly what he did. Beginning in the seventh round Hopkins started sticking De La Hoya with his jab, which proved to be even more effective than Oscar's. Once Hopkins had De La Hoya on his heels with is jab, the right hands started to come behind them stunning De La Hoya. When I say stunning him, I don't mean having him on the verge of going down, but making him panic and thinking of surviving instead of fighting.

Rounds seven and eight were very big for Hopkins. Hopkins had De La Hoya to the point where his only choices where to fight or run, but which ever he chose played to Hopkins. Anyone saying De La Hoya didn't move away from Hopkins missed what was really happening. De La Hoya didn't move away because Hopkins didn't push the fight in the early going. When Hopkins started to open up and let his hands go later in the fight, De La Hoya moved away.

Hopkins then knew De La Hoya was now concerned with just trying to stabilize the fight, which enabled Hopkins to lay it on even more. Hopkins opened round nine with a terrific right uppercut that shook De La Hoya. Bernard had Oscar flinching and reacting to his body feints and movement. Mid way through the round nine, Hopkins shot his jab out and hooked off it to the body, the punch took De La Hoya's wind in a delayed reaction and he went down. De La Hoya was unable to get up and was counted out.

In the end it was probably better that De La Hoya didn't beat the count. De La Hoya is a very courageous fighter and doesn't have any quit in him. Had he got up, he would've endured a terrible beating from Hopkins. From the beginning of the seventh round Oscar had no shot to win. Hopkins had him right where he intended him to be in the second half of the fight and there wasn't anything De La Hoya could do about it.

The lasting memory of the Hopkins-De La Hoya fight will be the left-hook to the body that Hopkins ended it with. The bottom line is Hopkins was the smarter and better fighter, not just the bigger one. What I will remember is how Bernard Hopkins out thought De La Hoya before out fighting him. Hopkins took De La Hoya out of his game and lured him to fight the fight he had intended him to fight.

Bernard Hopkins is one of the smartest and most cerebral fighters I have seen in a long time. Hopkins has solidified his legacy as a great Middleweight Champion. He's convinced me that his name from this point on must be mentioned in the same vein as Carlos Monzon and Marvin Hagler, the two most dominant Middleweight's since Sugar Ray Robinson last wore the Crown over fifty years ago.

I'm not saying that Hopkins would've defeated Monzon or Hagler, but I haven't a doubt that he is in their league as a fighter and definitely would've been in the fight with either one of them. If you doubt that, ask yourself if you think they would have knocked him out. I don't they would have. So in my opinion, he'd been in the fight.

Hopkins has the skill, brains, strength, and toughness to have competed with the top middleweights of any era. Here's a fighter who hasn't lost in eleven years. And that was a decision to Roy Jones, who everyone has told me is one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters ever. And Hopkins was more competitive against him than another great fighter was named James Toney.

Bernard Hopkins is a great fighter and must be included in any conversation regarding histories greatest Middleweight Champions.

Article posted on 20.09.2004

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