Trinidad vs. De La Hoya - Who Really Won?

06.01.05 - By James Slater: As we await the return to the ring of Oscar De La Hoya I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at a fight of his that still invokes huge debate, some six plus years on, as to its real winner. The subject of Trinidad v De La Hoya is perfect material for a discussion or friendly argument between boxing fans in a bar. And indeed it has caused some heated verbal exchanges too! Some feel Trinidad deserved the win which put the first loss on the De La Hoya resume, while others claim Oscar was the victim of a terrible decision by the judges, either due to incompetence or even something more sinister. No proof exists of any wrong doing but I add my name to the list of people who feel Oscar was shafted. To my mind there is just no way Felix won.

Some readers may feel I am simply biased in favour of De La Hoya. And it is true that I am a huge fan of his. But I also greatly admire Trinidad too. I was gutted when Bernard Hopkins Beat “Tito”. I wanted to see him prove he was the best middleweight in the world and then move on to the final phase of his goal, which, if you recall, was the acquiring of a super fight at super middleweight with the great Roy Jones jnr.

Maybe, in hindsight, this would have been an easy night for Jones. But the point is, Trinidad had what it took to dare to be great. For that alone I will always be a fan. So you see, the notion that I wrote this article while being biased in favour of Oscar De La Hoya carries no merit whatsoever. I simply feel, in my heart, that Oscar beat Felix.

With Trinidad now in (presumably) permanent retirement it’s also worth noting that the blueprint Bernard Hopkins, and later Winky Wright , would use to defeat “Tito” was first put down by De La Hoya. He showed, with his slick boxing skills, how much movement frustrated Trinidad. And, but for the fade out in the late rounds, these tactics worked perfectly against an aggressive minded puncher like Felix. Even Trinidad’s most ardent fans have to admit that, at the very least, “The Golden Boy” was the first fighter to expose the weaknesses among Trinidad’s many strengths. If not for his fight with Oscar then perhaps the two men who went on to defeat him would have used different styles of fighting in an effort to attain victory, and the results could have been vastly altered. Who knows? It’s always fun to debate. At least it is if you take it in the right spirit. It should be fun, but no more than that. Therefore, I hope the article you are now reading will be taken in this very way.

The Trinidad v De La Hoya fight was an absolutely huge promotion. It would go on to be ranked near the very top of the list of most successfully sold boxing matches on pay per view. The fight generated millions. It was the biggest fight at welterweight since the Leonard v Hearns classic from back in 1981 and immediately it drew comparisons. As with Ray and Tommy, both men were unbeaten, both held a version of the title, and both were the best in the world at the weight and in their primes. Everyone wanted to see this match up and, on September18th 1999, both boxers entered the ring intent on a most glorious victory.

After a very cautious start by both men Oscar slipped into his game plan of boxing smartly. Beforehand many had predicted a short and violent slugfest, but the fight shaped up as just the opposite. A fascinating and incredibly skilful game of chess ensued with Oscar giving Trinidad a thorough boxing lesson throughout the lion’s share of the first nine rounds. “Tito” appeared completely baffled at times and couldn’t get any of his big punches home. He was being frustrated and had no idea how to nullify De La Hoya’s perfect tactics. But then, in what was to become the talking point not only of the fight but also of his career up until that point, De La Hoya decided to coast in the last three rounds. He gave these rounds away making the mistake of believing he was way ahead on points and was therefore simply preserving an insurmountable lead. Why mix it with a huge puncher so late in the fight when fatigued? However sound this approach may have seemed to him and his corner, the judges must have been watching something else because they scored the fight a Trinidad win. Felix was awarded a majority verdict - two cards had him winning, the third had it all even. I find it amazing that not even one judge gave Oscar the nod.

“Tito’s” countrymen, who were in attendance in vast numbers, went wild! He is idolised to this day in his homeland of Puerto Rico and at the time his defeat was an utterly unthinkable prospect. Many people do tire from controversies in the sport and this fight certainly, and quickly, became one. It would have been nice for once to have had a verdict that everyone was happy with, especially in a mega fight such as this. But then again, as Angelo Dundee once said, “Controversy is dynamite, it makes people want to see some more.” And we fans never stop watching do we? This was now the third, and by far the most ,debateable decision in De La Hoya’s career (the Pernell Whitaker and Ike Quartey fights being the other two). Had he closed the show as he had usually done then victory would have been his. Some saw him, as he coasted in the late rounds, as a scared fighter unwilling to stand and trade as he should have. Maybe they have a point but in no way did Trinidad win the fight. Yes, Oscar gave these rounds away but since when do these rounds earn you more points than the early or middle ones? There were no knockdowns in the fight so all the rounds were presumably scored 10-9 or 10-10, and as Oscar clearly won at least seven of the first nine, ( I defy anyone to make a case for giving Trinidad any more than two of the first nine) then how could Trinidad have possibly been entitled to a winning points verdict? He couldn’t have, and De La Hoya was robbed. It’s that simple. I would argue a De La Hoya victory with anyone.

In the record books though, it will forever read - Trinidad Wm 12 De La Hoya. And this “loss”, not to mention the mauling he received from most in the press afterwards, hurt him. His first ever pro defeat. He was man enough to accept losing, but not when it was forced on him in such a shoddy manner.

He did however, have some people on his side. No less visible and important a figure than Mike Tyson said afterwards, “The decision stunk!”

A rematch would have been great and I suspect a totally different fight would have occurred had we seen one. Oscar certainly did seem to want one, judging by his immediate post -fight comments. But boxing fans were the real losers in this regard, as Trinidad would soon move up to light middleweight, De La Hoya to defeat at the hands of Shane Mosley, and their paths would unfortunately not cross, in a ring at least, again.

Oscar and Felix left one of the most talked about and controversial chapters in welterweight history in their wake. The question before the fight was, “Who do you think will win?”, the question after the fight was, “Who do you think DID win?” With regard to this last question; over half a decade later not much has changed.

Article posted on 07.01.2006

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