A decade ago today, Oscar De La Hoya, the number-one star and Box Office draw of the sport, fought a then largely unknown Felix Sturm in what was “The Golden Boy’s” first fight up at middleweight.
For De La Hoya, the fight, held at The MGM Grand in Las Vegas, was supposed to be a high-level “warm up” for an assault on world middleweight king Bernard Hopkins’ belts (B-Hop defeated Robert Allen on the same card that June night in 2004), but the fight turned out to be much more than that.
Challenging the 20-0 German for the WBO belt, De La Hoya came in looking overweight and sluggish and he came within a whisker of paying the price and blowing the Hopkins mega-match. Sturm may have been unknown, but he had behind him a superb amateur career and he unveiled his skills against the 36-3 superstar who, at age 31 was six years his senior. Sturm boxed behind his superb left jab, out-punched De La Hoya, marked him up around the eye and generally appeared to boss the fight.
De La Hoya had his moments, but the extra weight he was lugging around (excess poundage that brought him much derision from the U.S media) saw him able to fight in spurts only. With a nervous Hopkins watching the fight from his dressing room, De La Hoya had his hand raised at the end of 12 engrossing rounds. Three identical scores of 115-113 were announced, and immediately boos rang out and the debate began: had Oscar been given a win merely because the Hopkins clash was too rich to lose?
De La Hoya got himself in far better condition for the fight with the Philadelphian legend three months later, yet once again the superstar who had won his first world title down at super-featherweight found out he was no middleweight. Stopped by a Hopkins body shot in the 9th-round of a competitive fight, Oscar’s 160-pound days had come to an end.
As for Sturm, he won an army of new fans with his display against De La Hoya, and in the coming years he would more than prove his worth; winning both the WBA (twice) and IBF middleweight titles and reigning, off and on, from 2006 right up until last month.
De La Hoya was, in the opinion of many, the victim of a bad decision a couple of times in his career (the 1999 loss to Felix Trinidad most famously), yet Oscar was given the benefit of the doubt in his fight with Sturm. This weekend, De La Hoya (and Trinidad) will be inducted into The Hall of Fame, and rightly so. The night he barely defeated Felix Sturm is not likely to be a subject Oscar brings up during his speech at Canastota.