Oscar De La Hoya has never been blown away in a boxing ring. There is a chance that might happen Saturday. Which is why we'll see the best De La Hoya since 1995.
Nineteen-ninety five. Nine years ago. That's when De La Hoya made his first impressions on boxing. He struggled with John-John Molina in February, then proceeded to show why all those boxing experts were so high on him in the amateurs.
First, in May, Rafael Ruelas - which ended in a blistering second-round knockout that may still be the best performance of his career. Then came a September knockout of Genaro Hernandez, a tough hombre whom he made quit because his left uppercut had shattered "Chicanito's" nose. At the time, Ruelas and Hernandez were considered the two toughest opponents in the lightweight division.
He took care of both with remarkable ease.
He finished out the year in December with a second-round blastout of Jesse James Leija - a victory that is even more impressive as Leija continues to notch big upsets of future stars like Panchito Bojado.
Some may argue that 1997 was a better 12 months for the "Golden Boy" - and victories over Miguel Angel Gonzalez, Pernell Whitaker, David Kamau and Wilfredo Rivera are certainly impressive.
Whether you think 1995 or '97 was the best Oscar De La Hoya we've seen - that is how he'll have to perform if he has any hopes of defeating Hopkins. Back then, he seemed more focused, more determined, to reach his goal of becoming an all-time great.
There were no record deals or television shows or promotional companies. It was just Oscar De La Hoya, aspiring all-time great. He was always in shape, always prepared to the best of his ability.
Compare that to June, when De La Hoya entered the ring against Felix Sturm with love handles and trunks that seemed to be recovered from his teenage days. His lack of conditioning showed down the stretch, and it was probably a result of a combination of distractions. After the fight, he was disappointed. Disappointed because he knew, in his heart of hearts, he almost blew a multi-million dollar extravaganza because he let himself be distracted.
Whether he wins or loses Saturday, he will not allow distractions to dictate his fate. He will go back to the De La Hoya of old - the fighting machine who was single-minded in his focus, the guy with blazing fists, endless amounts of energy and quick feet.
We haven't seen that De La Hoya in a while. Sure, he looked decent against the likes of Shane Mosley and Fernando Vargas. But, even in those fights, he seemed to only be fighting at about 85 percent. He was good - but not as good as he could be.
He knows he can't get away with that against Hopkins. Which is why we'll see the best De La Hoya we've seen since 1995.
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