The best way for Oscar De la Hoya and Bernard Hopkins to “sell” their upcoming mega-fight would have been to come out and blitzkrieg their respective opponents in true search-and-destroy fashion – surely something in which they've proven to be fully capable of. Then, you see, Top Rank could ride a wave of excitement right into the September 18 date.
But as often is the case in the well-laid plans of boxing promoters, that didn't exactly happen.
Both Hopkins and De la Hoya had carved out reputations for being somewhat fearsome. But both betrayed it on this evening.
They were cautious, doing just enough to win, it seemed, and acting as if all too consciously avoiding the one mistake that might jeopardize the upcoming payday. Were Oscar and Bernard looking ahead? Maybe they were.
Whatever the rationalization, they put forth uninspired performances in front of uninspiring foes. And the question now might be whether fans might be somewhat less than inspired to shell out $50 or more for the inevitable meeting between the two.
This promotion was dubbed “Collision Course”, but at the rate these guys went on Saturday, I'm wondering whether we'd even see a mild fender-bender,
For Hopkins, it's kind of a shame that this opportunity was lost, because he's never been the greatest attraction in the world, and rarely gets to share this big a stage.
As he faced off against Robert Allen, the crowd at the MGM Grand Garden roundly booed at several stages during the fight, at the final bell, and after the decision, reaffirming, I suppose, that the customer is always right.
Up until the eleventh hour, Hopkins had threatened to pull out of the fight, and thus shut down the promotion, because he objected to the Nevada State Athletic Commission appointing Joe Cortez as the referee.
His effort left many wondering whether it may have been better if he had made good on his threat.
Allen was more or less a recycled opponent – he had been stopped by Hopkins in a rematch after their first meeting ended in a bizarre no-contest when referee Mills Lane decided he wanted to be too much a part of the show, and shoved both fighters completely out of the ring.
The Georgia-based middleweight fought well in spots, but not nearly enough, and Hopkins, who calls himself “The Executioner”, evidently received a last-minute call from the Governor, because he neglected to flip the switch.
As for De la Hoya, he decided to engage in one of those “chess matches” with WBO titleholder Felix Sturm, who obliged him entirely. However, De la Hoya is not Bobby Fischer and Sturm isn't Boris Spassky. And at some point midway through the fight, the crowd was wishing that perhaps a REAL chess match might be a better thing to have broken out.
Sturm actually had the look of a pretty decent fighter. He certainly didn't embarrass himself; indeed, he lost by just two points on all three cards (I didn't see it that close). But you had the feeling he was capable of more. Sturm was supposed to be a “champion”, but in the last couple of rounds, he fought less like a guy desperate to hold on to a well-earned title than someone who was happy to survive and make a good showing. I don't know; maybe that's because titles are so easy to come by, and so perhaps we shouldn't get too excited about Oscar's sixth “championship”.
This is the kind of thing that is supposed to “legitimize” De la Hoya as a middleweight, so he can go into the Hopkins fight on a virtual “equal footing” in terms of credentials in this weight division. Ok – he has the skills to beat the Felix Sturms of the world – but for many, it brought out new questions. De la Hoya looked a lot smaller than this guy. So how does he do with Hopkins, who actually came DOWN from light heavyweight to reign for a decade as the world's best 160-pound fighter?
De la Hoya has undoubtedly become boxing's biggest star on merit, but I don't know if he has the kind of ring magic, a la Sugar Ray Leonard or Roberto Duran, to make this kind of a reach – moving up and beating an outstanding and dangerous fighter who is also bigger than he is – a description Hopkins fits.
Hopkins, on the other hand, has shown that he can look somewhat disinterested in one fight and paint a masterpiece in the next – witness the fight against Felix Trinidad.
And you know, Oscar isn't the most impossible guy in the world to hit.
De la Hoya has beaten a lot of fighters – Pernell Whitaker, Julio Cesar Chavez, Miguel Angel Gonzalez, Ike Quartey, John John Molina, Hector Camacho, Fernando Vargas, – but in a strange way, he might need the win over Hopkins to take him to that “new level” we often talk about when we refer to the pantheon of all-time greats.
Will the public be more interested, or less, after Saturday?