It was like listening to the chief architect explain why his bridge collapsed. Or hearing the vice-president of marketing claim the devastating drop in sales was only a minor setback.

It was two guys with leaky tin cans trying to bail out a sinking ship, the USS Arum. If they can just keep it afloat a little while longer – if they can plug up most of the gaping holes – they’ll each stand to make over $10 million in a few months, which is a pretty good reason to keep bailing.

“What can I say?” said Oscar De La Hoya following his lackluster, close win over unknown Felix Sturm on Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. “I have to say I underestimated Felix Sturm. One hundred sixty pounds is a tough weight division.”

While De La Hoya struggled, middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins, fighting contender Robert Allen on the same card, fought like he was trying to save an opportunity rather than seize one, which was probably the right thing to do. He couldn’t afford to get cut or to lose, not with millions riding on the outcome. So he became a cautious fighter, and that’s always a boring one. Hopkins coasted to his win over Allen, but it wasn’t a pretty ride.

Still, the floundering ship needed help. September 18, the day Hopkins is scheduled to fight De La Hoya in the big “mega-bucks” fight is just around the corner.

“I thought (De La Hoya) fought good,” Hopkins said, trying to do a little
damage control. “I mean, he took all of Sturm’s punches. He didn’t seem hurt to me at any time.”

Spoken like a guy wisely promoting his own fight. Of course Sturm, with only nine knockouts in 21 fights, hasn’t made a career of ringing a fighter’s bell. If he had rung De La Hoya’s, I wouldn’t be writing this column.

“History is in front of me in September, so I have no choice but to be in tiptop shape,” De La Hoya said, trying to do his part to straighten the ship. “Starting this day, I prepare for Hopkins.” Well, in a couple days, anyway.

Face it. A little of the luster rubbed off promoter Bob Arum’s big, shiny apple on Saturday night. In those two “tune-up” fights that were designed to set the stage for the “blockbuster” fight in September, Hopkins and De La Hoya didn’t exactly bring the house down. Against two fighters recognized only in their own neighborhood, the two future Boxing Hall of Famers didn’t do anything to make you think of Hagler – Hearns.

Based on what we saw Saturday night, the fight they’re billing as the “Collision Course,” could end up being little more than a fender bender. The real loser Saturday night was public relations.

Maybe that’s why they should rename the fight, call it something more appropriate, like “The Main Course,” which is something De La Hoya apparently didn’t pass on too many times as he got ready to move up to the middleweight division for his fight with Sturm.

Though he didn’t appear to run out of gas in the later rounds like he sometimes does, De La Hoya also didn’t have the hard look of a guy getting ready to go 12 fast rounds. Instead of adding eight pounds of muscle to his frame, it appeared as though he added eight pounds of mom’s homemade apple pie.

But it’s Hopkins who is licking his lips.