The expected happened tonight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It was how it happened that may have been unexpected.
Bernard Hopkins stopped Oscar De La Hoya at 1:38 of the 9th round to retain his status as the undisputed middleweight champion of the world. Hopkins added De La Hoya’s WBO belt to his WBC, WBA and IBF middleweight belts.
Just four months shy of his 40th birthday, Hopkins—who appeared to be starting to wear De La Hoya down as the fight neared the championship rounds—closed the show with a lethal body shot in the 9th. A jab, a dip of the shoulder and a perfectly placed left hook to the liver left De La Hoya writhing in pain and brought a finality to the ending that was startling, if only in its abruptness.
After the defeat, De La Hoya said, “I tried to do the impossible on paper — beat the middleweight champ coming up from 130 pounds.”
Surprisingly, before Hopkins lived up to his nickname, “The Executioner,” a De La Hoya victory did not seem impossible—unlikely, perhaps … but not impossible.
Hopkins seemed surprised by De La Hoya’s willingness to stand in front of him through the first 3 rounds, and it was De La Hoya who managed to catch the eye, as Hopkins’ performance bordered on pedestrian early on.
“He surprised me a bit by coming straight out and fighting with me. He didn't run and I give him a lot of credit for that,” said Hopkins.
Truthfully, it may have been smoke and mirrors more than anything else for De La Hoya. Although through the early rounds there seemed a chance Hopkins might let the fight get away from him, by the 4th and 5th rounds Hopkins was picking up the pace, and De La Hoya’s prospects seemed to be shrinking, if ever so slightly.
Through the middle rounds Hopkins seemed to sense that the fight may indeed be slipping away from him, and along with a quicker pace, he became more physical in trying to muscle De La Hoya onto the back foot. Still boxing behind the jab and the occasional lead right hand, Hopkins seemed to be taking over the fight as the middle rounds receded into the distance.
De La Hoya appeared to be slowing by the 8th round as Hopkins' blows were no longer followed up by De La Hoya counters, as had been the case in earlier rounds. De La Hoya did finish the 8th round with a left-right combination, but as Hopkins took his stool, ominously, he reminded his corner, “It was my round, it was my round.”
Then … that crunching left hook that left pain and destruction in its wake. It was textbook—found in the kind of textbooks fledgling Executioners study, such was its lethal nature.
From the moment his legs began to buckle, it was clearly over for De La Hoya. As he clawed at the canvas with a combination of desperation and frustration, Oscar De La Hoya’s dream had died a sudden and swift death. The Executioner had left his calling card in brutal fashion.
Following the fight, De la Hoya said he was “proud” of his performance, despite being stopped for the first time in his career.
“My gameplan was to keep moving and watch out for that right hand, and it was working. I put up a good fight but he just caught me. He's the middleweight champion of the world. I tried to do the impossible and I'm proud of my performance.”
Gracious in victory, Hopkins concluded, “At 39, almost 40, it was a very satisfactory win. I told my mother that I wouldn't fight past 40 but I'd love to carry on and fight Roy Jones again.”