Hopkins-De La Hoya looks like a mismatch


Maybe my views on the fight will change as the date draws closer, but at the moment Bernard Hopkins versus Oscar De La Hoya seems slightly more delightful than waking up with a cold sore.

The middleweight matchup between two of boxing's marquee names is scheduled for Sept. 18 in Las Vegas. The contracts were signed long ago, with the stipulation each had to defeat a lesser foe last Saturday.

Both fighters complied, but they didn't exactly create a stampede for advance ticket and pay-per-view sales.

De La Hoya barely beat WBO middleweight champion Felix Sturm. The Golden Boy was fighting 27 pounds heavier than in his pro debut, and he looked like he practiced his footwork at the Bernie Kosar School of Dance.

Hopkins played with pacifist Robert Allen. The IBF, WBA and WBC king dropped Allen in the seventh round and won a lopsided unanimous decision.

One can only imagine Hopkins dominating De La Hoya in similar fashion three months from now. It won't be remotely close, and that was plainly evident based on what we saw Saturday.

Sports fans who felt unfulfilled after watching Smarty Jones miss the Triple Crown by thismuch, must have felt downright empty after shelling out $49.95 to watch a bad infomercial for Sept. 18. Veg-O-Matic inventor Ron Popeil would be ashamed.

Hopkins-De La Hoya appeared to be the biggest bout for the remainder of the year, with little else to thrill the general public aside from Mike Tyson's eleventy-sixth comeback.

Marco Antonio Barrera against Paulie Ayala on June 19 has some cachet, but not as much as it would have had two years ago, when both were closer to their primes. Erik Morales and Carlos Hernandez on July 31 should be a wonderful action fight, but how many people know Hernandez? Felix Trinidad and Ricardo Mayorga on Oct. 2 will be intriguing, but Trinidad is returning from a 2½-year layoff and was supposed to fight Shane Mosley instead.

No heavyweight title matchups have been scheduled. Roy Jones Jr., Wladimir Klitschko and Mosley are putting their careers back together. Kostya Tszyu has been seen less frequently than "Arli$$."

At least Hopkins and De La Hoya could satisfy our pugilistic hunger, right? They're two of the best pound-for-pound boxers of the past decade, and they'll square off in a bout that could enhance each fighter's Hall of Fame legacy.

If Saturday night's action is any indication, however, it won't be easy to get enthused.

The performances were so lackluster that a pair of fights outside of the ring turned out to be more interesting.

A feud between MaxBoxing.com columnist Michael Katz and Boston Globe reporter Ron Borges, winners of the prestigious Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism, came to a head when they exchanged insults, squared off and landed in a heap with promoter Bob Arum and publicist Lee Samuels. One report stated a Top Rank employee pulled a Secret Service maneuver and covered Arum because the employee thought he heard gunshots.

Hopkins also sparred with the Nevada State Athletic Commission over the selection of referee Joe Cortez. Hopkins was concerned Cortez, of Puerto Rican descent, would be prejudiced by Hopkins' actions before his landmark victory over Trinidad nearly three years ago. Hopkins had thrown beans and rice at Trinidad and tossed a Puerto Rican flag to the ground, inciting the proud island nation.

Hopkins threatened to pull out of the fight if Cortez remained the referee. The ploy would've scrubbed not only Saturday night's card, but also the Sept. 18 event, costing Top Rank, HBO and the MGM Grand millions of dollars. The NSAC and Cortez held firm, however, and Hopkins acquiesced.

Neither Cortez, Allen nor Father Time hindered the 39-year-old Hopkins. The Executioner's biggest problem in reaching his lucrative date with De La Hoya apparently was Sturm.

While Allen landed an average of only 5.9 punches per round, Sturm wasn't nearly as cooperative against De La Hoya.

De La Hoya was a 7-to-1 favorite over the undefeated, relatively anonymous German. That seemed proper through the fight's first few minutes. De La Hoya, fighting at middleweight for the first time, looked the part with a furious start. But Sturm wasn't intimidated, not by De La Hoya's resume or the weight of his first U.S. appearance.

Sturm controlled much of the fight with a jab that would make Buster Douglas smile. De La Hoya's head snapped back repeatedly. His nose was bloodied. He looked woefully out of shape -- if not suddenly old -- in his first fight since losing to Mosley nine months earlier.

De La Hoya won the 12th round according to all three judges, each of whom called him the 115-113 winner. Many unofficial ringside scorers disputed the decision. Even though Sturm's lack of power was evident, he did land more punches while throwing fewer.

"I know Oscar is a big name, the biggest in the business, and that Oscar is a great champion, but I think everybody in the world saw who is the better fighter," said Sturm, who made his pro debut after De La Hoya already had 34 fights. "If Oscar loves the sport, he'll give me a rematch. If he loves money, he'll fight Bernard."

Welcome to America, Mr. Sturm. And don't hold your breath for that rematch.

Reports have estimated De La Hoya will make around $30 million on Sept. 18, while Hopkins will receive closer to $10 million.

The only reason for De La Hoya to walk away from the bout -- and the contracts allow it in exchange for $3 million payable to Hopkins -- is the realization he's almost certainly going to lose.

Hopkins, despite his age, doesn't look any older than he did when he destroyed Trinidad. De La Hoya, meanwhile, has shown a steady decline each of the six times he has moved up in weight to the point he was controlled by an unknown named Sturm.

Ho hum.

Just a few months ago only the heavyweight division looked dull.

Now it's the whole damn sport.

Tim Graham covers boxing for The Buffalo News and is a contributor to ESPN.com.