De La Hoya looking forward to Hopkins
When Oscar De La Hoya announced his plans to step up to middleweight and take on the 160-pound division's ruthless ruler, Bernard Hopkins, even casual fans and general sports columnists said he was crazy.
Most boxing insiders and hardcore fight fans agreed with that notion, saying Hopkins would give De La Hoya the worst beating of his life. However, many would add to that statement, "... if Oscar actually goes through with the fight."
The longtime observers and industry folk were (and continue to be) skeptical that the middleweight showdown (scheduled for Sept. 18 now that Hopkins easily outpointed Robert Allen and De La Hoya won a controversial decision against Felix Sturm) would take place.
Both De La Hoya and Hopkins figure to make eight-figure paydays by fighting each other, but the Golden Boy doesn't need to face the Executioner to collect that kind of dough. A third fight with Shane Mosley or rematches with Felix Trinidad or Fernando Vargas would earn him just as much money (if not more) than his challenge of Hopkins -- at considerably less risk to his health and reputation.
Trinidad is scheduled to take on wild former welterweight champ Ricardo Mayorga on Oct. 2, three weeks after the date De La Hoya and Hopkins are supposed to fight. A popular line of thought is that if De La Hoya looks shaky versus Sturm, there will be no Hopkins-De La Hoya in September, but rather a 2005 mega-rematch between Tito and the Golden One if the Puerto Rican takes care of Mayorga.
De La Hoya put to rest those rumors when he answered the first question posed to him during a conference call with the media.
"I can give you my word," De La Hoya said, "If I win and he wins, we'll go head to head."
De La Hoya later admitted that he did have some second thoughts after signing to fight Hopkins, boxing's longest reigning world champion and MaxBoxing's choice as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world now that Roy Jones Jr. has been dethroned.
"I had some nerves early on when the fight was first made," he said, "but since training camp, I feel much better. Putting on the extra weight and sparring with much bigger guys in the gym has given me confidence, and I'm actually looking forward to fighting Hopkins."
De La Hoya couldn't overlook Sturm, the 25-year-old WBO middleweight title holder, who was undefeated at 20-1 (9 KOs) before Saturday night's fight, but also green and untested.
De La Hoya provided this pre-fight assessment of his June 5 opponent:
"He's young, so he's going to have more energy than me. From the tapes I've seen, he has a very good jab and he punches in combination, but he is open to the body, which we can work on in the fight, hopefully. I think his desire to win is his biggest asset. He's undefeated and he doesn't want to lose.
"He reminds me a lot of myself before I fought Julio Cesar Chavez. I was only 25 or 26 and I was fighting my idol, but I was so young none of that mattered."
He couldn't have been more right.
And the young German title holder nearly found a way to win. Landing 234 of 541 punches to De La Hoya's 188 of 792, Sturm was understandably upset by the loss, finally accepting it as his being the man in the way of a famous American fighter on his way to a big payday.
De La Hoya was asked before the fight if he had any alternative plans should he lose to the German.
"I've thought about that," De La Hoya said. "There's a lot of options for me. There's Trinidad. There's Shane Mosley, who I've still got to get that win against. There's Winky Wright and all these fighters who want to fight me.
"But my focus is on Hopkins. I want him. I have a good feeling that Hopkins will win his fight in dramatic way and I'll hopefully win in a good way."
"Good" is not exactly what happened. The Golden Boy himself admitted as much in his postfight interview, saying his was disappointed in his performance, and that he didn't fight as he'd expected to. He conceded that Sturm was a tougher opponent that he'd imagined.
Easy to say for a new middleweight champion, albiet one with a lightly regarded title.
Bigger not necessarily better
Ultimately, boxing history shows us that even all-time great fighters -- from Mickey Walker to Thomas "Hitman" Hearns -- lose when they step up from welterweight to battle a dominant middleweight champ.
Walker was an unholy terror at welterweight. He was tough enough and strong enough to beat some of the best light heavyweights and heavyweights of his era, but all-time great middleweight champ Harry Greb put the smaller man in his place.
Henry Armstrong overwhelmed everyone he fought from featherweight to welterweight, including 147-pound contender-turned-middleweight champ Ceferino Garcia. But when the two fought at 160 pounds for Garcia's middleweight title, all "Homicide Hank" could muster was a 10-round draw.
Kid Gavilan lost to Bobo Olson. Luis Rodriguez outboxed Nino Benvenuti for 11 rounds until the Italian star caught him with a single left hook. Jose Napoles and Emile Griffin were both subdued by the greater size and strength of Carlos Monzon, just as Roberto Duran and Hearns were when they took on Marvin Hagler.
Only every now and then a talented smaller man beats a great middleweight champ -- especially when that middleweight is getting long in the tooth. Ray Leonard's decision win over Hagler back in '87 is the fight that most De La Hoya fans look to when trying to make a case for their man.
Leonard began preparing for Hagler, mentally and physically, after watching the "Marvelous One" struggle with John "the Beast" Mugabi in '86. De La Hoya told the press that by the time he and Hopkins step into the ring in September, he will have had six months of preparation for the biggest fight of his life, plus a very tough 160-pound proving-ground bout under his belt.
"I think it's going to benefit me," De La Hoya said of the Sturm fight. "I won't get out of shape. I'll take a week off and then build some more muscle."
Bulking up the 'correct' way
De La Hoya says he is preparing for Hopkins by sparring with bigger fighters and by working with weights "the correct way."
And what is the "correct way"? Well, it doesn't include power lifting, which is what Shane Mosley -- who is rumored to be able to bench-press anywhere from 300 to 500 pounds -- did to literally bulk up from lightweight to welterweight and then junior middleweight.
"I mostly do a lot of reps," De La Hoya told this boxing writer during the conference call, "30 or 40 pounds, just to build mass while retaining speed. I also do a lot of work with the medicine ball, using a 10-pound ball with various exercises. The idea is to capture the explosiveness."
De La Hoya also said he is working with bigger sparring partners than usual. De La Hoya admitted to MaxBoxing's David Avila that he's been putting in quality rounds with the Andrade brothers, two Orange County-based super middleweight prospects who fight for his promotional company. Enrique (Ornelas) Andrade is currently 17-0 (11). Librado Andrade, 18-0 (13), battered fellow undefeated prospect Willie Stewart in his last bout. Stewart is a talented boxer that Hopkins has used for sparring on many occasions.
The Andrade brothers are young, strong and hungry -- perfect preparation for both Sturm and Hopkins, De La Hoya says.
"I want to feel the power and the pressure from them," De La Hoya told Avila. "I want to feel the strength I'll experience fighting middleweights. The Andrade brothers are really light heavyweights. They come in the gym weighing 185 pounds."
Getting down and dirty in the trenches
De La Hoya said that he will spar between six and 10 rounds on a given day with the Andrade brothers and that part of their ring work includes deliberate clinches and grappling, something Hopkins is a master at employing in the ring (particularly borderline fouls and roughhouse tactics when the referee isn't looking).
Even Leonard had to eventually stand his ground against the ever-charging Hagler during the late rounds of their classic encounter, producing the most compelling moments of that fight. De La Hoya knows that he won't be able to simply stick-and-move his way to a clear-cut victory versus a veteran as adept at cutting off the ring as Hopkins is. So he wants to be ready for it.
"At some point in the fight we're going to stand there and go at it," he said. "That's why there's some wrestling and clinching with the Andrade brothers. I feel their power and their weight and I do well.
"People will be surprised. I can fight on the inside. You've seen a little bit of it from me in the past, I've done it a few times, but hopefully I can put it all together and fight a perfect fight against Hopkins."
He will have to do just that if he hopes to equal Leonard's 17-year-old feat.
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