- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 18, 2004

LAS VEGAS. — Someday — maybe as early as tomorrow — they won’t have Oscar De La Hoya to kick around in Las Vegas anymore. Then what will be sold as a big fight there?

DaVarryl Williamson vs. Wladimir Klitschko next month at Caesars Palace? Williamson, who goes by the nickname “Touch of Sleep,” is best known for being knocked out in one round by Joe Mesi, who can’t fight anymore because of bleeding in his brain. And Wladimir Klitschko’s last two fights after he was knocked out by opponents who figured to have no chance.

How will Caesars promote this fight? “Touch of Sleep” vs. “Can’t Stay Awake”?

Or what about a Winky Wright vs. Shane Mosley rematch (Wright won the first fight in a dismal performance by Mosley) at Mandalay Bay? An intriguing fight for boxing fans, but let’s face it — any buzz created by a Winky Wright fight would be from the flies hovering around the ticket windows.

How about the other Klitschko, Vitali, who holds one of the versions of the heavyweight championship, vs. Danny Williams, a British club fighter who was best known for crying before he entered the ring until he pummeled Mike Tyson two months ago in Louisville? A champion from the Ukraine against a British heavyweight? That fight could be in the Kurt Waldheim room at the United Nations, and there would still be empty seats.

So it will be curious to see the outcome of tonight’s fight at the MGM Grand Garden pitting De La Hoya, a 2-1 underdog, against undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins, if it comes down to a decision. What if De La Hoya can use his quickness to create the illusion of victory? That is what the De La Hoya camp is counting on: stealing the fight from Hopkins.

This fight is being compared to the Marvin Hagler-Sugar Ray Leonard fight in 1987, when Leonard came out of a three-year retirement to move up in weight and fight Hagler, considered one of the greatest middleweight champions of all time. Leonard won a controversial decision, and it has been widely acknowledged the way he did it was to steal rounds, fighting in flurries in the last 30 seconds to impress the judges.

“Oscar could steal some rounds,” said his promoter, Bob Arum. “It worked for Leonard, and it could work for Oscar.”

The difference between De La Hoya and Leonard, though, is there was no doubt judges loved Leonard. That was evident again two years later when he got a draw in his rematch with Tommy Hearns, a fight Leonard admits today Hearns probably won.

The same cannot be said for De La Hoya, who has been a financial boom to boxing with sellout crowds and nearly $400million in pay-per-view revenue but arguably has had fights stolen from him in Las Vegas.

The most glaring theft was the first loss of his career against Felix Trinidad four years ago. De La Hoya dominated Trinidad for nine rounds, but believing he was clearly ahead — as nearly everyone else in the arena did that night — he literally ran away from Trinidad for the last three rounds. But when the fight ended, one judge had it scored a draw while two others slightly favored Trinidad.

It may have been justice, given the pathetic way De La Hoya ran in the last three rounds. But it was clearly the wrong decision, and it infuriated Arum so much he threatened to keep De La Hoya out of Las Vegas for future fights. He didn’t carry out on that threat, but in two of De La Hoya’s following fights — both against Mosley — the decisions were disputed, particularly in their rematch in September 2003. Yet some observers believed De La Hoya received overly favorable judges decisions at times, such as his win over Pernell Whitaker in April 1997.

Nevada Athletic Commission chairman Marc Ratner submitted a list of nine judges to pick from. Hopkins did not turn down any of the names. De La Hoya did, although it is unknown who or how many. Two of the judges tonight gave De La Hoya a narrow victory over Felix Sturm in June, while the third has never worked a fight this big.

Ultimately, Hopkins is counting on his fists doing the judging, and that should be good enough to stop De La Hoya in the 11th round. He is just too strong, too determined and, unlike Hagler in 1987, too smart to let De La Hoya dictate the fight. The Oscar De La Hoya money train stops tonight. Then a little red wagon can be used for the money that will be made in Las Vegas on boxing.

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