- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 19, 2004

LAS VEGAS — Bernard Hopkins beat Oscar De La Hoya around the ring for eight rounds, then finished him off with a devastating body shot early in the ninth round at the MGM Grand Garden to retain the undisputed middleweight championship and take his place among boxing’s all-time greats.

The older Hopkins consistently beat the younger De La Hoya to the punch with his jab, then cornered De La Hoya in the ninth round and landed a powerful shot to the ribs that put De La Hoya on the canvas at 1:38 of the round, leaving him rolling around in pain and unable to get up before being counted out.

The win for the 39-year-old Hopkins (45-2-1) is vindication for what has been a controversial and combative career. The Philadelphia middleweight has battled promoters and the powers that run boxing throughout his career, in courts with lawsuits and in front of legislative bodies testifying in favor of boxing reform.

Before last night’s fight, he said although he may have made mistakes along the way, he sought control of his own career and wanted to do this his way.

“I did it like Frankie,” Hopkins said, referring to Frank Sinatra’s late-career theme song. “I did it my way.”

He certainly did, earning between $10million and $15million for last night’s fight and cementing his place, with his 20th title defense, as one of the greatest middleweights of all time. And he could have another big fight in his future, a possible rematch against Roy Jones Jr., who was the last boxer to defeat Hopkins, winning a 12-round decision on the undercard of the Riddick Bowe-Jesse Ferguson heavyweight title fight at RFK Stadium on May 22, 1993.

The loss likely means the end of De La Hoya’s career, which began in 1992, shortly after he won an Olympic gold medal in Barcelona, and included world championships in five weight classes, from 130 pounds to 154 pounds. If you include the less recognized World Boxing Organization middleweight crown De La Hoya (37-4) had going into yesterday’s fight, he was a champion in six classes.

De La Hoya, 31, has had an illustrious career, with wins over some of the top fighters of his era, such as Rafael Ruelas, Julio Cesar Chavez, Ike Quartey and Pernell Whitaker. But his career began to derail when he suffered his first loss, a controversial defeat by Felix Trinidad four years ago. That was a fight that many ringside observers believed De La Hoya won, but ultimately he lost when he chose to run from Trinidad in the final three rounds, believing he had a comfortable lead.

Since then, De La Hoya has been erratic, losing a year later to Shane Mosley, then coming back two years later with an impressive win over Fernando Vargas, stopping him in 11 rounds. But in 2003, he suffered another loss to Mosley even though, again, many — including Hopkins himself — believed De La Hoya won.

He followed that with a lackluster performance this June, moving up from 154 pounds to the middleweight division to score a narrow decision over unheralded Felix Sturm.

Despite these setbacks, the charismatic De La Hoya, who earned between $30million and $35million for last night’s fight, has remained extremely popular with fans and is the biggest non-heavyweight earner in boxing history. Before last night, in 15 pay-per-view fights, De La Hoya drew 8.5 million buys and $388.3million in revenue.

He also has branched out into boxing promotion and other ventures, including the Fox TV reality program, “The Next Great Champ.” He has little reason to continue fighting at this point and said before last night’s fight that this fight “would define my career.” What it did was probably end it.

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