June 11 2004

De la Hoya Struggles To Victory

By Fiona Manning

Oscar de la Hoya promised a definitive performance in his quest to attain his sixth world title in six different weight divisions last Saturday night, but his close points victory over deposed WBO middleweight champ Felix Sturm raised more questions than it answered.

By most ringside observers, de la Hoya lost this bout despite the official verdict of 115-113 by all three judges.

He won the battle however and is now set to fight undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins on September 18.

Whatever happened in the ring at MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Saturday night, the most interesting fights occurred out of the ring.

First off, Hopkins, who co-headlined in a third yawn-fest with Robert Allen and cruised to victory there, was apparently disgruntled with the choice of Joe Cortez as referee and even went so far as going to the airport to return home to Philadelphia.

He was coaxed back to the casino by handlers who managed to convince him that leaving would wreck his chances of a lucrative super-fight with de la Hoya.

There was also an interesting fist-fight in the media center between to elderly and revered fight writers, Ron Borges and Mike Katz. Katz accused Borges of being a Don King “toadie” and Borges responded with a punch (or a slap depending on who’s telling the story).

Promotional outfit Top Rank staff – including septuagenarian CEO Bob Arum were injured in the ensuing scuffle when Katz went after Borges with his ever-present walking stick.

But back to the fight.

De la Hoya (37-3, 29KOs) was able to wrestle away the WBO middleweight crown from little known Felix Sturm (20-1, 9KOS) but he had a much tougher time then many expected with the light-hitting German slugger.

This leaves the question of de la Hoya’s ability to compete successfully in the middleweight class.

De la Hoya started the opening round of the bout banging severe thunder to the body of Sturm who remained calm and collected throughout the assault, displaying a tight defense that prevented de la Hoya from slamming him with those same shots upstairs.

Sturm was able to showcase his own arsenal of weapons in the second, flicking a lighting quick jab that often snapped the “Golden Boy’s” head back.

Along with his beautiful jab, Sturm began to mix in lead left hooks and right hands, landing cleanly on de la Hoya whenever he let his hands go. By the third round Sturm had connected enough to bloody the nose of de la Hoya.

De la Hoya’s technique for the first five rounds would be to attempt to steal moments at the end of each round – and hopefully the actual round.

Even though he was briefly wobbled in the fourth round, Sturm came out for the fifth, just as confident and willing to trade, as he had been all fight long. His willingness to mix it up allowed him to land a crushing left hook to the face of de la Hoya that had the packed MGM crowd on their feet.

De la Hoya began to show signs of slowing down in the seventh and eighth rounds, but used his ring experience to fight in spurts, trying once again to steal the rounds.

Sturm was able to land flush on de la Hoya all night long, causing slight swelling to his left eye. However, he often had moments where he would allow de la Hoya to rest without pressing the action.

When Sturm came out for round eleven in the southpaw stance and quickly began to land his straight left hand with great precision, press row members were predicting a Strum win.

The move to southpaw was an excellent change of strategy for Sturm because throughout the fight he could not miss de la Hoya’s nose with his long left jab. When he switched to southpaw, he was still landing with the left hand, but it was now his power hand.

After popping de la Hoya in the mug a few times with his power left hands, the “Golden Boy” quickly answered back with his own furious combinations that had Sturm covering up. However, Sturm would not wilt and responded by landing a crushing body shot that stopped de la Hoya in his tracks.

The final round of the fight was more of the same. De la Hoya sucked it up and began right where he left off in the eleventh, throwing wicked combination shots to the head of Sturm. Not to be out done, Sturm fired back with his own right hands and the two traded evenly as they had done most of the night.

Interestingly, most observers had the fight 115—113 either in favor of de la Hoya or Sturm. Despite the closeness of the fight, de la Hoya will probably not give him a rematch. He wants Hopkins, and then according to Oscar, he wants to retire.

The best bout of the night was the recapturing of the WBC lightweight crown by Mexican champion Jose Luis Castillo (50-6-1, 45KOS). He broke Juan Lazcano (33-2-1, 25KOS) up in the second round, busting it in three places.

Lazcano, all heart that he is, stayed the distance but it was a clear-cut twelve round unanimous decision win for Castillo who lost this same championship under great controversy three years ago to Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Castillo had predicted that his bout with Lazcano would not go five rounds, but it was evident early in the fight that Lazcano was not looking to exit early. Castillo pressed the fight from the opening bell and never looked back.

Lazcano appeared to be extremely hesitant in the first few rounds, but Castillo was so focused on landing those thunderous shots that he did not take full advantage of the lack of punch out put from his opponent.

Castillo started to connect flush in the third round, and Lazcano looked seriously outgunned in the match, beginning to hold on the inside.

Lazcano started to come to life in the fifth round, letting his punches go and connecting with flush right hands to the granite chin of Castillo. The only problem for Lazcano was he was way behind in the fight and was now forced to deal with a rapidly swelling left eye.

As the rounds progressed things would not get much better for Lazcano as his face began to seriously deteriorate. As his face was falling apart, he actually began to show more incentive and landed some serious leather on Castillo that probably would have dropped many of the other lightweights in the division.

In the ninth round, one of those right hand power shots from Lazcano landed flush and almost sent Castillo to the canvas, knocking him into the ring ropes. Castillo shrugged of the shot and went right back into battle.

By the eleventh round many were questioning if Lazcano’s face would hold up long enough for him to hear the final bell. Both of his eyes were swollen, and his nose was practically flattened.

Though sheer guts allowed Lazcano to hear the final bell, it was obvious that Castillo had won the fight. You had to wonder why Lazcano’s corner allowed him to take such a sustained torture session.

With scores of 117-111, 116-112 and 115-113 all for Castillo, it seems senseless as well as tragic.

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