Don’t buy Hopkins-de la Hoya tuneups

May 25, 2004 6:06 AM

On the surface, it looks like an infomercial for which you have to shell out $50. The June 5 card at the MGM Grand Arena is obviously an advertisement for a proposed Sept. 18 meeting between two of boxing’s biggest stars, Oscar de la Hoya challenging longtime middleweight king Bernard Hopkins.

Even so, and with no important fight worthy of our attention in the weekend prior, the pay-per-view show warrants consideration. Believe me, no one is going to tout a Felix Sturm-Robert Allen parlay, which probably should pay 225-1 or some other Lotto-type number.

No, this is not about betting on the June 5 double-header — de la Hoya challenging the undefeated and virtually unseen German, Sturm, for the meaningless WBO middleweight 160-pound title, and Hopkins defending his undisputed (not even Sturm would dare dispute it) crown for the third time against Allen.

No, this is not about one of those great nights of boxing we’ve been enjoying lately. Two apparent mismatches, though the kind-hearted promoter, Bob Arum, is throwing in a pretty good scrap for a vacant lightweight title between two guys only hardcore boxing fans would

Know. That doesn’t mean these guys (Jose Castillo and Juan Lazcano) can’t fight.

But this is not about finding someone to replace Floyd Mayweather Jr. as the 135-pound ruler now that Pretty Boy has moved to junior welterweight. It’s about "scouting," a chance to see live those past performances that might be instructive Sept. 18.

It’s about going to school to see how de la Hoya, who won his first pro title at 130 pounds, handles a new weight division. This is about whether that brilliant hand speed still works

under more muscle, about learning whether the forever young Hopkins, at 39, is fraying around the edges.

And this is important stuff, believe me. Don’t listen to all those "experts" who think it doesn’t matter — the ones who think de la Hoya will one day wake up and realize the folly of his plans and find a way not to fight Hopkins. Those "experts" believe The Executioner will hand the

Golden Boy his worst beating. But, see, I know both their nicknames, so I’m an expert, too. However, I’m not one of "those" naysayers.

Right now, a long way off, I give the man I once dubbed Chicken de la Hoya a hell of a chance against the once incredibly underrated Hopkins.

Back to our infomercial

Before we make a score on Oscar as an underdog, both he and Hopkins have to win in June. It’s a long way from June to September.

There can be arguments for the underdogs in the infomercial. Sturm, whom I’ve never seen, has been described to me as a tall, fairly mobile boxer with not that much pop. I can’t imagine the de la Hoya camp (including Top Rank matchmaker Bruce Trampler) would have signed on for Sturm if the WBO champion represented a real threat to a man who has not exactly carried his punch as he has climbed the scales.

But Sturm is a bona fide 160-pounder. Let’s see how de la Hoya’s left hook works, especially against a bigger body. That will be the only damaging punch in his arsenal if and when he fights Hopkins. And how mobile will the bulked-up de la Hoya be — another key factor in a Hopkins fight.

If there is to be an upset June 5 in the middleweight division, it figures to be manifest by Allen, a tough Marine who was giving Hopkins trouble in their first, abbreviated bout. That’s when Referee Mills Lane, breaking up one of the ugly wrestling holds, accidentally pushed Hopkins out of the ring. The champion came down on an ankle, twisted it, and couldn’t go on. It was declared no contest, but in the rematch, Hopkins beat up the southpaw and stopped him in seven rounds.

Watch out for Tarver

But you don’t count out Marines, especially left-handers who can punch. Hopkins, one of the wisest and most rounded fighters in the last couple of decades, has shown few signs of aging, He is a consummate professional, at least concerning his ring work. He keeps himself in great physical shape and does not let himself get overconfident. Pound for pound, brain cell for brain cell, there is no one wiser. For purists, Hopkins is a delight to watch how he slowly, sometimes tortuously, breaks down opponents.

Win or lose in June, win or lose in September, he probably won’t be around that much longer. It is, as Antonio Tarver brought home this month, the changing of the guard. De la Hoya has talked about Hopkins being his final fight (of course, he always talks about retirement, then finds reasons to continue) though this time, not only his father, but his songstress wife has been serenading him with suggestions that he does not need his movie star face rearranged.

Before he departs, though, de la Hoya may still have one more great moment in the ring. But we’ll have more on this in next week’s editions.