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Hopkins-de la Hoya
could receive Oscar

Jun 1, 2004 1:01 AM

As we were saying, Oscar de la Hoya has a hell of a chance to beat Bernard Hopkins on Sept. 18, except for a few minor details.

First, Oscar has to beat Felix Sturm and Hopkins has to take care of Robert Allen again, come June 5 at the MGM Grand. Plus, neither guy can get injured and de la Hoya has to stop postponing fights.

In other words, let’s not rush off to any futures book.

Remember, the June 5 card is for going to school. The main subject is de la Hoya, who is moving up to middleweight for the first time to challenge Sturm (a nom de guerre that the former Adnan Catic selected since "Sturm" means Storm in German) for the truly WBOgus 160-pound championship.

We should study de la Hoya’s ability to carry his foot speed under the higher weight. There should be little concern, really, about his hand speed — even if diminished from when he was a lightweight. That hand speed should be plenty to bother middleweights, but how he moves is crucial to beating Hopkins. Just the way it was for Sugar Ray Leonard against Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

Leonard opted to come out of retirement when he saw how Hagler had slowed against John (The Beast) Mugabi. I see major signs that Hopkins is not what he used to be.

His legs are fine if all he wants to do is shift here and there to present new angles to an opponent. Felix Trinidad Jr., de la Hoya’s biggest win, was in part facilitated by the Puerto Rican star moving straight at him.

But in having to chase down an inept character like Morrade Hakkar of France, Hopkins was not quick to corner his weak prey. De la Hoya will fight him the way he fought Trinidad, moving hither and yon and then suddenly striking with a tap-tap combination and getting out again.

He faded badly against Trinidad and resorted to simply running in the last few rounds — a veteran referee like Arthur Mercante Sr. might well have docked him a point or two for that and even threatened disqualification. Hopkins, who is as slick psychologically as they come (throwing Puerto Rican flags to the ground to rile Trinidad), said de la Hoya has been a bona fide middleweight for years and now should be able to have more reservoirs of stamina since he doesn’t have to melt down to 147 or 154 pounds. Cute, Bernard.

Naturally, he probably hopes de la Hoya tires himself out again so that in the later rounds his pursuit becomes easy. That is what we must look for when de la Hoya faces the unknown June 5 — not only in Sturm, who is 20-0 with only nine KO’s against the flotsam and jetsam of European middleweights, but at his new weight.

It’s a long, long way from May to September if you want action, and while there’s a good lightweight title scrap on the June 5 card — there’s a strong lean here toward Jose Luis Castillo against Juan Lazcano — it is not outside the realm of possibility that both