Here’s my decision:
Pass Oscar-Hopkins

Sep 14, 2004 9:17 AM

This is the big one, Oscar de la Hoya challenging Bernard Hopkins for all the middleweight marbles, and frankly, something stinks in the state of Nevada, so excuse me if my advice is not to choose either fighter but to go on a picnic or attend a six-day bicycle race Sept. 18.

I mean, something is fishy.

Remember how Hopkins threatened to withdraw from the June 5 double-header he was sharing with de la Hoya? Remember how Hopkins was worried about the assignment of Joe Cortez as referee to his third battle with Robert Allen?

Cortez did a fine job, there should be no problems with Kenny Bayless, who has been named third man for the showdown, but wait till Bernard gets a load of the judges.

And they are a load.

Included are Dave Moretti and Paul Smith, two veteran Vegas judges who each gave de la Hoya the 12th and final round, and thus a 115-113 decision over Germany’s Felix Sturm that same night. Maybe Oscar won the fight, maybe he didn’t. It was that close and that controversial. But all three judges — Michael Glienna of Illinois was the other — could be accused of blowing the last round.

Nevada "never" assigns the same judges who worked a controversial bout to the same boxer’s next fight. "Never."

Until now. Executive director Marc Ratner said he had "input" from both camps on the officials. He said a couple of judges were rejected, but that Moretti and Smith survived. He said he talked regularly with Arnold Joseph, Hopkins’s lawyer.

Still, remember how de la Hoya and his longtime promoter, Bob Arum, bellyached about the decision that went against them vs. Sugar Shane Mosley? Remember, how they called for an investigation, how Arum went so far as to impugn the integrity of the Nevada commission? Funny, but Nevada accepted the promoter’s apology without applying even a slap on the wrist. Funny, huh?

Funny, too, how Jerry Roth has never worked a big Oscar fight since voting for Felix Trinidad Jr. against de la Hoya in 2000. Paul Smith seems to have become Oscar’s personal judge here — working de la Hoya’s recent fights with Fernando Vargas and Yory Boy Campos, as well as the Sturm controversy (pointedly, "not" the Mosley bout here).

Something smells here. The third judge appointed to Hopkins-de la Hoya (it is "not" de la Hoya-Hopkins, the way it has been advertised by Arum and HBO since the champion’s name comes first and de la Hoya, despite the controversial decision over Sturm for the WBOgus 160-pound title, is not the middleweight champion) is Keith Macdonald from upstate Nevada and director of the Nevada State Pharmacy Board.

But it is the appointment of the veterans Moretti and Smith, having worked a controversial de la Hoya fight just three months ago, that makes me hesitate to put money on this fight — and would make me hesitant to put money into Arum’s pocket by purchasing it if I weren’t going to be ringside.

Maybe I should have shut up, and simply bet on de la Hoya, who despite his amazing popularity that leads to much "fan money" on him, figured to be good value as an almost 2-1 underdog. Most of my colleagues — and most fight guys — figure Hopkins is too big, too strong and too tough for the Golden Boy. Certainly, the de la Hoya who struggled with Sturm would have no chance, even with all three judges coming from his family.

But de la Hoya is better than that. He can box and he can move. He can’t hurt Hopkins — heck, he can’t hurt most welterweights. But Hopkins, despite his long tenure at the top of the division, is I believe somewhat over-rated. He is not Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Outside of Trinidad, whose aggressive style made him a perfect fit for the Executioner, he has not beaten any real top-flight guys. Tough guys, sure, but he couldn’t handle a one-armed Roy Jones Jr. and while he has improved much since his last loss in 1993, he has had the luxury of facing rather ordinary opposition — guys like Allen and Antuon Echols.

The de la Hoya of the first six rounds against Trinidad figures to give him much trouble. He can move in, land one or two punches, and get the heck out of harm’s way. I’m not sure Hopkins’s 39-year-old legs will be able to do much until de la Hoya (as has been his wont) starts tiring in the later rounds.

But by then, he could have a big lead. He won’t run shamelessly, the way he did against Trinidad (and should have led to point deductions if not outright disqualification). And Hopkins, for all his so-called ability to cut off a ring, had lots of trouble catching up with the inept fleer, Morrade Hakkar. Ratner said Hopkins has told him he wasn’t concerned about the judges, because his right hand and left hand will be his judges. Old lines lose their bite, too.

There’s another reason why this fight could go 12 rounds. De la Hoya’s record for fading isn’t perfect. He knocked down Ike Quartey and Javier Castillejo in the last round. Whether he won the 12th against Sturm, he certainly fought hard — and he was woefully out of shape. This time, he should come in around 155 pounds. It is to be expected that late money will come in as his fans get used to the notion there’s a plus sign before de la Hoya’s number.

In other words, if you like Hopkins (and you should, you know) wait till fight night. If you like Oscar (and you should, you know) bet him early. Or, if you’re like me, take a pass.