Boxing: Golden Boy's grail is unification

Oscar De La Hoya this weekend starts a series of title fights that could make him the greatest boxer of his era.

THIS WEEKEND in Las Vegas, boxing's "Golden Boy", Oscar De La Hoya, embarks on what he has termed "a comeback" - a curious choice of words, perhaps, as the World Boxing Council welterweight champion's absence has hardly been conspicuous.

But having been restricted by injury to only two fights in 1998, the undefeated De La Hoya believes it is necessary for him to defend his championship at least four times this year if he is to establish himself as the greatest fighter of his era. And if things pan out for the welterweight division over the coming months, it could yet be quite some era.

Over the past two years De La Hoya has featured in seven title fights, earning a total of $58m (pounds 36.7m). And on Saturday night at the cavernous Thomas & Mack Center in the Nevada Desert's neon gambling oasis, De La Hoya will collect a further $10m for facing his toughest opponent to date, Ike "Bazooka" Quartey, an unbeaten Ghanaian who until recently held the World Boxing Association title in the 10st 7lb weight class.

But while De La Hoya is unchallenged as the biggest non-heavyweight draw in boxing, his superiority within the welterweight ranks is as yet unproven. Quartey aside, the hard-hitting and undefeated International Boxing Federation champion, Felix Trinidad, has a very real claim to welterweight supremacy, while the power of the unsung James Page, Quartey's successor as WBA champion after the African was stripped of the title last year, makes him the dangerous dark horse of the division. And then there is the veteran former title-holder Pernell Whitaker, whose loss by decision to De La Hoya in April 1997 was questioned in many corners.

Without doubt, the welterweight class is the most competitive in contemporary world boxing. It has been compared with the middleweight division of the early-to-mid 1980s, when Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran helped a soporific, pre-Tyson heavyweight scene skulk out of the spotlight. Where that esteemed quartet featured in a series of 10 spirited and skilled battles against each other, today's welterweights - the De La Hoya-Whitaker bout aside - have so far been steered well clear of each other by cautious managers and promoters.

There has, however, been a sea change in world boxing, prompted by a policy review at Home Box Office, America's premier pay-per-view network, towards the end of last year. Known as the "cash-to-burn" network, HBO became tired of not receiving value for its money and let it be known that, in future, HBO fighters would either have to take competitive bouts, for which they would continue to be handsomely remunerated, or ship out.

Immediately, a series of exciting match-ups were made - the most notable being the Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield heavyweight unification match set for 13 March in New York - and HBO's chief rival, the Don King-affiliated Showtime network, was forced to follow suit. With King currently doing business with HBO for the first time in years, the cross-television divide that had reduced world boxing to a non-competitive farce appears to have come to an end, if only temporarily.

"Boxing has a perpetual cold; it's never in perfect health," said the HBO chief, Seth Abraham. "But right now, people are talking about it and writing about it. Is '99 going to be a busy year? We hope so."

The strength of the new cordiality will be tested by the outcome and aftermath of WBC and IBF welterweight title bouts over the next two weekends. De La Hoya-Quartey sees two HBO fighters locking horns, but the following weekend in New York, King enters the mix when Trinidad - promoted by King and contracted to Showtime - defends his IBF belt against HBO's Whitaker.

Yet De La Hoya's promoter, Bob Arum, is confident that welterweight unification can be achieved. "Personally, I'd prefer that Whitaker wins the fight; if it's Trinidad, you have to deal with Don King," he said. "But either way, Felix and Pernell can be made with Oscar."

Unbeaten in 35 fights (one draw, 29 wins by knockout), the 29-year-old Quartey is a livewire challenger for De La Hoya, who will be boxing 11 days after his 25th birthday. But the African, who was stripped of the WBA title for refusing to make a mandatory defence, is somewhat mechanical and De La Hoya has the technical skills to dismantle him for the 30th win of his career (currently featuring 23 stoppages) - providing that the Golden Boy does not decide to try and prove his toughness by engaging the savage left-hooker in a punch-out.

Regardless of whoever emerges as champion, what is important to the sport's future is that the winner of the WBC fight meets whoever the IBF champion might transpire to be (and Trinidad is favoured to retain at Madison Square Garden due to Whitaker's long absence through drug rehabilitation) before the end of the year in order to keep the new-found momentum building. And by so doing, the welterweights could establish themselves as boxing's flagship division.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
News
i100(More than you think)
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?