Boxing: De la Hoya wins the turf war

It was as good as Oscar de la Hoya has been, and for a man with an Olympic gold medal and world titles in five weight classes, that is saying a lot.

Boxing's "Golden Boy," the biggest seller outside of Mike Tyson, scored an 11th-round technical knock-out against Fernando Vargas to add the World Boxing Association championship to the World Boxing Council title he already held, at light middleweight (154 pounds or 11 stone) at the Mandalay Bay Events Arena here on Saturday night.

Yet it was not easy for De la Hoya. From the first round, Vargas, 24, was able to back up his fellow Mexican-American from southern California. He reddened De la Hoya's cheek in the opening round, worked well to the body and was able to land right hands with impunity for much of the bout.

But De la Hoya, 29, who admitted that seeing Vargas stretched on his back after a left hook early in the 11th round, the only knock-down in an entertaining and fast-paced bout, was "very, very satisfying," was biding his time.

He was waiting for Vargas to tire himself out and little by little, De la Hoya increased the pressure. He was landing more right hands than ever. But the vaunted left hook was missing. Until the 11th round.

He feinted a jab and when Vargas dropped his right hand, the hook landed perfectly. Vargas went flying to land on his back. He was up at four, but there are few better finishers than De la Hoya and after 1min 48sec of the 11th, with Vargas offering no defence, the referee, Joe Cortez, stopped the bout.

De la Hoya improved his record to 35-2 with 28 knockouts. Vargas, who suffered a terrifying beating from Felix Trinidad 21 months ago, is now 22-2 with 20 knock-outs.

Vargas had said before the fight "I would rather die in that ring than lose to him" and, after it, De la Hoya could not resist some gloating, saying that Vargas "needed a lesson." But this was about a lot more than a neighbourhood turf war.

This was a clear victory in a well-fought bout against a bigger and stronger opponent who was ahead early on. Now De la Hoya wants to avenge his only two defeats. Trinidad is retired and probably will not return for De la Hoya. "Sugar" Shane Mosley could be pencilled in for 4 May here, if he makes a successful graduation to the light-middleweight division, possibly against the European champion, Javier Castillejo of Spain.

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