Boxing: Hopkins to meet flair with fists

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The Independent Online

Not Surprisingly, tonight's middleweight fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas between Bernard Hopkins and Oscar de la Hoya is being called the "Fight of the Century".

Not Surprisingly, tonight's middleweight fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas between Bernard Hopkins and Oscar de la Hoya is being called the "Fight of the Century".

Hopkins has held various middleweight titles in an unbeaten sequence of 19 fights since winning the International Boxing Federation version in 1995. He will also bring to the ring the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association titles for his 19th defence.

De La Hoya, dubbed "The Golden Boy" after winning gold at the 1992 Olympics, places his World Boxing Organisation belt in the kitty. But what De La Hoya really brings to the ring is his charm, appeal and skills. He is and has always been a major player in the boxing world, while Hopkins has seldom been in the spotlight.

De La Hoya has so far accumulated nine world titles at five weights but should, in theory, lack the power to keep the relentless Hopkins away during a fight that many believe will be bloody and one-sided. However, Hopkins, at 39, has possibly left it slightly too late for a meeting against a younger and much faster opponent.

Hopkins has been waiting for a big pay day since knocking out the previously unbeaten Felix Trinidad three years ago. Since that glorious night at Madison Square Garden in New York, he has fought just four times, keeping his title safe and negotiations for a super fight on track.

De La Hoya has been involved in several big fights and his name was first linked with Hopkins three years ago. It looked very unlikely that tonight's showdown would ever take place. However, once De La Hoya and his retinue of accountants and advisers sat down and looked at the sums and at the aging Hopkins, it appears that they all realised that it made sense to get in the ring with the masterful middleweight before somebody else claimed his scalp.

The pair have barely been on speaking terms since arriving in Las Vegas, but that is not surprising because their passages to tonight's fight could not have been more different. De La Hoya, who has been given everything since his moment of glory in Barcelona, has advertised toothpaste and underpants and has released songs. Hopkins turned to boxing after a life of juvenile crime and a short spell in prison and has never really recovered from a past that shaped him.

Tonight it will be obvious from the opening round just how much movement is left in Hopkins's legs and how much power De La Hoya has against a genuine middleweight. There is a slim chance that Hopkins will simply walk forward and through De La Hoya's slick counters, but at the same time there is every chance that De La Hoya will be too fast, too mobile and too clever.

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