LAS VEGAS (AP) - Oscar De La Hoya thought he had it all planned out. The only thing he didn't plan on was Felix Sturm putting up such a fight.
Sturm nearly upset De La Hoya's planned megafight with Bernard Hopkins, giving De La Hoya all he could handle for 12 rounds Saturday night before
coming out on the losing end of a narrow but unanimous decision.
De La Hoya had to fight furiously in the last two rounds to pull out a win and avoid a shocking upset that would have derailed his Sept. 18 fight with
Hopkins, who did his part by beating Robert Allen on the same card to defend his middleweight titles.
All three judges scored it 115-113 in favor of De La Hoya. The Associated Press had the fight even, 114-114.
"Everything went wrong tonight," De La Hoya said. "I tried as hard as I can."
Sturm came into the ring with the lightly regarded WBO 160-pound title, but had never fought a major fighter, much less a name fighter like De La
Hoya. But from the first round on, when he raised his right hand in triumph going to back to his corner, he gave De La Hoya a fight.
It was the first fight as a middleweight for De La Hoya, who lost his 154-pound title to Shane Mosley in his last fight last September. De La Hoya was
a 12-1 favorite to win his sixth title in six weight classes and set up his fight with Hopkins.
"In my heart I know I can do better. People have seen me do better," De La Hoya said. "I don't know what it was."
Sturm, a German fighting in the United States for the first time nearly upset the plans for what could be the richest non-heavyweight fight ever,
standing toe-to-toe and trading punches with De La Hoya and often coming out on the better end.
Sturm controlled big parts of the fight with his jab, and when De La Hoya attacked inside he countered with short right hands.
Ringside stats showed Sturm landing 234 of 541 punches to 188 of 792 for De La Hoya.
"Everyone knows I won this fight," Sturm said. "I am the true champion. He got the win because he's a big name."
His white trunks stained red from blood flowing from inside his nose and on the bridge of his nose, De La Hoya seemed to tire as the rounds went on,
much as he did in fights against Mosley and Felix Trinidad.
But he won the last round on all three scorecards, fighting at a furious pace despite taking some big punches from Sturm.
"I really feel I pulled out this fight in the last few rounds," De La Hoya said.
De La Hoya (37-3) worked Sturm's body from the opening round, landing lefts and rights to his midsection in hopes that Sturm would eventually drop his
guard. But Sturm not only weathered the punches, but countered De La Hoya with some uppercuts that seemed to hurt.
Sturm (20-1) wasn't intimidated. He had never fought outside of Europe, but he went back to his corner after the first round with his right hand
raised as if he knew he could be in the fight.
In the fifth round, Sturm landed a left hook to De La Hoya's head, then raised his right hand as to taunt De La Hoya, who he said before the fight was
De La Hoya, looking pudgy at a weight 30 pounds heavier than when he began his pro career after winning a gold medal in the 1992 Olympics, seemed to
tire in the middle rounds while the 25-year-old Sturm, a 2000 Olympian for Germany, remained fresh.
Hopkins, who watched anxiously from his dressing room, beat Allen in the other fight on the card to set up his biggest payday ever.
"He (De La Hoya) showed a championship heart," Hopkins said. "He showed he could pull out the last few rounds."
Hopkins wasn't impressive, but he kept his part of the bargain with an ugly but easy decision to retain his middleweight titles and keep an 11-year
winning streak alive.
Hopkins knocked Allen down in the seventh round, but spent much of the fight posing with his southpaw opponent, much to the displeasure of the crowd
at the MGM Grand hotel-casino, which booed both fighters throughout the fight.
"For this fight I was more nervous than usual because there was so much on the line," Hopkins said. "I was more cautious because I wanted everything
to go perfectly."
Hopkins said he didn't want to do anything to derail the September fight with De La Hoya, which will be the biggest payday of his career.
"There's $10 million waiting for me if I win and De La Hoya wins," he said. "All of this on the line and all it would take is one shot."
Hopkins (44-2-1) won 119-107 on two scorecards and 117-109 on a third. The AP had Hopkins winning 116-110.
Hopkins, who was defending a portion of the 160-pound title for the 18th time, spent much of the fight circling Allen, who passively followed him
around the ring. When the two did exchange punches, it was Hopkins landing the heavier and harder blows.
Hopkins, had threatened not to fight if Joe Cortez was the referee, but actually got the benefit of a questionable decision by Cortez to deduct a
point from Allen without warning him first for a low blow in the fifth round.
"I thought he refereed a great fight. He can do another fight of mine anytime," Hopkins said.
Hopkins knocked Allen (36-5) down 45 seconds into the seventh round with a looping right hand that sent him sprawling face first to the canvas. Allen
was up at the count of five, though, and survived the rest of the round.
[Edited on 6-6-2004 by Ocelot]