By Lyle Fitzsimmons
I’ve had a lot of images of Oscar De La Hoya over the years.
A “Golden Boy” from the Olympics. An unbeatable commodity in the early part of his career from 130 to 140 pounds. And a competitor who never shied from a challenge in the back half of his professional shelf life, even if that thirst for competition didn’t always get quenched in the way he’d planned.
So I guess it’s no surprise that just as the boxing world prepared to shovel dirt on his promotional enterprise in the aftermath of Richard Schaefer’s departure, the fighter in him staged another rally.
And now that he’s done so, it may not be long before he returns to full-on championship status.
The gesture made by Golden Boy to blur the cable television battle lines and pursue a deal on behalf of its most-accomplished client – soon-to-be quinquagenarian and dual-belted light heavyweight Bernard Hopkins – has the chance to undo much of the damage a prolonged corner-office Cold War had caused.
But to tell the truth, perhaps none of us ought to be that surprised.
Though it’s hasn’t always fulfilled the mission statement over the years, remember that De La Hoya’s company was initially billed as an entity that’d change the landscape created by powerhouses Don King Productions and Top Rank Boxing. That transformational quest was muddled as battle lines were drawn, ultimately leading to an inconvenient impasse in which Top Rank fighters were shown on HBO, Golden Boy fighters were shown on Showtime and matches between the two were wishful thinking at best.
There was plenty of blame to go around as the sport became more and more polarized, and it’s not as if De La Hoya was without a role in the mess. But while it’s true that he’d been one of the two wrongs as the ability to construct fights fizzled, it’s also true that he’s now got the chance to erase those mistakes.
His recent declaration that he’d seek out chances to work with Bob Arum was a significant first step, and the paradigm shift that put one of his employees, Eric Gomez, on the phone with Main Events CEO Kathy Duva last week was a follow-up that transforms him from the desperate spurned partner he appeared to be after Schaefer’s departure to the champion of the sport he’d aimed to portray from the outset.
It’s a huge win for De La Hoya as he regains stability, a huge win for HBO as it lands an intriguing fight featuring a personality who becomes more compelling each time he performs and a huge win for that personality – Hopkins – as he redefines his legacy yet again, nine years after he lost to Jermain Taylor.
The only loser in the initial aftermath is Showtime, which thought it had lined up the 175-pound fight everyone cared about – Hopkins vs. Adonis Stevenson – but instead is left, at least for the time being, with a rightful division champion who’s suddenly about as relevant as a snow shovel on Miami Beach.
As for the November fight itself, gimme Hopkins all day long.
While I know he’s nearer to 50 than Sergey Kovalev is to 32, I also know that nearly every outing since those Taylor fights has shown Hopkins’ ability to play offense when he needs to, employ defense as he’s always done and make the most fearsome-looking man-animal stumble like a dizzy school kid.
As much as I enjoy Kovalev’s TV-friendly approach and respect how he’s used it to demolish 13 straight victims on the level of Caparello, Agnew and Cleverly, I don’t look at him and see all that much more than what lots of folks thought they’d seen in would-be legend-killers like Pavlik, Pascal and Cloud.
And while they’ve each fallen short of “Krusher” chaos, we do know how those ones turned out, right?
All hail the Alien… and mark me down for 116-112.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF junior welterweight title – Brooklyn, N.Y.
Lamont Peterson (champion/No. 3 IWBR) vs. Edgar Santana (No. 13 contender/No. 55 IWBR)
Peterson (32-2-1, 16 KO): Third title defense; Fighting in 10th state (TN, MS, TX, AR, ND, IL, NC, CA, NJ)
Santana (29-4, 20 KO): First title fight; Fight straight wins by KO/TKO (16 total rounds)
Fitzbitz says: Good for the 15-year pro for finally getting a shot at the big time, but, if the champion is performing the way he ought to, that’s as close as Santana will get. Peterson in 9
IBF/WBO mini-flyweight titles – Monterrey, Mexico
Katsunari Takayama (IBF champ/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Francisco Rodriguez Jr. (WBO champ/No. 21 IWBR)
Takayama (27-6, 10 KO): Third title defense; Held WBC title at 105 pounds (2005, zero defenses)
Rodriguez (14-2, 10 KO): First title defense; Sixteenth fight in Mexico (14-1, 10 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The 21-year-old is a precocious puncher and has a unification change on his home turf, but he may be biting off more than he can chew with a well-rounded veteran. Takayama by decision
IBO super bantamweight title – Kempton Park, South Africa
Thabo Sonjica (champion/No. 13 IWBR) vs. Roli Gasca (No. 11 contender/No. 26 IWBR)
Sonjica (19-2, 14 KO): Second title defense; Unbeaten since 2011 (5-0, 4 KO)
Gasca (22-4-1, 6 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Eighth fight outside Philippines (3-3-1, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Challenger has had only middling success in infrequent trips away from home, and his luck doesn’t figure to get much better with a strong puncher with a title to defend at home. Sonjica in 9
Last week's picks: 1-0 (WIN: Kovalev)
2014 picks record: 53-14 (79.1 percent)
Overall picks record: 600-208 (74.2 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.