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Boxing Throwback Thursday: The first four belt unification fight

As the middleweight contest between Canelo and Golovkin draws nearer, we look back to a middleweight bout with surprising similarities, Hopkins versus De La Hoya.

On August 19th 2017, Terence Crawford unified all four belts in the light welterweight division by knocking out Julius Indongo. He became the first undisputed champion to unify all four belts in 12 years. However, the first four belt unification came in 2004.

Bernard Hopkins and Oscar De La Hoya may be business partners today but were once fierce adversaries. As their promotional company Golden Boy Promotions gets set for September 16, when their fighter Saul Canelo Alvarez challenges Gennady Golovkin in a legendary middleweight bout, we go back 13 years to assess their rivalry.

The similarities between the two fights are incredible. De La Hoya and Alvarez both represent the fighting pride of Mexico, built legacies out of facing the best of their era and came into the fight as the smaller fighter. Hopkins and Golovkin both represent the consensus middleweight champion, both came into their fights eight years older than their opponent, both undefeated in 11 years, both holding three world title belts and for both fighters, these bouts represented their 19th consecutive title defence. We can only hope that Canelo vs Golovkin is as good as Hopkins vs De La Hoya was.

Before the fight

Coming off of a defeat to ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley, De La Hoya looked to secure a title in a sixth weight division and challenged Felix Sturm for the WBO middleweight title. Ultimately, De La Hoya was looking ahead to a big money unification with the great Hopkins and so he struggled against Sturm. Many had Sturm winning the fight, but a much-disputed decision was given to De La Hoya, making him the first six-division champion in boxing history and setting up a four belt unification fight with Hopkins. Hopkins beat Robert Allen by unanimous decision in a tune up fight on the same card as De La Hoya v Sturm.

As De La Hoya had begun his career at super featherweight and was three inches smaller than Hopkins, the two agreed it was fair to fight at a catch weight of 158 pounds – two below the usual middleweight limit. Las Vegas favoured Hopkins, making him a 2-1 favourite.


The fight

On September 18th 2004, ‘The Executioner’ Hopkins stepped into the ring to face ‘The Golden Boy’ De La Hoya.

The first round was a cagey affair with not many punches landing, but Hopkins came out unusually offensive, parrying many of the quicker De La Hoya’s punches. However, De La Hoya landed the only clean shot of the round. 10-9 De La Hoya.

The second round was very close with both fighters throwing more shots. Hopkins landed the cleaner blows, but a late flurry from De La Hoya stirred the crowd, making it a tough round to score. 10-9 Hopkins.

The third was close and cagey as Hopkins began to use his size and physicality but only managed to land a flashy right hand. De La Hoya stole it with an eye-catching flurry of body punches. 10-9 De La Hoya.

De La Hoya’s hand speed drew reactions from the crowd and he began to make Hopkins miss early in the fourth. Hopkins became more aggressive, landing a hard right hand as De La Hoya attacked the body. They traded punches in the centre of the ring, but De La Hoya did just enough. 10-9 De La Hoya.

De La Hoya threw an eye-catching left hook combination at the beginning of the fifth round, but Hopkins began countering and throwing more jabs. Hopkins was the much busier fighter and landed one shot to shake De La Hoya. 10-9 Hopkins.

De La Hoya came out for the sixth round much more aggressive using his quicker hands. Hopkins stayed consistent, throwing one shot at a time but stepped it up to finish strong. 10-9 Hopkins.

The seventh began with Hopkins being much more aggressive after his corner told him he was losing. Using his size, he began catching De La Hoya easily. 10-9 Hopkins.

The eighth saw De La Hoya throwing combinations but Hopkins avoided them and forced his opponent back. Hopkins maintained his aggression from the previous round, landing more shots with improved accuracy. De La Hoya struggled to penetrate Hopkins defence. 10-9 Hopkins.

Hopkins seemed renewed and confident to start the ninth, throwing more punches as the fight became rougher and more physical. The referee warned them to keep it clean. The fighters began to fight on the inside and the bigger Hopkins easily forced De La Hoya back until he landed a sickening left hook to the body. Hopkins immediately celebrated as De La Hoya was left writhing in pain on his back refusing to answer the referees count. At the time of the stoppage, two judges had Hopkins winning 79-73, 78-74, one had De La Hoya winning 77-75. HBO’s unofficial scorer Harold Lederman scored the bout 77-75 in favour of Hopkins.

This was De La Hoya’s first knockout defeat and his frustration was evident as he pounded the canvas. Hopkins would continue to fight for another 12 years, but this would be his last knockout victory.

Hopkins was the first undisputed champion to hold all four major belts. The loss kept De La Hoya out of the ring for almost two years.

Watch the full fight and sickening knockout for yourselves.

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Amar Hayer

Boxing and basketball writer. Currently studying at a top UK university.

  • Tania

    Great read! Can’t wait for the next article!

    • Harps

      Is he your brother or something?

  • Harps

    No one likes a smart arse

Boxing Throwback Thursday: The first four belt unification fight

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