Oscar DelaHoya's first professional loss was inevitable. Despite a sterling record of 31-0/25 knockouts, even the Golden Boy must have known that the streak would have to end eventually. All professional fighters lose at some point in their careers...but who would have thought it would happen like this?
In a fight that he appeared to be winning easily, DelaHoya committed one of boxing's cardinal sins: sitting on a lead. Trying to run out the clock, Oscar DelaHoya gave away enough of the final rounds to sway the three judges to score a majority decision for Puerto Rico's newest national hero: Felix Trinidad.
The night began very differently than it ended. Entering the ring, Felix Trinidad and his entourage ran into trouble attempting to enter the ring. Security seemed unable to clear a path to the ring, and Team Tito was stuck in the aisle for close to 5 minutes. Mired in traffic, Trinidad began looking around the arena. As he scanned the crowd of celebrities, sports stars and DelaHoya groupies, the magnitude of the circumstances sank in. Looking a bit overwhelmed and unsettled, Trinidad eventually made it to the ring. By the time DelaHoya exited his dressing room, his aisle to the ring was completely clear.
Further delays lurked after Michael Buffer's laundry list of introductions when, immediately prior to the referee's final instructions, Trinidad's corner realized that they did not have a mouthpiece for their fighter. Frantic searching of bags produced nothing. Security raced between the dressing room and the ring. For several long minutes, it looked as though the delay might throw off both fighters.
Eventually a mouthpiece was found and the match began. The tension was thick and both men began by showing maximum respect. Very few punches were thrown in the first round, and even fewer landed. Both men stared at each other, sizing up the opposition, and circling. DelaHoya launched a brief flurry towards the end of the opening frame, amounting to the entire offense of the first three minutes. It was a round of deference. Neither man wanted to be the first to catch.
In the second round, DelaHoya established the rhythm of the fight by laying out his gameplan: box, box and box some more. Although more respect and distance plagued this round, DelaHoya fired off his first jabs of the night. The stinging punch instantly bloodied Trinidad's nose, and by the end of the round had stained Felix's white silk shorts with crimson polka-dots.
At the end of the second stanza, DelaHoya launched a crisp right hand that caught Trinidad flush. Unlike his usual pushing and ineffective right hands, DelaHoya had worked hard on his biggest weakness in camp and it showed. Throughout the night, DelaHoya was able to land and do damage with the most effective right hand he has ever displayed. It surprised Trinidad as much as the fans, and between rounds Tito's confusion was apparent.
Having tasted success in brief flashes, DelaHoya now set out to put on a boxing clinic. Firing the best jab of his career, DelaHoya fired the punch in rapid succession all night into Trinidad's face. Always moving, Oscar was setting a deadly, if dramaless, rhythm. On his toes and forcing Trinidad to give chase, DelaHoya jabbed and flurried in bursts.
But it wasn't just his offense that was giving DelaHoya round after early round in the books. His defense was superb, as he expertly ducked numerous Trinidad straight rights, slipped Trinidad's own heavy jab with ease, and blocked some of Trinidad's biggest haymakers with his gloves. Frustrated, Trinidad attempted to pick up the pace in the fourth and fifth rounds, and began landing more. But Felix was mostly headhunting, landing only one significant body shot in the first half of the fight, and often missing. Although Trinidad touched Oscar for the first time in the fifth, DelaHoya landed several big right hands, including one at the bell that began to swell Trinidad's left eye badly.
In the sixth, DelaHoya was boxing beautifully. Although the crowd thirsted for more exchanges, DelaHoya's gameplan was working beautifully. Trinidad was looking increasingly desperate, his chasing of DelaHoya was becoming more frantic, and he was missing wildly. DelaHoya made him pay when he missed, and showed wonderful self discipline by getting out of harm's way before Trinidad could return. Although the first round could have been scored even, and the fourth and fifth were close, Boxing Chronicle.com had DelaHoya up 6 rounds to nothing halfway through the fight. So complete was DelaHoya's performance that Trinidad was beginning to look outclassed.
DelaHoya's ring generalship was on display, and continued into the seventh and eighth rounds, as his lateral movement and flurries were racking up points. In the eighth, Oscar dug hard to Trinidad's body, the first effective shots thrown downstairs all night. He repeated the feat early in the ninth by four times reaching down and landing a four punch combination to Trinidad's sides and capping off with an uppercut or right hand. Trinidad looked to be softening up at this point, and a DelaHoya knockout seemed imminent.
And then, Oscar DelaHoya made a mistake that will haunt him. Inexplicably, he began to sit on his lead. With Trinidad's desperation growing (fueled by his nervous father in between rounds), the chase sped up. DelaHoya's lateral movement turned into running, as he avoided the incoming, but offered nothing in return. The crowd booed.
In the tenth and eleventh, DelaHoya took a page from Ray Leonard's book, hopping on his bike, and running from Trinidad for most of the round, and then attempting to steal the frame with flurries in the final 15 seconds of the round. Although these combinations led to the only toe to toe exchanges of the fight, they were not enough to thieve the round. Trinidad's deficit was shrinking, and the fight was getting closer on the cards.
Going into the twelfth and final round, the expectations on DelaHoya were high. In a fight devoid of much action, and getting tighter in scoring, everyone felt Oscar would now duplicate the exciting finishes that have defined his usual final-round style. After all, he had been saving himself up in the tenth and eleventh....right?
But instead of making a final definitive statement, Oscar again got on the racing track and ran out the clock. As Trinidad chased, DelaHoya threw no punches. It was startling. Trinidad was encouraged by this inactivity, and landed his best shots of the night: three consecutive right crosses that swiveled DelaHoya's head and once and for all established the strength of Oscar's chin.
At the final bell, DelaHoya immediately raised his arms, confident that he had beaten Trinidad despite sacrificing the final four rounds by running. Certainly the crowd, if not Trinidad himself, assumed the same thing. DelaHoya losing a decision in Vegas seemed like an impossibility. And then the scores were read.
The first score had the fight 114-114. The deciding cards read 115-114 and 115-113 for the new WBC and IBF welterweight champion.....FELIX TRINIDAD. It was shocking.
Boxing Chronicle.com scored the fight 116-112 for DelaHoya...giving Oscar the first eight rounds and Trinidad the final four. But with the first round a likely 10-10 snoozer and rounds four and five very close, the fight was certainly close enough to swing either way. But who would have guessed it would swing to Tito?
Upon hearing the announcement, Trinidad (now 36-0/31) was overtaken by emotion. Crying tears of joy, he jubilantly screamed out for his fans in Puerto Rico. DelaHoya, surprisingly, was all smiles...insisting he had won, but seeming to realize that he had no one to blame but himself for his first professional defeat. In a fight that DelaHoya seemed to be on his way to winning away, he played safe in the unsafest sport of all...and paid the price. Tempting fate with the judges scorecards can be more dangerous than dropping your hands. Oscar should have known better.
And so what now? While "rematch" is the word on everyone's lips, I wouldn't expect it to happen too soon.
If Trinidad stays at 147, he will almost certainly fight fellow Don King stablemate James Page for his WBA welterweight title before stepping back in the ring with DelaHoya. Trinidad would be heavily favored against Page and three belts would only stoke the pot for the lucrative rematch. Another option for Trinidad is to move up to 154...a move he had planned as much as two years ago. Such a move would not only be ripe with enticing matchups, but would force DelaHoya to chase Trinidad for redemption.
DelaHoya (31-1/25) may himself move up to 154 first, and pick up a title to have while waiting for Trinidad. Or he may stay at 147, a weight he made easily, and face Shane Mosley in a pound for pound megafight. Or he may retire altogether. With over $100 million in career earnings (including $21 million plus percentage of sales for this fight), his looks still intact, DelaHoya may choose to retire to the easy life. Although deep inside he will be desperate for revenge, DelaHoya was oddly at ease with his loss, satisfied in his own head that he had won. Announcing that he would take a vacation and spend time with his family, DelaHoya will likely not return to the ring until mid-2000.
And so now boxing has a new welterweight kingpin, a new pound for pound best, and a most interesting future. With Don King now controlling the division titles, with DelaHoya locked out of the 147 lb. title picture until Tito decides otherwise, and with Felix Trinidad finally capturing mainstream attention....there will be no shortage of intrigue in the months to come.
Hang on boxing fans, it's going to be a bumpy ride.
-On an excruciating undercard, Mia St. John continued her quest to make women's boxing a laughing stock with her third round knockout of Kelley Downs. Downs was exhausted after two rounds and was blinded by her own hairdo for most of the fight.
-Butterbean continued his own sideshow with a knockout of insurance salesman Ken Craven in the second round. Combined with the St. John fiasco, these two boxing carnival acts had no business being on the same card with DelaHoya-Trinidad. With a possible record number of pay per view homes watching, wouldn't Top Rank have been better served featuring some of their legitimate fighters?
-Russian cruiserweight champ Vassiliy Jirov scored a 10th round knockout on body blows (his specialty) after proving that his defense is lacking. Previously undefeated challenger Dale Brown was able to smack Jirov at will, but didn't have the power to earn respect.
-Oscar exposed! Not in the fight...at the weigh in. When ESPN2 positioned it's live cameras high in the rafters of the Mandalay Bay arena to cover DelaHoya's weigh-in, they had no idea that they would have the perfect angle to photograph a nude DelaHoya on the scale. Indeed, as both east and west coasts aired the weigh-in live on Friday Night Fights, there was Oscar's manhood...available for all to see. Someone is going to get fired over that one.