IT is a measure of the quality of WBC light-welterweight champion Oscar De La Hoya that his unanimous 12-round points win over previously undefeated challenger Miguel Angel Gonzalez at the Thomas and Mack Center was but a warm-up for big things.
For many, overcoming a man who had won 41 straight fights as a pro, including 11 for the WBC lightweight crown before weight problems forced him to vacate, would constitute the highlight of a career.
But such are the expectations now surrounding the “Golden Boy” that the win, De La Hoya’s 23rd in a row, seemed overshadowed by his next fight.
De La Hoya will now step up to challenge Pernell Whitaker for the WBC welterweight title.
Oscar’s chances against slippery southpaw Whitaker remain intriguingly uncertain after a performance which mixed some sublime skills with a caution not previously seen.
At times, 23-year-old De La Hoya could hardly miss with the left jab. He also jolted Gonzalez with some superb left hooks, which the Mexican did well to absorb without going down.
“When I move up to welterweight I will be even stronger than I am now,” he said, admitting he had sometimes had trouble preparing for Gonzalez because he was looking forward to Whitaker.
“Now I can focus on Pernell Whitaker. He is the best fighter in the world, a southpaw and very difficult.”
“Against Whitaker I will be in the best shape of my life. I’m not at all surprised that Miguel Angel Gonzalez took my punches. He is a warrior. He was unbeaten and had won a lot of fights.”
Gonzalez conceded: “I couldn’t cope with his jab. He was just too much tonight. He is a very strong fighter. Very strong, very fast and accurate.”
Confusion and controversy surrounded the other light-welterweight championship bout on the show with Kostya Tszyu’s IBF title defence against Leonardo Mas ending in a first-round technical draw (later changed to a no contest).
The brilliant Sydney-based Russian Tszyu, had already floored Mas twice when a big left hook sent the reluctant Puerto Rican to the deck just before the bell sounded to end the round.
Ref Joe Cortez sent 27-year-old Tszyu to a neutral corner and picked up the count which he completed during the interval.
It was then that things became complicated. Mas stayed sprawled out on the floor, raising himself onto one elbow to dab at his right eye with his left glove as Cortez attended to him and the crowd booed.
It soon became clear that Mas either could not or would not go on, but the way Tszyu was ordered to stay in the neutral corner by Cortez left the outcome in doubt.
At first it seemed Tszyu might be disqualified for landing the final punch after the bell – it did not seem late – but after several minutes it was announced that because Mas had been unable to continue as the result of “an unintentional illegal blow”, the result was declared a technical draw.
“The referee said that as it was an accidental foul, he would have given Mas five minutes to recover,” commented Marc Ratner, the Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commision.
“But the doctor said Mas had a possible dislocated jaw. He certainly couldn’t go on. Under our rules, and the IBF rules, it was a technical draw. If the fight had gone six full rounds, it would have gone to points.”
The draw enabled Tszyu to keep his crown, but he felt he had been robbed of a conclusive victory.
“I never heard the referee say anything” he protested. “I kept hitting him. This was wrong. I deserved the win.”
Tszyu rejected accusations that Mas was pretending to be hurt.
The Puerto Rican, who fights out of Miami, looked petrified from the start. It was so one-sided that it was only a question when Tszyu would nail Mas. After two knockdowns he was hanging on for dear life when Tszyu broke free long enough to bang in the big left hook which sent Mas down and began the controversy.
Atlanta Olympics bronze medallist Floyd Mayweather Jnr (19) scored his third win in as many pro fights, the second inside the distance, when he outclassed Jerry Cooper in the first of a scheduled four-rounder.
Las Vegas-based Mayweather – with uncles Jeff and Roger in his corner – calls himself “Pretty Boy” and is in no danger of having his features damaged by the likes of Cooper.
Jerry did not land a significant blow. Instead he was on the receiving end from the start, being jolted by a left jab in the opening seconds and then floored from the same blow to the body not long after.
He rose but was nailed with lefts and rights from the fast and accurate Mayweather.
Floyd banged the body to put him down again. He rose at three but referee Mitch Halpern sensibly waved it over.
“I just wanted to do something to get the crowd going and make them like me,” said Mayweather. “I went out there first to win and second to impress people.”
More starpower came in the form of the great light-flyweight champion Michael Carbajal lost his IBF title to Mauricio Pastrana via split decision on the show.
Also shining on the bill was a rising Puerto Rican welterweight prospect called Daniel Santos. He stopped fellow southpaw Reynaldo Ramirez. There were also successful outings for Stevie Johnston, Vassily Jirov and Butterbean on an unforgettable winter’s night on the Strip.