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De La Hoya KOs Vargas and critics

Super-welterweight champion sets sights on Mosley or Trinidad.

©Associated Press
September 16, 2002

LAS VEGAS -- Just when it seemed Oscar De La Hoya might be nearing the end of his career, he came up with the fight of his life. In doing so, he also answered a lot of questions about his heart.

Criticized for running against Felix Trinidad, De La Hoya stood and punched it out with Fernando Vargas, scoring a knockout win Saturday night that may have done as much for his career and reputation as winning the gold medal in the 1992 Olympics.

"Boxing's a tough sport. Sometimes you have to let your fists do the talking," De La Hoya said. "I let my fists do the talking this time."

De La Hoya survived a barrage of right hands from a fighter who was younger and supposed to be stronger only to come back and dominate the middle rounds, then stopped a bloodied and battered Vargas in the 11th round.

Vargas, 24, had said he would rather die than lose, and there were questions whether De La Hoya had the heart to match him.

It turned out he did, and more, in a fight that had the sellout crowd screaming in delight.

"That was the signature fight for Oscar," promoter Bob Arum said. "This was his best performance ever."

De La Hoya, 31, overcame questions about his left hand and his ability to punch at 154 pounds to finally take apart a Los Angeles-area rival who did everything he could to irritate him.

He earned $14-million, added the WBA super welterweight title to the WBC belt he already held and once again established himself as boxing's premier non-heavyweight attraction.

De La Hoya also promised there would be more to come.

"I'm hungry, hungrier than ever," he said. "I feel fresh."

De La Hoya needed to win what had become a neighborhood feud to set up two more fights he really wants -- rematches against Felix Trinidad and Shane Mosley, the only two fighters to beat him.

Trinidad insists he's retired, but Mosley was at ringside and says he's game. De La Hoya is likely to fight a lesser fighter in January and then possibly fight Mosley in May.

"The mistake Vargas made was he didn't respect De La Hoya's power and ability," Mosley said.

De La Hoya hadn't fought in 15 months and still was concerned going into the fight that the injury to his left hand that forced the fight to be postponed from May 4 might cause him problems.

The hand was fine, though, and it showed when De La Hoya landed a left hook in the closing seconds of the 10th. The shot buckled Vargas' knees, and he went back to his corner out of it.

"Wake up, wake up," trainer Eduardo Garcia shouted to him.

Vargas came out for the 11th, but it didn't take long for De La Hoya to work him to a neutral corner where another left hook dropped Vargas on his back. Vargas got up, but De La Hoya was all over him with a flurry of unanswered punches that prompted referee Joe Cortez to stop the fight at 1:48.

Vargas, who has made no secret of his intense dislike for De La Hoya since he was an amateur, immediately left the ring without congratulating the winner. He was hospitalized and treated for a fracture of his right eye socket.

De La Hoya smiled at the irony that Vargas was not talking after he spent months deriding De La Hoya for his lack of passion in the ring and calling him a sellout to his Hispanic fans.

"It was a very satisfying win because he was talking too much," De La Hoya said. "I don't understand why he was talking so much trash about a fellow fighter. Imagine in golf if Tiger Woods talked trash about Jack Nicklaus. It just doesn't make sense."

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