Bernard Hopkins suddenly ended a close fight with two left hooks to the body in the ninth round Saturday night to stop Oscar De La Hoya and ruin his bid to become the undisputed middleweight champion.
The punches put De La Hoya on the canvas on his hands and knees in obvious pain. When he rolled over on his back, referee Kenny Bayless stopped the fight at 1:38 of the ninth round.
While Hopkins celebrated, De La Hoya remained on his knees, his face buried in his gloves. He repeatedly pounded the canvas in frustration after being stopped for the first time in his brilliant career.
"I felt a sense of urgency," Hopkins said. "I wasn't sure if I was winning or not."
Hopkins was ahead on two scorecards and behind on a third in a cautiously fought bout when he suddenly landed the punches just below De La Hoya's rib cage to retain his undisputed middleweight title in his 19th title defense.
"A well-placed body shot," De La Hoya said.
De La Hoya was a 2-1 underdog in only his second fight as a middleweight and was taking on a champion who hadn't lost in 11 years.
"I tried to do the impossible on paper _ beat the middleweight champ coming up from 130 pounds," De La Hoya said.
Hopkins improved to 44-2-1 with 31 knockouts and one no-contest. De La Hoya is now 37-3, with 29 KOs.
"I wanted to show everybody that I could box," Hopkins said. "I came light so I could be faster and lighter and still have my power. I was boxing early so I could figure Oscar out, to show that I could outbox him. I think I did."
De La Hoya said he was stunned.
"I felt perfect. He just caught me," De La Hoya said. "He threw the body shot and he caught me. I tried getting up. I couldn't do it. I couldn't breath."
A sellout crowd of about 17,000 fans, including the usual bevy of stars and starlets, was on hand to watch a match-up that was expected to garner a record number of pay-per-view buys for a non-heavyweight event.
The old mark was the $71.4-million that was generated by De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad in '99.
In earning a purse of $10-million, the 39-year-old Hopkins enjoyed the biggest payday of his 16-year career. De La Hoya, 31 a former Olympic gold medalist who rose to become the biggest attraction in boxing today, took home $30-million.
Both fighters will receive even more if pay-per-view revenues exceed a certain level.
Hopkins, considered to be the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world entering the fight, extended his middlewight record for successful title defenses to 19 and still hasn't been defeated since losing a decision to Roy Jones in 1993.