Bernard Hopkins' future seems certain for once, full of big fights and even bigger paydays. The future is less clear for Oscar De La Hoya, who must deal with his first knockout loss and the possibility that he may be nearing the end of a brilliant career.
A devastating hook to the body in the ninth round Saturday night didn't just help establish Hopkins as one of the all-time middleweight greats. It also raised the question of whether De La Hoya (37-4, 29 KOs) might want to finally hang up his gloves.
"I really can't answer that now," De La Hoya, 31, said. "You know us fighters have a love-hate relationship with boxing. I really can't say yes or no. I was so focused on this fight that I just can't answer that."
The answers are easier for the 39-year-old Hopkins, who became the first to stop De La Hoya while running his remarkable streak of successful title defenses to 19. His wallet fat with the $10-million or so he collected for beating De La Hoya, Hopkins now has his eye on history as well.
He said he wants to make at least one more title defense to become the first to defend his title 20 times, then perhaps take on light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver or Roy Jones Jr. in another huge money bout.
"Money you can make and money you can lose," Hopkins said. "But history you can never erase. That's important to Bernard Hopkins to go down in history and be talked about like Ray Robinson is talked about now."
Hopkins, who was criticized for not capitalizing on his knockout of Felix Trinidad three years ago, doesn't plan to make the same mistake after suddenly stopping De La Hoya in a fight that really didn't live up to its billing.
Both Hopkins and De La Hoya fought cautiously before Hopkins began taking control in the seventh and eighth rounds behind his jab. De La Hoya was losing but still competitive before a devastating left hook to his liver left him writhing on the canvas in pain.
"It paralyzes you. You can't do anything about it, and you lose your breath," De La Hoya said. "I've never experienced that in my career. You're stuck. It's like you want to get up but you can't."
De La Hoya went down on his elbows and knees, his face contorted in pain before rolling over on his back as referee Kenny Bayless waved the fight to a close at 1:38 of the ninth round.
While Hopkins jumped on the ring posts and then did a flip in celebration, De La Hoya got back on his knees and buried his face in his gloves, pounding the canvas repeatedly in frustration at an opportunity lost.
Judge Dave Moretti had it 79-73 and judge Paul Smith 78-74 for Hopkins, while Keith Macdonald scored it 77-75 for De La Hoya. That meant that even if he had risen from the knockdown, De La Hoya would have needed a knockout to win.
"I feel proud but obviously very disappointed," he said. "But I don't regret it at all. I'm actually very grateful I had an opportunity to make history with Hopkins."
Hopkins (45-2-1, 32 KOs, 1 NC) retained his IBF, WBA and WBC middleweight titles and took the WBO crown De La Hoya won in June. He is the first fighter in the history of the sport to hold all four sanctioning body belts.