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"Fight of the Year' hype produces a bore for the ages

After all the comparisons to Marvin Hagler vs. Sugar Ray Leonard and the premature proclamation as Fight of the Year, Saturday's fight between Bernard Hopkins and Oscar De La Hoya came off only as the Hype of the Year.

It was pay-per-snooze. A dud. At 55 bucks, a ripoff.

Hopkins' victory by knockout may have cemented his place in boxing history, but it failed to deliver any of the brilliance or excitement of the classic 1987 battle between Hagler and Leonard.

It ended with one punch, a sharp left hook to the body that knocked the fight out of De La Hoya just as it seemed to be starting. To that point, a remarkably cautious approach by both fighters resulted in not one memorable exchange.

Sure, HBO's announcing crew was giving the fight to De La Hoya, but Hopkins was in control the whole way. By the time he stopped the Golden Boy, he was just beginning to heat up and land some of the fight's hardest punches. De La Hoya's liver, which bore the brunt of Hopkins' perfectly delivered blow, probably saved him a good beating by paralyzing his body after the punch landed.

At 39, Hopkins is looking for a 20th title defense to cap his outstanding career. He said afterward he promised his mother he wouldn't fight past 40, which leaves him about 15 months to squeeze in Roy Jones (the last man to beat him), Felix Trinidad or maybe even Winky Wright.

That is, if he keeps his word to his mother.

As for De La Hoya, you could make the case this was his third straight loss, as many believe Felix Sturm beat him the last time out. He is still boxing's golden egg, making $30-million for his nine rounds Saturday while Hopkins pulled in $10-million.

But what's the attraction? He is 6-4 in his past 10 fights. The wins have come against Sturm, Yory Boy Campos, Fernando Vargas, Javier Castillejo, Arturo Gatti and Derrell Coley.

Not a great champion in the group.

His losses: Hopkins, Shane Mosley (twice) and Trinidad.

De La Hoya is not the fighter he was. He is not strong enough to be a middleweight or even a junior middleweight, but that's where the money is.

It might be time to move on, but you can bet there's not a potential opponent who hopes he does.

He is, after all, still golden, and the best payday out there.

COMEBACK TRAIL: Hopkins shouldn't have a problem finding Jones if that's whom he wants. The Pensacola fighter will try to win back one of his belts Saturday when he tries to take Glen Johnson's IBF title. The fight will be on HBO, which will replay Hopkins-De La Hoya as well.

ROOM FOR ONE MORE?: St. Petersburg trainer Dan Birmingham and his father-in-law, local restaurant owner and boxing manager Andy Lockhart, are chewing on the idea of getting into the promotional business.

With Birmingham's gym, which he co-owns with Wright, bustling these days with prospects, the time is right, they say. "What better way to get these guys out there and get them some exposure?" Birmingham asked.

Birmingham, who primarily trains Wright, Jeff Lacy and Antwun Echols, has uncovered a few prospects of late, and Clearwater trainer Ben Getty is working his young stable at the gym as well.

Birmingham and Lockhart are looking at sites if they decide to promote a card. They would prefer St. Petersburg, though they admit options seem limited.

HEAVYWEIGHT TV FIGHT: Fox Sports Net, which televised the final news conference between James Toney and Rydell Booker on Monday night, will air their WBC heavyweight eliminator fight Thursday live on the Best Damn Sports Show Period around 11 p.m.

_ JOHN C. COTEY

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