De la Hoya escapes

 

Facing the stiffest challenge of his professional career, Oscar de la Hoya came through with a championship 12th and final round to turn back Ghana's Ike Quartey and keep his World Boxing Council title by split decision on Saturday in Las Vegas.

Narrowly ahead on two scorecards beginning the last round, de la Hoya came storming out on the attack to seal the victory. The American won the round on all three scorecards.

De la Hoya put the challenger down with a left hook in the opening seconds of the last round. Then de la Hoya had him pinned against the ropes, unloading an estimated 20 unanswered blows, but Quartey wouldn't go down. American referee Mitch Halpern looked ready to jump in and stop it, but never did.

"He wouldn't go down, I couldn't believe it," said de la Hoya, who has won all 30 of his professional fights. Quartey had won 34 and drawn one before this defeat. De la Hoya landed 41 punches to 18 for the challenger in the last round.

Judge John Keane of England scored it 116-113 and Ken Morita of Japan scored it 116-112 for de la Hoya. Larry O'Connell of England saw it 115-114 for the challenger.

Quartey, the former World Boxing Association champion, disputed the verdict as a hometown decision for the American champion.

"You know I won the fight," said Quartey. "I was doing everything. He was just surviving and that's what he did. But I could never win a decision in Las Vegas, I knew that."

There was nothing pretty about boxing's poster boy by the end of the fight. De la Hoya's face was battered and bruised, his left eye was nearly closed and there was a cut under it.

But de la Hoya felt good about the inspired comeback win that saw him win the last three rounds on all three scorecards. "People want to see action-packed fights and I gave it to them," de la Hoya said of the fans who filled the Thomas & Mack Centre with cheers and chants for him.

There were two knockdowns in the sixth round. De la Hoya put Quartey down in the opening seconds with a left hook. Quartey dropped on the seat of his pants but was up immediately.

Quartey quickly responded with a left hook that put de la Hoya down.

The final 90 seconds of the round was a war, with both fighters looking for the kill. Quartey scored with a straight right to the nose and then scored more with the left jabs.

De la Hoya was cut under the left eye and it was quickly swelling up by the end of the round.

Quartey exploited this and began to score with the straight right in the eighth round. But de la Hoya fought back with a left hook that snapped back Quartey's head.

Each fighter had his moments in the ninth round. De la Hoya scored with a body shot followed by a uppercut that snapped back the challenger's head. But Quartey came back with a good right that buckled De La Hoya's legs.

After a series of easy victories against easier opponents like Frenchman Patrick Charpentier, Wilfredo Rivera, and the ageing Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez in their rematch in September, de la Hoya had sought a real challenge and decided on the 29-year-old Quartey.