LAS VEGAS -- ESPN magazine recently labeled World Boxing Counsel welterweight champion Oscar De La Hoya the "DiCaprio of boxing" because of the way female fans swoon over his matinee-idol features.
But there was nothing pretty about the way a determined De La Hoya beat back a surprising challenge from former three-time champion Julio Cesar Chavez of Mexico last night.
With Chavez spitting blood after the eighth round, his cornermen conceded defeat. Chavez insisted it was not his wish to end the fight, but did not protest his corner's decision.
Chavez, a 7-1 underdog and considered by boxing critics to be way past his prime at 36, turned back the clock in forcing the unbeaten De La Hoya (29-0) to exhibit tremendous heart and endurance.
Just when Chavez (101-3-2) seemed to be turning the fight in his favor against the arm-weary champion in the eighth round, De La Hoya showed new resolve and regained command. But the ending still shocked the capacity crowd of 17,715 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"I didn't stop the fight," said ring doctor Lipp Homansky. "Nor did the referee. His corner stopped it."
Enraged by Chavez's refusal to admit defeat after he dominated the Mexican warrior in four rounds two years ago, De La Hoya said he would leave no room for excuses this time. Instead, the Los Angeles native, 25, was forced to stage one of his most impressive fights.
Afterward, there were no alibis from Chavez.
"I told Oscar, if he won tonight, I would give him my respect," Chavez said. "Now he has it. We shook hands like good friends. The past is forgotten. He is a great champion."
But De La Hoya was hardly gracious in victory, deriding Chavez's surrender.
"That's the worst thing that can happen to a fighter," he said. "Winners never quit and quitters never win. I'm more satisfied that he quit on me than knocking him out.
"It was a good, exciting fight. There were a couple of rounds when we slugged it out. I could have stayed on my toes and just boxed him, but people want to see a real fight.
"He said, 'You beat me and I don't want no more. I quit.' I don't believe his corner made him quit. He hit me with good right hands, but I took it like a man."
Chavez was clearly the favorite of the crowd, dominated by Mexican loyalists.
Every time he landed a solid punch in the first two rounds, it was met with a roar of approval. Chavez seemed intent on turning the match into a brawl in the second round. He stood toe-to-toe with the taller De La Hoya and exchanged ripping combinations.
De La Hoya maintained his poise and concentrated on establishing a body attack. At one point, he was cautioned by referee Richard Steele for landing a punch below the belt.
The action accelerated in the third round when the champion jTC trapped Chavez on the ropes and fired five straight punches. This time, it was Chavez who received a warning for hitting low.
De La Hoya began taking charge in the fourth round, making Chavez give ground with a hard shot to the chin. But the Mexican kept pressing the attack, looking in considerably better shape than in their first encounter. De La Hoya shook Chavez with a bristling left uppercut just before the round ended.
Chavez looked refreshed in the fifth round, and more than held his own in the infighting.
But De La Hoya landed the more telling punches in the sixth. When the bell sounded, he banged his gloves together in frustration that he had been unable to stem Chavez's aggression.
Pub Date: 9/19/98