LAS VEGAS -- After boxing beautifully against Felix Trinidad for eight rounds in Saturday night's welterweight title unification bout, Oscar De La Hoya, ahead on all three judges' cards, appeared to be fading.
Or maybe it was strategy. Either way, it cost De La Hoya the "Fight of the Millennium" and his World Boxing Council title, as Trinidad added it to his International Boxing Federation crown.
On the advice of his corner, including chief trainer Robert Alcazar and associate trainer Gil Clancy, De La Hoya circled the pursuer, punching only on occasion.
"I felt like he didn't need the last three rounds. He had given Trinidad a boxing lesson," Alcazar said.
Trinidad then stepped up the pressure, if not his connect percentage. His efforts earned him three of the last four rounds on the cards of two judges, and all four on the other. That helped him win the bout on a controversial majority decision.
De La Hoya was left sounding like two of his opponents, Pernell Whitaker and Ike Quartey, both of whom lost to De La Hoya on split decisions in disputed 12-round title bouts.
"I tried to box, because people were so used to me fighting and brawling, but I guess that wasn't enough for the people at ringside," De La Hoya said of the judges. "I don't want to bad-mouth anybody. Being in the ring, just alone, for fighters it's very, very tough."
While De La Hoya was booed after the fight, Trinidad was cheered, mostly by the Puerto Rican contingent that made up about a third of the sellout crowd of 12,000 at the Mandalay Bay Hotel Events Center.
"It's hard to deal with. It's a difficult fight when you have a fighter like Felix Trinidad in front of you," De La Hoya said. "I thought I had it in the bag, I swear, in my heart, I really, really did. I really felt I had him hurt, two or three times, but I wasn't thinking about knocking him out.
"I am just very disappointed with boxing right now."
Trinidad was down by two points on two cards, and by one point on another after eight rounds.
Judge Glen Hamada had the fight 114-114. Ben Logist scored it 115-114 and Jerry Roth 115-113 for Trinidad.
It was Trinidad's 16th win in a row in title bouts, and his 15th title defense since winning it in 1993. Trinidad improved to 36-0 with 30 knockouts and dropped De La Hoya to 31-1 with 25 knockouts in a fight whose $13.5 million gross ranks as the highest for a non-heavyweight title fight.
"I always thought from the very beginning I was the No. 1 welterweight, and I was going to prove it. And I did that tonight," said Trinidad, who earned $8.5 million.
"Once I figured him out, in the last four rounds, all he did was run," said Trinidad, who hung rubber chickens from his heavy bags symbolizing "Chicken De La Hoya" during training.
Trinidad wasn't around to answer questions at the post-fight news conference. His promoter, Don King, would not allow it because of a confrontation King had with De La Hoya promoter Bob Arum. King said Arum "disrespected" him by twice telling him to "shut up" after the fight.
Trinidad was at the nearby Las Vegas Hilton celebrating at a party arranged by King and his father, Don Felix. Today, he will deliver on his promise to his countrymen, returning home to more than 100,000 fans in Cupey Alto, Puerto Rico, with "a victory that we will celebrate like never before."
Trinidad, who entered the bout weighing 156 pounds, seemed to possess more power than De La Hoya (152) and seemed to have more energy down the stretch.
De La Hoya had a testosterone booster and creatine among nine supplements in his training regimen, designed to give him "a definite increase in his punching power, a definite increase in his absolute level of endurance, and more importantly, a faster recovery interval than in previous fights," said newly hired nutritionist A. Scott Connelly.
Asked if it took more energy to turn the last few rounds into a track meet rather than stand and fight, Alcazar said: "If he stays in there, he's risking his life. He's risking a knockout."