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Chavez Finally Shows His Age

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Oscar De La Hoya got his respect.

But he wasn’t about to give Julio Cesar Chavez his due after Chavez quit in his corner at the end of the eighth round Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.

“He told me he quit,” De La Hoya said. “And that was even more satisfying to me. That’s the worst thing that a fighter can do. That’s why it’s even more satisfying than a knockout.”

A 6-1 underdog considered long past his prime, Chavez, 36, reached back Friday night to the days when he deserved to be called a Mexican legend, showing flashes of the time when he was the most feared fighter his country ever produced.

But ultimately, time and the devastating punches of the 25-year-old De La Hoya brought Chavez back to reality.

At the end of the eighth, looking like an old man once again, bruised and beaten, Chavez had had enough.

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For two years, Chavez said it would be different the next time he faced De La Hoya. For two years, Chavez claimed that a prefight cut had robbed him of the chance to beat De La Hoya in their first meeting.

Friday night, it might have been different. Chavez, though losing the majority of eight rounds, was able to answer the best De La Hoya had to offer.

Chavez was thinner at 144 1/2 pounds, he was faster and he looked younger.

But then, after a furious eighth round in which 173 punches were thrown by the two men, with a deep cut filling Chavez’ mouth with blood, with nonthreatening cuts over both eyes, with a banged-up nose, Chavez, through his brother Roberto, signaled to referee Richard Steele that he’d had enough.

De La Hoya thus retained his World Boxing Council welterweight title and improved to 29-0 with 24 knockouts.

But just as important to De La Hoya, he finally had the respect he had so dearly sought from his boyhood hero.

“You did it,” Chavez told De La Hoya as they embraced in the ring. “You did it.”

While Chavez (101-3-2, 84 knockouts) showed glimpses of the fighter he once was, De La Hoya showed flashes of the fighter he may become in a fight in which there were no knockdowns.

In some ways, this might have been De La Hoya’s finest hour. He found a fighter who could answer his left jab with a jab of his own, he found a fighter who was willing and able to match him blow for blow in the middle of the ring and he was on the receiving end of as many punches as he ever has been, yet he never faltered.

All three judges had De La Hoya ahead when the fight was stopped, John Keane and Daniel Van De Wiele 78-75 and Anek Hongtongkam 79-73.

But nearly all the rounds were close.

“I didn’t have a smart game plan,” De La Hoya said. “That’s why it seemed so tough.

“I could have just stayed on my toes and outboxed him. But people don’t want to see that. They want to see me fight.”

That they did.

But by the end of the sixth round, De La Hoya could sense that the end was near.

“Oscar told me that Chavez was tired and ready to go,” said De La Hoya’s trainer, Gil Clancy.

That was good news to Clancy, who was surprised by the effort put up by Chavez.

“He beat the old Chavez,” Clancy said, “the best Chavez anybody has seen in the last five years. He did not beat a shill. He beat a great fighter.”

Ironically, Chavez enjoyed his best round just before his brother tossed in the towel.

It was ironic that actor Sylvester Stallone was sitting ringside because the eighth round looked like something out of a “Rocky” movie. Gone was any attempt at finesse or movement. The two fighters stood toe to toe and dared the other to fall.

For Chavez, well behind on points, it was one last gasp. For De La Hoya, it was a chance to get that precious respect.

De La Hoya said he went back to his corner exhilarated.

“I had my second wind,” he said. “I was ready to go.”

That was not the case, however, in the other corner.

“I want to make one thing clear,” Chavez said. “I wanted to continue. My corner was the one that stopped the fight. I was never in any trouble.”

Yet when Roberto Chavez signaled the end of the fight, his brother barely protested.

And then, in front of what remained of the crowd of 17,125, Chavez uttered the words De La Hoya had so long sought to hear.

“In front of all of you, I give my respects to Oscar De La Hoya,” he said. “He beat me right.

“But I said the first fight was not a fight. I told you that losing or winning, this would be a great fight. a great fight. I demonstrated to all those negative people that I am not finished.”

Indeed, Chavez, who keeps saying his last fight is just around the corner, announced that he is not yet at that corner. He wants to go back to 140 pounds and fight one more time in December, perhaps against International Boxing Federation lightweight champion Vince Phillips.

“Then I will definitely retire,” Chavez said. “Then it will be time to say goodbye to boxing.”

* TYSON HEARING TODAY: It doesn’t look good for former champion as he returns to Las Vegas for hearing. C11


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