This Day In Sports: A big thing – when boxing was biggest

June 7, 1996: Former Olympic champion Oscar De La Hoya fights living legend Julio Cesar Chavez for the WBC junior welterweight title, billed as “Ultimate Glory” at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. De La Hoya was undefeated and was the reigning WBO lightweight champion, while Chavez was the WBC super lightweight champ and was going into the 100th bout of his career. Age was an acknowledged factor in the odds, as the 23-year-old De La Hoya entered the ring as a 2-to-1 favorite over the 33-year-old Chavez.

De La Hoya opened a cut over Chavez’s eye with a straight right just one minute into the first round. Shortly thereafter, the fight was temporarily stopped to allow the fight doctor to work on stopping the bleeding. The bout went on, but Chavez’s ability to compete was clearly compromised by the injury. He made it to the fourth round before De La Hoya pummeled him enough to end the fight with a TKO.

Chavez fell to 97-2-1, while De La Hoya improved to 22-0. It was the first time in his monumental career that Chavez had been stopped. He continued to fight, retiring after a 2001 victory at the age of 38. But Chavez came out of retirement in 2003 and would enter the ring four more times. The finale came in September, 2005, when the 43-year-old didn’t come out of his corner for Round 5 against Grover Wiley. Chavez told his promoter, Bob Arum, that he was done.

As for De La Hoya, he was hitting his peak less than four years after winning a lightweight gold medal for the U.S. at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. (His mother, suffering from breast cancer in 1990, told De La Hoya that her dying wish was for him to win gold.) He was the world’s top-rated pound-for-pound in 1997 and 1998. De La Hoya and Chavez would meet in a rematch in 1998 after Chavez claimed De La Hoya didn’t really beat him the first time, with the fight having been stopped. This one was stopped, too, with De La Hoya winning in an eighth-round TKO.

De La Hoya would go on to win 11 world championships in six different weight classes during his career. He remains one of the top pay-per-view draws of all-time, bringing in an estimated $700 million. De La Hoya’s final bout was in December, 2008, and he retired in April, 2009.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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