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Oscar De La Hoya vs Ike Quartey 25th anniversary: The Golden Boy escapes a Bazooka in Las Vegas

Pound-for-pound star Oscar De La Hoya landed his signature left hook and dropped Ike Quartey on the seat of his trunks early in round twelve. “The Golden Boy” needed a spectacular finish and he committed to it, saving the best for last in a classic welterweight shootout.

When Quartey found his feet, he may have expected his opponent to exercise a degree of caution. After all, De La Hoya had followed up on a knockdown earlier in the fight and paid for his aggression when the Ghanian star floored him seconds later.

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There was no caution this time. Forcing Quartey into a corner, De La Hoya went wild. The East LA hero released over 50 power punches, most of which landed cleanly on target, during a frenzied assault. A battered Quartey’s health bar was reduced to a mere pixel in diameter, but by moving his hands throughout the ordeal, he convinced referee Mitch Halpern to let him continue. Incredibly, the challenger survived to hear the final bell.

On February 13, 1999, at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, De La Hoya retained his WBC welterweight title by 12-round split decision. One judge scored the bout 115-114 in favor of Quartey, while the other two officials handed in 116-113 and 116-112 tallies for the defending champion.

Not everyone agreed with the verdict, but it was a classic battle that’s worth revisiting.

The Ring Magazine via Getty Images

Coming into the bout, De La Hoya, 26, was already a four-weight world champion and held wins over Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker. However, Quartey still represented his stiffest test to date because, unlike Chavez and Whitaker, the 29-year-old challenger was in his prime and at his most dangerous. Quartey was also naturally bigger and undefeated.

To secure the biggest fight of his life, Quartey had to sacrifice the WBA welterweight championship he’d held for over four years. “Bazooka” had made seven defenses and established his elite-level credentials, but he had yet to secure a multi-million dollar payday. Huge fights with Whitaker and Felix Trinidad had fallen through in 1998, as did the original date for the De La Hoya showdown. When Quartey elected to bypass mandatory challenger Andrey Pestryayev to pursue De La Hoya, the WBA removed him as champion.

The other issue for Quartey coming into this fight was inactivity. All the fight cancellations had forced a 16-month layoff, which was the longest of his career by far. It had also been two years since he’d posted a victory (KO 5 Ralph Jones in April 1997) because his previous bout with feared Mexican puncher Jose Luis Lopez had ended in a majority draw.

Still, those in the trade recognized the danger awaiting De La Hoya.

“Oscar is very fast and sharp,” said then-IBF lightweight champion Sugar Shane Mosley in an interview with HBO. “If Oscar can stay on the outside, then he may be able to outpoint Ike Quartey. But if he stays there and battles with him, then we might see a couple of guys go down.”

Those words would prove to be prophetic.

The early rounds were tense and difficult to score. De La Hoya let his punches go in fast blizzards, but he’d retreat quicker than he had against previous opponents. Meanwhile, Quartey worked behind a jolting left jab and cocked the right hand.

Ike Quartey drops a right hand on Oscar De La Hoya

Early in round six, the fight exploded into action. Seconds after leaving his corner, De La Hoya followed a right lead with two left hooks, the second of which busted Quartey on the jaw and sent him to the canvas. More embarrassed than anything, the challenger rose with a smile on his face and signaled to the crowd that he wasn’t hurt. De La Hoya wasn’t convinced.

The champion followed up with a quick assault, but Quartey, who was trapped in a corner, returned fire before the pair drifted back out to ring center. Eager to keep the momentum going, De La Hoya led with a left uppercut – a dangerous punch to throw – and was countered immediately with a sharp left hook that dropped him. The home fighter was up quickly but Quartey nailed him several more times before the bell rang to end what was later named The Ring Magazine Round of the Year.

Those three minutes seemed to spook De La Hoya and his work rate dropped dramatically over the next three rounds. Quartey’s jab continued to pile up the points and his right hand brought swelling to the champion’s left eye. Sensing their man’s predicament, the pro-De La Hoya crowd was becoming uneasy and they needed something to lift them.

In the championship rounds, De La Hoya responded with better work while Quartey inexplicably slowed down. However, despite the mini breakthrough, many felt that De La Hoya was at high risk of suffering the first loss of his professional career when the bell rang to begin the final round.

Hyperbole to one side, De La Hoya’s rally in round twelve is one of the most spectacular in modern boxing history. Those 30-odd seconds of savagery belonged within the cauldron-like confines of the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, which was famed for its blood-splashed wars during the early 1970s. It’s miraculous that Quartey survived and made it to the final bell.

“The fans want to see good action-packed fights,” said a marked-up De La Hoya during his post-fight interview with HBO. “I gave it to them in the last round. I dropped him, almost knocked him out. I had him. Oh my gosh, I’m very upset with myself.”

There was no reason for De La Hoya to be upset. He’d retained his welterweight championship on a very close call and displayed incredible fighting heart against a formidable opponent.

Understandably, Quartey was disappointed with the decision and he was never quite the same fighter after this. He was beaten soundly by Fernando Vargas and Winky Wright in later years, and sandwiched between those setbacks was a contentious decision defeat to Vernon Forrest. He’s unfairly remembered for the De La Hoya loss, but this was a fight in which he proved his quality as a champion.

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