Bernard Hopkins joked he was glad nobody took his blood pressure around the time the final bell sounded in Oscar De La Hoya's victory over Felix Sturm on Saturday at the MGM Grand.

If someone had, Hopkins would have been headed to a hospital instead of a victory party.

Hopkins did his part to guarantee himself an eight-figure payday by routing Robert Allen to successfully defend his middleweight title for the 18th time. But the unbeaten Sturm, who held the lightly regarded WBO belt, nearly ruined the plans for a Sept. 18 showdown by pushing De La Hoya to the limit.

De La Hoya got a unanimous decision over Sturm -- all three judges gave De La Hoya the final round to enable him to pull out the win -- and no one was more relieved than Hopkins.

That set up their September duel in the same ring for the WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF middleweight belts, a bout promoter Bob Arum believes will be the richest non-heavyweight fight in history.

De La Hoya, fighting at middleweight for the first time in a career that began in 1992 as a super featherweight, stood toe-to-toe and slugged with Sturm throughout.

His aggressiveness likely won him the fight, but his trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr., said the battle plan will be significantly different against Hopkins.

"What you saw tonight was a slugfest," Mayweather said. "We're going to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan, but I promise you, there will be no slugfest. No way."

De La Hoya's lightning-quick left hook was lethal at 130, 135, 140 and even 147 pounds. He began to lose some of his punching power as he advanced to the 154-pound level, though he proved he was still dangerous when he knocked out Fernando Vargas in 2002.

But his punches had only minimal zing on them Saturday and Sturm seemed in little discomfort.

"Oscar won this fight because of money, not because of what happened in the ring," Sturm said.

De La Hoya, who looked soft around the middle, suffered from a bad back during his training camp in Vero Beach, Fla., and visited a chiropractor several times upon his arrival in Las Vegas about 10 days before the fight. He was reluctant to talk about it, though, and said it was no excuse.

"I have to admit I underestimated Felix Sturm," an unusually subdued De La Hoya said.

Hopkins saw that but kept hoping De La Hoya would make the adjustments he needed to make. He praised De La Hoya for his heart and for stepping on the accelerator in the final round with the fight on the line.

Still, Hopkins said De La Hoya took the wrong approach tactically.

"He fought a little bit more of Sturm's fight than he wanted to do," Hopkins said. "He shouldn't have stood there and waited for Sturm to retaliate after he threw four or five punches. But there is no way he'll fight Bernard Hopkins the way he fought Felix Sturm. I guarantee Floyd Senior is going to have a different blueprint come September."

Mayweather said De La Hoya needs to use his speed, quickness, his jab and his ability to move around the ring to defeat Hopkins.

But De La Hoya was in no mood to discuss tactics. He was, in fact, in a mood to say little other than to promise he will not pull out despite whispers in boxing circles that De La Hoya realizes he can't win and will find a way out.

"Believe me, it's the fight of my life on September 18 and I will be there," he said. "I will be there. I guarantee you, I will be there."

Hopkins said he'll do what it takes to help get De La Hoya in the ring and make sure the first bell rings.

"I'll get him an assistant and a driver to get him to the arena if I have to," Hopkins said, laughing. "I've come too far now not to complete this trip."