Nearly an hour after knocking out Oscar De La Hoya in the ninth round Saturday night in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins walked into his post-bout news conference, glanced at his wife, Jeanette, and told her: "We finally made it, babe."
Few fighters have traveled as long a road as Hopkins, an ex-con from Philadelphia who has successfully defended his IBF, WBA and WBC middleweight title belts an unprecedented 19 times, but has still been overlooked as one of the premier fighters. But after becoming the first boxer to knock out De La Hoya, a celebrated champion in six weight classes, Hopkins finally may have cemented his reputation as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
"It's important to [me] to go down in history and to be talked about like Sugar Ray Robinson is talked about now," Hopkins said.
With a powerful left hook to De La Hoya's liver area midway through the ninth round that sent the ultra-popular Latino fighter to his knees, Hopkins may have joined the ranks of Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard and Robinson as one of the greatest middleweights in history. Hopkins (45-2-1, 32 knockouts) hasn't been beaten since losing a narrow, 12-round decision to Roy Jones Jr. at RFK Stadium in 1993, and he has knocked out opponents in 16 of his last 25 fights.
"To even be mentioned on that list, I don't care if I'm at the bottom," Hopkins said.
"I'm humbled to even be mentioned with those guys. . . . How many fighters can say they haven't lost in almost a decade? I'm like a dinosaur."
De La Hoya (37-4, 29 knockouts) was knocked down for only the fifth time in his illustrious 41-fight career, and he lost for the second time in his last three fights. Hopkins commended De La Hoya for fighting him toe-to-toe and not trying to run, but it was clear De La Hoya couldn't absorb Hopkins's powerful jabs and uppercuts for very long. Hopkins, a natural middleweight, was nearly three inches taller and had a three-inch advantage in reach over De La Hoya, who was fighting for only the second time in the 160-pound class.
"I knew he'd never been knocked out," Hopkins said. "I know Oscar is a world-class fighter who never quits. But when I saw him go down like that, I knew he wasn't getting up."
Said De La Hoya: "I know for a fact that it's hard for somebody to knock me out. I never thought it would happen. Never in my mind did I believe it would be a body shot that stopped me."
De La Hoya, 31, wouldn't say whether he'll fight again. His handlers have said he'll probably face an inferior opponent later this year or early next year -- they're calling the fight a "victory lap" for him -- and then retire.
Hopkins, 39, said he'd like to defend his titles for a 20th time -- "It would take somebody 20 years to break that record," he said -- and mentioned a rematch with Felix Trinidad or a fight against Shane Mosley as possibilities. Hopkins also wouldn't rule out surrendering his belts and moving up in weight for a rematch with Jones. But Hopkins indicated his next fight could be his final bout, too.
"I've accomplished my goals," he said. "I don't know after 20 defenses how motivated I'll be to continue doing this.
"I don't want to just be fighting for the money. I've never done that before. I want to do what I do best: defend my titles."