Junior welterweight – Oscar de la Hoya vs. Kostya Tszyu
Best time to make this fight: January of 1997
Reasons: On January 18, they actually fought on the same card. IBF titlist Tszyu fought a one-round no-contest against Leonardo Moro Mas while “The Golden Boy” made the second and final defense of his WBC crown with a comprehensive decision over Miguel Angel Gonzalez. If both men felt justified to fight this night, it would have been the perfect time – at least mythically – to meet.
Why this fight made the list: Everyone knew De La Hoya was a transient 140-pounder but he also intended to make 1997 the best 12-month period of his career. He made good on his pledge as he beat Gonzalez, decisioned Pernell Whitaker to win the WBC 147-pound belt and defeated David Kamau (KO 2), Hector Camacho (W 12) and Wilfredo Rivera (KO 8) to cap off the year. Though Gonzalez was a former 135-pound champ, how much better would the year have been had he started it by beating a prime, undefeated Tszyu at his best weight? Tszyu had registered four defenses by January 1997 – all in Australia – but was already well known in the States due to his powerful title-winning effort against Jake Rodriguez. Both men were at or very near their relative peaks, which would have made this fight even more compelling.
What might have happened: Based on the brief time he spent with Moro Mas, one can’t draw a bead on Tszyu’s level of performance on the date in question. De La Hoya was a different story; although he spent the least amount of time at 140 (just three fights) it might well have been his best weight. He showed why against Gonzalez as he punched sharply and exhibited terrific ring generalship en route to an easy decision. The 5-foot-10½ De La Hoya stood three-and-a-half inches taller than Tszyu and his 73-inch wingspan was six inches longer. He dominated Gonzalez with the jab and he likely would have done the same with Tszyu. Plus, as hard as Tszyu hit, De La Hoya was at least as powerful if not more so. De La Hoya by unanimous decision.
Honorable mentions: Aaron Pryor vs. Ray Mancini, Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Juan Coggi, Antonio Cervantes vs. Roberto Duran