LAS VEGAS — Oscar De La Hoya thought he had it all planned out. The only thing he didn't plan on was Felix Sturm putting up such a fight.
Sturm nearly upset De La Hoya's planned megafight with Bernard Hopkins, giving De La Hoya all he could handle for 12 rounds Saturday night before coming out on the losing end of a narrow but unanimous decision.
De La Hoya had to fight furiously in the last two rounds to pull out a win and avoid a shocking upset that would have derailed his Sept. 18 fight with Hopkins, who did his part by beating Robert Allen on the same card to defend his middleweight titles.
All three judges scored it 115-113 in favor of De La Hoya. The Associated Press had the fight even, 114-114.
"Everything went wrong tonight," De La Hoya said. "I tried as hard as I can."
Sturm came into the ring with the lightly regarded WBO 160-pound title, but had never fought a major fighter, much less a name fighter like De La Hoya. But from the first round on, when he raised his right hand in triumph going to back to his corner, he gave De La Hoya a fight.
It was the first fight as a middleweight for De La Hoya, who lost his 154-pound title to Shane Mosley in his last fight last September. De La Hoya was a 12-1 favorite to win his sixth title in six weight classes and set up his fight with Hopkins.
"In my heart I know I can do better. People have seen me do better," De La Hoya said. "I don't know what it was."
Sturm, a German fighting in the United States for the first time nearly upset the plans for what could be the richest non-heavyweight fight ever, standing toe-to-toe and trading punches with De La Hoya and often coming out on the better end.
Sturm controlled big parts of the fight with his jab, and when De La Hoya attacked inside he countered with short right hands.
Ringside stats showed Sturm landing 234 of 541 punches to 188 of 792 for De La Hoya.
"Everyone knows I won this fight," Sturm said. "I am the true champion. He got the win because he's a big name."
His white trunks stained red from blood flowing from inside his nose and on the bridge of his nose, De La Hoya seemed to tire as the rounds went on.