Oscar De La Hoya wants everyone to forget the near-timid fighter who faded against Felix Trinidad.
He took a superb first step toward erasing that image Saturday night by knocking out Derrell Coley in the seventh round of their welterweight fight.
"My mind is set for the year 2000," De La Hoya said. "The fighter you saw, that's who I am. I am not going to change for anybody."
De La Hoya, who built an early lead only to get cautious and lose the WBC crown to Trinidad in his last bout, said the new year would bring a new, improved fighter. He certainly looked it against Coley, who went down from a left to the body in the dying seconds of the seventh.
As referee Wayne Kelly counted out Coley, De La Hoya lifted his arms in celebration. It was a job well done.
"This was not a stepping stone, but more of a fight where I was learning and going through a process I have not gone through in a long time, which is go out and take care of business instead of be very cautious," he said.
Almost from the outset, De La Hoya, who won the fringe IBA crown by beating Coley, was in control. He forced the action for all but the first half of the fourth round, the only time Coley seemed worthy of challenging the 1992 Olympic gold medalist.
The fourth round featured the bout's best action. Coley staggered De La Hoya with a pair of rights, then forced De La Hoya against the ropes with several more punches. A solid right to the face seemed to have De La Hoya in trouble.
"I know I had Oscar hurt, but I didn't have anything to take Oscar out," Coley said. "I think I burned myself out."
De La Hoya responded with a sharp right to Coley's face, and suddenly the complexion of the round shifted. De La Hoya landed all the significant blows the rest of the round and the rest of the fight.
"I give myself a 7 to an 8 tonight," De La Hoya said. "My father felt that I was training about 75 to 80 percent in the gym back in California and he was right."
Coley attempted to pick up the pace at the start of the seventh round. But De La Hoya, 27, changed that strategy with a pair of jabs. Although he missed several wild lefts, he did get in a good left hook to the head moments before the decisive punch.
That came as Coley was moving to his right, and Coley immediately dropped to the canvas.
"He got me with a body shot right down the middle," Coley said. "I could have gotten up, but I didn't have it in me."
For De La Hoya, it was a commanding showing following his lack of aggression late in the Trinidad fight last Sept. 18. He said he was in shape to attack for 12 rounds, and probably would have had the fight lasted longer.
In earning $5 million, he nearly swept the judges' cards. Only one judge, Melvina Lathan, gave a round to Coley the first.
"I was very patient early," De La Hoya said. "My plans ths year are four fights and four KOs. This is the first. There are three more coming."
De La Hoya, who like Coley weighed 147, improved to 32-1 with 26 knockouts. He had to work longer than in his last trip to Madison Square Garden, when he knocked out James Leija in the second round on Dec. 15, 1995. But he gave the crowd of 13,814 it's money's worth, landing 183 of his 336 punches (55 percent).
Coley, 29, of Capitol Heights, Md., is 34-2-2. He landed only 77 pches, and other than in the fourth round, none was damaging.
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