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October 1, 2004
The moment boxing fans have been waiting for has finally arrived. Former three-time world champion Felix "Tito" Trinidad takes center stage Saturday night at New York's Madison Square Garden for a middleweight bout against one of the sport's more pintoresque creatures, former WBA and WBC welterweight champ, Ricardo Mayorga, of Nicaragua.
The Trinidad-Mayorga fight promises to be the icing on the cake for boxing fans. Not only have we seen undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins floor Oscar De La Hoya, but last weekend we also witnessed Glen Johnson drive another nail in the coffin of former lightweight champ Roy Jones Jr. No matter what happens, Trinidad (41-1-0, 34 KO) versus Mayorga (27-4, 23 KO) will be a great show of two hard-hitting fighters.
Here's a recap on the two fighters: Trinidad's last big fight was exactly three years ago (Sept. 29, 2001), a 12th-round knockout loss to Bernard Hopkins, the first of Trinidad's storied career. Following the defeat, Puerto Rico's best pound-for-pound boxer in recent history fought one more fight, in May of 2002, a final victory versus France's Hacine Cherifi, after which he announced his retirement.
Mayorga is trying to regain the glory that escaped him last year after he lost a controversial majority decision and his WBA and WBC welterweight belts in a unification match to Cory Spinks. Mayorga has never fought at 160. This past April he beat Eric Mitchell at 156 on the Ruiz-Oquendo undercard after failing to make weight to fight Jose Antonio "El Gallo" Rivera.
No one is happier about this matchup than Don King, who outdid himself this week providing the media with photo opportunities of Trinidad in New York.
Trinidad's return to New York will be three years and three days to the day he lost to Hopkins, also at Madison Square Garden. That fight had originally been set for the weekend of Sept. 11, 2001, and Trinidad remained in New York following the terrorist attack while the fight was rescheduled. His critics say it was bad karma to have fought in New York in September in the wake of the attacks. Others say he was distracted by the news that he was going to have a son out of wedlock by a woman in Miami. Hopkins supporters say the undisputed middleweight champ was just no match for Trinidad.
Whatever the reasons, it took Trinidad less than two years to decide that sitting around and investing his millions was as boring as watching fight reruns. In December of 2003, he officially announced his return and by January, Don King already had Mayorga lined up after failed attempts to pit Trinidad against De la Hoya or Hopkins.
Felix Trinidad Sr., Trinidad's father and trainer, said his son's motivation was the key to his comeback trail.
"To simply come to the gym every day with great enthusiasm is the most important part of the training. When you lose that, you have nothing. Tito has great enthusiasm now and that's the only important change.
Sure, he lost a fight, but other great boxers have lost fights. Mayorga lost four," said Trinidad Sr. "That doesn't take away from Tito's abilities."
Mayorga has kept the media, and boxing fans entertained, with his swagger and professional-wrestling style call-outs.
"Trinidad will wish he never came out of retirement after he fights me," said Mayorga. "I will send him back to Puerto Rico on a stretcher."
Trinidad said this week he's enjoyed Mayorga's comments and plans to shut him up in the ring.
"He's been talking too much but it doesn't bother me at all because to be honest with you I like boxers like that because when I go into the ring I'm going to hit him hard," said Trinidad. "I feel OK, I feel good because I know I'm meeting a guy who has been talking too much, so he monkeys with me but he's helping me to hit him harder. I'm not losing focus or timing, but I feel well when I hit him hard because I know he's been talking too much."
Trinidad Sr. said his son is prepared to go 12 rounds, even though 86 percent of the boxing media said they expect the fight to end in a knockout.
"Tito is motivated and the reason he is so motivated is that he has the support of his people. I think if the fans weren't behind him, he wouldn't be able to do this. He is renewed, he is more than capable of a knockout," Trinidad Sr. said. "But you don't go after the knockout, the knockout comes to you. When you train, you train for 12 rounds because you need the stamina and that's what boxing is about."
Trinidad said he agreed to take the fight with Mayorga for a lesser known title solely in order to get a fight over 12 rounds at middleweight.
"The reason why were are fighting for this kind of belt is because the belt of the organization are all held by one fighter and you know who it is, so they wanted a 12-round fight," said Trinidad in reference to Hopkins.
While all signs point to a rematch versus Hopkins should Trinidad emerge victorious on Saturday, the Trinidad camp was reluctant to discuss the future.
"At this moment I will not be able to answer that because I am so focused on this fight, we're going to wait for the result of this fight first then after this fight then we will speak about my future and everything," Trinidad told the media earlier this week.
Trinidad Sr., however, has not ruled Hopkins out.
Gabrielle Paese is a sports reporter in San Juan. She was the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.