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Boxing Gets a Great Fight

December 4, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Felix Trinidad and Fernando Vargas gave boxing what it needed -- a great fight. At the end, though, only Trinidad was around to enjoy it.

Trinidad's systematic destruction of his fellow 154-pound champion wasn't merely cause for celebration in his native Puerto Rico. Boxing itself was a winner in a fight that cemented Trinidad's status as one of the sport's superstars.

It was as painful for Vargas as it was joyful for Trinidad. His night started with his first career visit to the canvas and ended at the hospital, where he was taken for a brain scan after he was finally stopped in a vicious 12th round.

Vargas was treated and released, but the psychological scars from being knocked down five times may prove harder to heal.

``He's obviously hurt by the loss,'' Vargas promoter Gary Shaw said. ``But he's proud that at least he went down like a true Mexican warrior.''

Indeed Vargas did, rebounding from two first-round knockdowns that he never fully recovered from to knock Trinidad down in the fourth round and turn the fight into a battle that thrilled the crowd of about 11,000 at the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino.

It was a battle, though, that Trinidad regained command of midway through the fight. And he proved a devastating finisher, knocking Vargas down twice in the 12th before a final vicious right hand crumpled Vargas near his corner and ended the fight with 1:33 left.

``Vargas is a great champion, but the better man won the fight,'' Trinidad said. ``It was my toughest fight ever, but I proved I am a great champion.''

If anyone needed convincing after wins over Oscar De La Hoya and David Reid that Trinidad is perhaps the greatest of the current non-heavyweights, he gave it to them Saturday night.

Trinidad had the reputation as a slow starter, but the fight was only 23 seconds old when he caught Vargas with a left hook that put the 22-year-old down for the first time in his career.

Vargas got right back up, but another left hook put him down again, and it looked like the fight wouldn't get out of the first. But Trinidad backed off a bit and Vargas recovered his legs and managed to make it to the bell.

``I couldn't believe (Vargas) came back,'' said Vargas' trainer, Roger Bloodworth.

Neither could Trinidad, who was standing on the ropes with his arms raised in triumph after the second knockdown.

``I thought the fight would end quicker,'' Trinidad said.

Though obviously still hurt, Vargas fought his way back, winning the third round on one scorecard and beginning to find the range with his punches. Trinidad landed a low blow in the round that Vargas needed a timeout to recover from, and Vargas talked to Trinidad as the round ended.

Then, it was Vargas' turn. A left hook early in the fourth round put Trinidad down. But, as Vargas tried to swarm over him and finish the fight, Trinidad hit Vargas with another low blow that doubled Vargas over in pain and cost Trinidad a point.

But it also gave him time to recover from the knockdown, and he was never in trouble again.

``It was an extremely smart move,'' Bloodworth said. ``The only thing I would have told him to do if I was in his corner was to smile and say he was sorry after he hit him low.''

Vargas remained competitive, but Trinidad was relentless. Both fighters traded big punches in a great ninth round, but Trinidad's were heavier and more effective.

When Vargas came out for the final round he was well behind on all three scorecards and needed a knockout. Instead, it was Trinidad who dropped him quickly with a left hook, then once again when he got up. A final right hand dropped him for a third time and referee Jay Nady didn't even bother to count.

``I knew I was winning the fight and didn't need a knockout,'' Trinidad said. ``Still, it was nice to get it.''

The win gave Trinidad the IBF 154-pound belt held by Vargas to go with his WBA version of the crown. He doesn't figure to keep either, planning to move up to middleweight, where a match with WBA champion William Joppy awaits.

From there, it may be on to light heavyweight champion Roy Jones Jr., if he would agree to come down to 168 pounds.

``Get ready, Roy Jones, we're looking for you,'' promoter Don King said.

For Vargas, the future is more unclear. He lost for the first time in 21 fights and may have lost some confidence.

``He'll be back,'' Shaw said. ``He always told me if he lost this fight, it would be if he was down on his back. He's proud, very proud.''

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