Hopkins pounds away

Boxing: The middleweight hasn't missed a chance to take a jab at Felix Trinidad, his opponent tomorrow night. In reply, the Puerto Rican's silence speaks volumes.

Boxing

September 28, 2001|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

In Puerto Rico, perfection is equated with Felix "Tito" Trinidad, whose face graces anti-drug posters and soft-drink adds on the island and who's known for his charitable contributions.

A college student for two years, Trinidad, now 28, quit to become a boxer. Trained by his father, Felix Trinidad Sr., and often accompanied to his fights by his wife, Sharon, and three children, "Trinidad always has projected this perfect fighter, perfect family man image," said HBO commentator Larry Merchant.

"In Puerto Rico, he's treated like a god," boxing historian Thomas Hauser said of the man who could go down in the books as one of boxing's most devastating two-fisted punchers.

"Saying something negative about Felix Trinidad over there is like trashing the American flag here in the United States at this time of war."

But Bernard Hopkins, Trinidad's opponent tomorrow night at New York's Madison Square Garden, did much more than that in San Juan on July 11. Hopkins riled up 13,000 to 14,000 fans at Roberto Clemente Stadium by throwing the Puerto Rican flag to the ground.

And it hasn't stopped there. Hopkins, who, at 36, is giving away eight years to his opponent, has questioned Trinidad's allegiance toward America, chided him for failing to make promotional appearances and made jokes about his heritage and recent marital problems.

For this, Trinidad (40-0, 33 knockouts) has vowed to knock Hopkins (39-2-1, 28 KOs) senseless when he risks his World Boxing Association 160-pound crown against Hopkins' International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Council titles.

Trinidad is expected to earn around $7.5 million to Hopkins' $4 million for the fight, which should start at about 11:30 and will be shown on TVKO, HBO's pay-per-view arm.

Trinidad has largely maintained his composure throughout Hopkins' promotional tirades, even while fending off media inquiries after the discovery of an affair that apparently has left a woman five months pregnant with Trinidad's fourth child.

Hopkins has ripped his opponent in one conference call after another, while Trinidad remained out of sight until a conference call last week and Wednesday's news conference in New York.

"Nothing he says or does is going to affect me," Trinidad said. "You will see. I'm going to hit this guy very hard, and he will feel that in the fight."

Trinidad then referred to the fight's postponement from Sept. 15 to this Saturday due to the terrorist attacks. "It helped Hopkins that the fight was not held on the day it was supposed to be held," he said, "because if it was held, he would already be knocked out. On Sept. 29, this guy's going to suffer."

The Puerto Rican fighter canceled a scheduled appearance on HBO last week, and was later interviewed by the network only under the condition that no questions be asked of his private life.

"His father has cut off the media in Puerto Rico, as I understand it," said Merchant.

"It's uncharted territory because this is the first personal negative ever to come up in Trinidad's career. We don't know if it's caused him any sleepless nights," Merchant added. "Generally, athletes of this elite caliber can set aside their problems in the ring. I expect the same of Trinidad."

In Puerto Rico, the incident has done little to tarnish the image of the man with the highest knockout ratio among current champions. Trinidad still is more popular at home than baseball's Roberto Alomar, Juan Gonzalez or Ivan Rodriguez, according to Chu Garcia, one of the country's top boxing authorities and a columnist for its largest newspaper.

Trinidad is 20-0 in title bouts, with 15 of 17 defenses coming at welterweight (147 pounds). He has won five titles in three weight classes and, with a victory over Hopkins, would become the first unified champ since Marvelous Marvin Hagler lost his crown to Sugar Ray Leonard on April 6, 1987.

Over a 13-month span, Trinidad whipped three former Olympic gold medalists in Pernell Whitaker and Oscar De La Hoya at welterweight (147) and junior middleweight (154) David Reid. His 12th-round knockout of Fernando Vargas in December was his fourth over a former U.S. Olympian.

Trinidad has been knocked down eight times in the early rounds of fights, but he has picked up the pace in his past three victories. He twice floored Vargas in the first round, scored a third-round knockout of Mamadou Thiam and had three knockdowns of William Joppy (32-2-1, 24 KOs), earning the WBC crown with a fifth-round knockout.

But Hopkins has belittled Trinidad's opposition, calling Whitaker too small and Reid and Vargas, too inexperienced.

Hopkins viewed Trinidad as supporting the Puerto Rican fans who booed the national anthem before the Joppy fight. He called Trinidad a hypocrite for saying he "thought the boos were for Joppy," then vowing to carry both the U.S. and Puerto Rican flags into the ring tomorrow night as a show of support for the U.S. war on terrorism.

"I don't care what Hopkins said or what Hopkins feels. I'm as good an American citizen as he is, maybe better," said Trinidad. "Joppy was a better, more complete fighter, more aggressive than Hopkins. He's better inside, has better technique, hits harder. I guarantee you it will end early."

Fight facts

Who: Bernard Hopkins (39-2-1, 28 KOs) vs. Felix Trinidad (40-0, 33 KOs).

What: Middleweight fight for Hopkins' WBC, IBF titles and Trinidad's WBA title.

When: Tomorrow, 11:30 p.m.

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York

TV: TVKO pay-per-view

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