29 months later, Trinidad ready for Round 2 of career

Former champion returns from retirement for bout against brawling Mayorga


October 01, 2004|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Felix Trinidad rose on wobbly legs at the count of 9. But with his father, trainer and cornerman, Felix Sr., already climbing through the ropes to rescue his son, referee Steve Smoger stopped the fight at 1:22 of the 12th and final round.

That was the scene at Madison Square Garden on Sept. 29, 2001, after Bernard Hopkins had taken less than 36 minutes to end Trinidad's eight-year, two-month championship reign by humbling Puerto Rico's most famous athlete. A man about whom a native countryman once said, "Ricky Martin sings for Puerto Rico; Tito Trinidad bleeds for Puerto Rico."

"Trinidad was a god to his people," said Hopkins, who unified the middleweight crown and silenced the partisan Trinidad fans who had packed Madison Square Garden that night. "Nobody was supposed to be able to do that to him."

Trinidad (41-1, 34 knockouts) fought one more time, then retired. But he returns tomorrow night from a 29-month ring absence to Madison Square Garden against free-swinging, Nicaraguan brawler Ricardo Mayorga (27-4, 23 KOs) in a 12-round middleweight fight.

In what Hopkins calls "a statement fight" for Trinidad, the former five-belt, three-division titlist must prove he is still driven to compete.

"Hold your breath the first four rounds, because Mayorga will turn this into a shoot-em-up, bang-em-out event," Hopkins said. "Trinidad is a great fighter and a legend, but you'll know the first time he gets hit if he should fight on or retire."

Hopkins beat down a man whose knockout ratio (82.5) was ranked highest among world champions. A man who had gone 21-0 with 17 knockouts in title fights. A man who still ranks among Ring magazine's top 10 all-time welterweights with 15 title defenses in that class.

Trinidad's streak included wins over ex-champs Oscar De La Hoya, Pernell Whitaker, David Reid, Fernando Vargas and William Joppy. De La Hoya, Whitaker and Reid are former Olympic gold medalists, and Vargas is a former Olympian.

Trinidad, 31, earned a title in his third division on May 13, 2001, knocking down Joppy in the first, fourth and fifth rounds of his middleweight debut before a frenzied, pro-Trinidad crowd of 18,325 at Madison Square Garden.

"Coming out of the dressing room and into the ring will be very emotional for me. I know my fans will show a lot of emotion," said Trinidad, whose retirement was spent riding horses, attending cockfights and boxing matches. He will analyze his career after the fight.

"My promoter [Don King] said boxing needed me," Trinidad continued. "My fans said it's not the same without me. I've gotten a warm welcome back to the ring. I was undefeated, I lost, but I'm back to continue my victory road against Mayorga."

Trinidad became the first former welterweight champ to win a middleweight belt since Roberto Duran in 1989, but Hopkins beat him to become the first unified champ since Marvelous Marvin Hagler in 1987.

"Trinidad went years into his boxing career knocking people out. Then he met a guy in Hopkins who had all the tools," said HBO commentator Jim Lampley. "When the puncher is exposed for his one-dimensionality, it can create a massive insecurity."

Hopkins "saw fear" in Trinidad during their July 2001 promotional tour in San Juan, this after snatching the Puerto Rican flag from Trinidad's hand and throwing it to the ground.

"The look on Trinidad's face was like a kid seeing a ghost late at night, calling his mommy," said Hopkins. "And she ain't running into the room fast enough."

Mayorga, who will turn 31 Sunday, has tried similar psychological attacks. In a reference to Oscar De La Hoya and Roy Jones losing by ninth-round knockouts over the past two weekends, Mayorga, at Wednesday's news conference, displayed a Round 9 ring card and a poster of Trinidad upon which "KO 9" was scribbled in blue ink.

"Trinidad could have been better off fighting a tuneup before taking on such a big fight," said HBO's Larry Merchant. "So one question he has to answer is how the long layoff affected him."

Mayorga, who will earn $2.5 million to Trinidad's $10 million, has vowed to swiftly remind Trinidad of his lone defeat, when Hopkins' hard right hand to the head sent him reeling backward and down.

"I predict [a knockout] in three or five [rounds]," said Mayorga, who makes only his second middleweight appearance and is without a knockout in his past three fights. "I don't want to cause the Trinidad family any grief, so I ask the dad to please stay close. Do not let the fight go on longer than necessary."

For all the questions about Trinidad's psyche, there's no questioning the heart of a man who stayed behind to help feed rescue workers at Ground Zero and who has purchased for them 600 tickets to tomorrow's fight.

Despite having had one of his five children out of wedlock, reverence for Trinidad barely wavered in Puerto Rico, where the husband, father and former college student has a clean lifestyle, contributes to charity and has graced anti-drug posters and soft-drink ads.

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