Trinidad certain he can brush off rust, Mayorga at Garden tonight

But tough opponent to test ex-champ's will after layoff

Boxing

October 02, 2004|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Felix Trinidad was loose and confident at a Wednesday news conference at Madison Square Garden, site of his middleweight, non-title fight against Ricardo Mayorga tonight.

The ex-champion from Puerto Rico made a rapid motion with his left hand as Mayorga spoke, implying that his hard-drinking, hard-smoking rival had a big mouth.

Trinidad, who has unretired after a 29-month layoff, pressed his right fist against his mouth, showing what he would do to remedy the matter.

"There's a certain mind-set that a champion has: I had it. I think Felix has it," said Sugar Ray Leonard, who unretired four times. "You always feel like you can get things done in the ring."

Trinidad certainly feels he still can get it done. At the news conference, he whipped out a contract for a $100,000 bet, signed it and watched Mayorga do the same - to the delight of a number of loud Trinidad fans.

New York State Athletic Commission chairman Ron Scott Stevens called such a side bet illegal, "something commission rules don't allow," but Trinidad plans to keep his word.

"I've been out for two years, so I believe he'll try to come after me," said Trinidad, who signed autographs amid swarming fans in front of Madison Square Garden after the news conference. "I'll be able to take advantage of his style. I'm ready for whatever he brings to the table."

Trinidad (41-1, 34 knockouts) will earn $10 million to Mayorga's $2.5 million for returning to Madison Square Garden, site of his September 2001 knockout loss to Bernard Hopkins that cost him his World Boxing Association middleweight crown.

"When a fighter retires from boxing, he no longer has any heart," Mayorga (27-4, 23 KOs), who weighed in at 158 pounds, said of Trinidad (157 3/4 ), who had fought once more after Hopkins, beating Hassine Cherifi of France, before retiring to spend time with his family. "I don't think Tito will be the Tito of old. Rather, he'll be a shell of his former self."

Leonard disagrees.

"Ninety-nine percent of the boxers come back for financial reasons, but I know that wasn't the case with me, and I know it isn't the case with Felix," Leonard said. "I came back because I missed the roar of the crowd, because of ego. At age 31, [Trinidad] is still in his prime. You know when to give it up when the other guy hits you more than you're hitting him."

Trinidad has been knocked down nine times - once as a middleweight, twice as a super middleweight and six times as a welterweight.

Known mostly as a slow starter, he picked up the pace in his past four wins. He twice floored Fernando Vargas in the first round, scored a third-round knockout of Mamadou Thiam, knocked down William Joppy in three rounds of a fifth-round KO and stopped Cherifi in four.

But in the wild-swinging Mayorga, who is rising to a middleweight limit of 160 pounds that is six more than junior middleweight and 13 more than welterweight, "Trinidad's fighting a strong, unorthodox fighter, which I think can be a problem in a long, hard fight," said HBO color analyst Larry Merchant.

In March 2002, Mayorga's fifth-round technical knockout of Andrew "Six Heads" Lewis earned him the WBA welterweight crown. And in January 2003, Mayorga's stunning, third-round knockout of previously unbeaten Vernon Forrest earned him the World Boxing Council welterweight crown.

But Mayorga, who also whipped Forrest by majority decision six months later, has not had a knockout in three fights. He followed a December loss to Cory Spinks with an April decision over lightly reguarded Eric Mitchell.

Trinidad has been troubled by "boxers", but a scientific fight is neither Mayorga's style, nor in his game plan. "The first guy to get the other guy to back up wins this fight," said noted boxing historian Bert Sugar.

"Mayorga's lifestyle - his smoking, his drinking and his general disrespect and disreguard for the things it takes to be a true athlete - that's going to become manifest after the fourth round," Hopkins said of Mayorga, who will be 31 tomorrow and who has been known to sip hard liquor between rounds while sparring and smoke a pack of cigarettes daily.

Trinidad must keep his punches tight and inside Mayorga's wide ones, standing his ground against a man who will try to blindside him with shots he doesn't see.

"Against a bombardier like Mayorga, the first few rounds could be doubly dangerous," said HBO play-by-play analyst Jim Lampley. "But I expect Tito to win this fight. I think in Mayorga, Trinidad has a guy with even less [boxing ability] than himself."

At a glance

What: Felix Trinidad, Puerto Rico, vs. Ricardo Mayorga, Nicaragua, in a 12-round middleweight fight

Records: Trinidad, 41-1, 34 knockouts; Mayorga, 27-4, 23 KOs

Site: Madison Square Garden, New York

When: Tonight, approximately 11:15.

TV: HBO pay-per-view

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