TRINIDAD EVOLVED INTO ONE OF PUERTO RICO’S MOST ACCOMPLISHED AND BELOVED CHAMPIONS DURING AN EXTENDED WELTERWEIGHT REIGN AND EXPLOSIVE STOPS AT 154 AND 160 POUNDS
Felix Trinidad is the people’s champion on a boxing-crazy island. When “Tito” fought during his heyday in the 1990s and early 2000s, Puerto Rico came to a standstill.
The future three-division titleholder was born in Cupey Alto, just outside the capital city of San Juan, on January 10, 1973.
“I’ve been around boxing all my life because of my father, Felix Sr., who was an amateur and then pro fighter,” Trinidad told The Ring through Fernando Gaztambide. ”I used to go to his fights in coliseums and fields. When he retired, together with my cousin Juan ‘Popo’ Guzman, who died many years ago, they set up a gym that they called ‘Club Cupey,’ and there were several boxers from the neighborhood and nearby towns. I’ve always been in the gym since I can remember.”
Trinidad began his amateur career at the age of 9. He went 51-6 before turning professional two months after his 17th birthday, in March 1990.
Over the next couple of years, Trinidad quietly went about his business moving his record to 19-0 (16 knockouts), then met Maurice Blocker for the IBF welterweight title. It proved to be something of a coming-out party for the power-puncher, who knocked Blocker out cold in two rounds.
He scored hugely impressive wins over the likes of Hector Camacho (UD 12), Yori Boy Campas (TKO 4), Oba Carr (TKO 8) and Pernell Whitaker (UD 12). All the while, his status among the best fighters in the world grew.
In September 1999, he controversially unified major belts with fellow boxing superstar Oscar De La Hoya (MD 12), who held the WBC title.
The fighting pride of Puerto Rico ultimately made 15 successful defenses of the IBF crown, bettered only by Henry Armstrong, who holds the division record for title defenses (19). Trinidad’s title reign of six years and nine months is the longest in the welterweight division’s history.
With nothing left to conquer at 147 pounds and having extreme difficulty making weight, Trinidad vacated his titles and moved up to junior middleweight, where his wrecking-ball fists continued to wreak havoc.
In the 154-pound division, he challenged previously unbeaten 1996 Olympic gold medalist and reigning WBA titleholder David Reid in March 2000.
“When he knocked me down [in Round 3], I stood up quickly. I was behind, but this is not over. I was still in the fight, in good condition,” said Trinidad. “My dad told me at the end of the round, ‘I told you that Reid’s right hand was going to land if you do not protect your face. Raise your left hand and cover your face, protect yourself and attack.’ And thank God, I was able to hurt Reid and knocked him down four times in total (once in Round 7 and three times in Round 11) to win the fight.”
A mandatory title defense against Mamadou Thiam (TKO 3) was followed by a unification showdown with IBF kingpin Fernando Vargas, another unbeaten Olympian. Trinidad got off to a terrific start when he dropped Vargas twice in the opening round, but somehow the American was able to survive and worked his way back into the fight, putting Trinidad on the canvas in the fourth. Trinidad closed strongly and dropped Vargas three times en route to scoring a rousing 12th-round knockout.
Trinidad again moved up in weight to face WBA middleweight titleholder William Joppy in the semifinal of Don King’s middleweight tournament, scoring a fifth-round stoppage to thrill his fans at Madison Square Garden in May 2001.
In the final, he met wily veteran Bernard Hopkins for undisputed champion status. The fight was scheduled to take place on September 15, 2001, but the date was scrapped after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
“The hotel where I was located was just two blocks from where the attacks took place,” Trinidad vividly recalled. “I remember that we were in the room with the masseur, my father and others from the group; we saw on television about the Twin Towers and it was like, ‘Wow!’ We were surprised. The hotel called us so that everyone went down through security for fear that other buildings would be attacked.”
Ultimately, the fight took place on September 29.
“We knew that [Hopkins] was a boxer with a lot of experience, a lot of skill. He was very intelligent,” said Trinidad. “He took great care of my left hook; he never lowered his right hand, because he knew my hook was strong and I could land it.
“I would have preferred the fight to be on September 15. If the fight was that day, Bernard Hopkins could not beat me. I cannot detract from Hopkins – great champion, fighter, legend – but the change of date affected me. Honestly, I couldn’t fight; my physical condition in the ring diminished much earlier than his condition. I ran out of that energy you need, which I always had in my other fights.
“In [Round 10], he hurt me, and in Round 12 he sent me to the canvas and my father threw in the towel and got in the ring, and I really wasn’t against his decision. I was a little dizzy, but it was a great fight and I lost to a great champion.”
There was talk of a rematch, but it never came to anything.
“Hopkins never wanted to give me a rematch,” he said. ”We asked him once and he never wanted it.”
There were other fights he wished he could have had …
“There were fights that could have happened, but they didn’t happen, but not because I had said no,” he explained. “Don King was the promoter. There were fights signed with Chavez Sr. when I was a welterweight champion. I remember one day that Chavez told me and my father that he was never going to face me, but for whatever reason, he faced De La Hoya. But he didn’t want to fight with me.
“One fighter that I would have liked to face was Terry Norris – a fight that was about to happen and did not happen. He didn’t want to fight me at 154 pounds. He will have his reasons.”
Trinidad fought just four more times and retired for the third and final time after losing to Roy Jones Jr. in a catchweight bout in January 2008.
Trinidad, now 48, is married to Sharon and has five daughters. He lives a quiet and peaceful life in Cupey Alto. However, he is embroiled in a well-publicized court case with Banco Popular that pertains to much of his career income – in the region of $86 million – being invested without his consent into bond portfolios.
“I dedicate my time to my family and to the case with Banco Popular,” he said. “[They] have been very hard on me, very abusive to me. We know that God is with me. All those responsible promised us and have done things that should not be done to any human being. The deception has been tremendous since that moment and all these years that have passed.”
Here’s what he had to say about six of his most memorable nights in the ring:
June 19, 1993, Sports Arena, San Diego, California • Titles: IBF welterweight
“[My manager] Yamil Chade and [Don] King (who also promoted Blocker) were talking because my team knew I was ready for a title shot, and we pushed for that fight.
“I remember being super pumped-up. Training super hard, to tell you the truth. We watched some tapes and knew that the victory was around the corner. Blocker was a good, strong fighter, but my determination and plan was just great. He had a great jab and we worked to counter that. The victory was so good; my people were very happy. I thought I was dreaming. Hard work pays off.
“It meant everything, and more importantly it was my father’s first world title as a trainer. He trained some boxers, so he was so proud of me and I was so proud of him. Lovely moment.”
Result: Trinidad KO 2
January 29, 1994, MGM Grand, Las Vegas • Titles: IBF welterweight
“The fight with Camacho, we knew we were going to face a great fighter. At that time, he was a champion in three weight categories and we knew that he was a boxer with many tools and tricks – left-handed, uncomfortable [style to fight] – but I was fully prepared for Macho Camacho. We knew it was not easy but that we were going to have the victory.
“He was always talking smack, but I was never into that. My mindset was to train and win. I remember a public training day in Vegas. When I came down heading to the ring, he began talking trash about me and my team, but we just ignored him and kept focused on the fight. My dad always told me to talk using my punches in the ring.
“It was my first title fight with no KO victory. Some fans and reporters were telling me that Camacho would be my first high-caliber fight. Camacho at that time had like 11 world title fights, I believe. He was an elusive, crafty and resourceful opponent. I learned to stay focused, to listen to your corner, and things will go in your favor. I was cut early in the fight but was not worried. I just followed instructions and delivered. I did not KO him, but I made it a good fight.”
Result: Trinidad UD 12
February 20, 1999, Madison Square Garden, New York • Titles: IBF welterweight
“As we did with each and every one of our opponents, we were very prepared with excellent sparring similar to Whitaker, who fought similar to Camacho. The training was very good. We had a physical trainer and my father in the afternoon at the gym to have the conditioning to fight 12 rounds with my mouth closed – great stamina.
“Camacho moved a lot in the ring, but Whitaker fought you face-to-face. And right there he got down very low, stepping to the side, and was always half on his side. He dodged everything like he had radar in some way. Very talented. I picked my punches wisely with him. Difficult to hit, but I won well.”
Result: Trinidad UD 12
OSCAR DE LA HOYA
September 18, 1999, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas • Titles: IBF/WBC welterweight
“We were undefeated. It was the fight that we had been waiting for a long time. It was my 15th IBF welterweight defense. De La Hoya was rising in weight. He did not start at welterweight; he started at 130 [and moved up to] 135, 140 and 147 pounds. He became champion against Whitaker in a close fight, and our fight, Puerto Rico against Mexico, was near.
“I knew that he was afraid of my punch. During the fight, I was looking for him all the time and I threw lots of punches. He hardly threw any punches; he moved a lot. There were many even rounds at the beginning of the fight, the first half, and at the end of the fight I was on top of him all the time. You saw the last rounds, the championship rounds, I won them quite clearly. In the championship rounds he decided to run, and that’s not good for a unification bout.
“In January 2000, there was a meeting where Don King, Bob Arum, De La Hoya’s team, my team, De La Hoya’s lawyers, the HBO people – everyone was there [to discuss a rematch], and the only one who was not there at that meeting was Oscar. Everything was basically negotiated. I was there, I can talk about it. If he is there, the rematch will most likely be signed.
“We wanted what De La Hoya [was guaranteed and paid] in the first fight, logically, [to be guaranteed for me] in the second fight. The [lead] promoter was Arum in the first, and [we felt that] Don King should promote the second fight, and I think it was fair. We wanted to make a pay-per-view divided into 50-50 profits; we know that he made more money than me in the first pay-per-view. The fight never happened because De La Hoya never wanted to get into a second fight with me.”
Result: Trinidad MD 12
December 2, 2000, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas • Titles: IBF/WBA junior middleweight
“Fernando Vargas was an incredible fight. Vargas, because he is not going to be my friend in the ring, became like an enemy. He did not look at me. On one occasion, I went to shake his hand and he did not greet me.
“He is the same boxer who years ago, when he was in the 1996 Olympics, I was there with my brother, Alex ‘El Nene’ Sanchez and other athletes supporting the athletes of Puerto Rico. I found out that Vargas wanted to meet me. We were in a stadium during the day and he sees me from afar and runs over to me and gives me a hug, and that day we talked for several minutes. He talked about De La Hoya. He asked me that day – I was a world champion and he was an amateur boxer – to please beat De La Hoya, and I told him not to worry, that will be the case.
“He was strong and young, and I went to knock him out quickly because I knew that my hands were going to connect with him. We had studied it with my father. But he surprised me when he recovered from the knockdowns and later hurt me. But little by little, I managed to put him down. I did not see that blow [that dropped me in Round 4], but thanks to my conditioning and dedication, I was able to continue with courage and energy and take advantage again. His conditioning for the fight surprised me; I had to do a lot to win. I give him credit for his strength and the great fight that we had. Puerto Rico vs. Mexico is always exciting. A fight for the books. People still ask me about that fight.”
Result: Trinidad TKO 12
May 12, 2001, Madison Square Garden, New York • Titles: WBA middleweight
“I remember the fans going crazy, the hype, the sponsors. It was something incredible to see how hard work pays off. Puerto Ricans from all over the United States and from the island were there to support me. Also, some fans from Colombia, Mexico, Dominican Republic – you name it – were there. I was fighting to be a three-division world champion. That was a big deal because some of the greats in Puerto Rico, like [Wilfredo] Gomez, [Wilfredo] Vazquez, [Hector] Camacho and [Wilfred] Benitez, were already three-division world champions. That’s an elite list.
“We prepared 100 percent for that fight because it was a tournament at 160 pounds and winning it made you undisputed champion. It was the Sugar Ray Robinson tournament, a very important tournament that helped give more exposure at 160 pounds. We saw that opportunity at 160. I was doing well, but 154 pounds was kind of uncomfortable for me. We went to 160 against Joppy, a respectable world champion, good boxer, pretty strong hands. Thank God I was able to perform great and win in three weight categories, and we did it thanks to God, my father and the rest of the team and my dedication.”
Result: Trinidad TKO 5
Fernando Gaztambide helped coordinate and translate this feature. The Ring appreciates his assistance. Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWainwright.