Ricardo Mayorga may not win Saturday against Felix Trinidad. But he will not be scared. Which is why, regardless of the outcome, the middleweight showdown between "El Matador" and "Tito" will be one of the more exciting shootouts of the year.
Mayorga was an unknown when he challenged WBA welterweight champion Andrew "Six Heads" Lewis for the second time in March 2002. The original was inconclusive after the combatants clashed heads and produced a nasty gash over Lewis's eye. So they tried it again - though the fight was not considered a major attraction.
But Mayorga and the favored Lewis received press anyway because of the sharp verbal exchanges between the two 147-pounders. Soon enough, Mayorga proved that his fists were as deadly as his mouth.
The 5th round knockout of Lewis was picturesque. A right hand exploded all over Lewis's face, and sent him sailing backwards to the canvas - as if in slow motion. The look on his Lewis's said, "What in the world just smashed into my cranium?"
Lewis didn't beat the count, and the impressive win established Mayorga as a semi-star: The postfight cigarette smoking and brash trash talk was refreshing in an era of slick images and rehearsed quotes.
Mayorga's act hit the mainstream in January 2003.
That's the night he challenged WBC welterweight king Vernon Forrest - the slayer of former pound-for-pound king Shane Mosley and considered the best 147-pounder in the world. Again, Mayorga taunted and mocked his opponent, and the mind games proved to be the ticket to victory for the Nicaraguan.
Rather than utilize his significant height and reach advantages, Forrest elected to brawl with Mayorga - enraged by his challenger's insulting words. Three rounds in, Forrest was done - another victim of Mayorga's vicious punching power. Like the Lewis fight, the end came after a single punch - the right hand.
Forrest didn't beat the count.
Six months later, Forrest tried it again. And he didn't allow Mayorga to draw him into a slugfest. Still, he seemed apprehensive about getting hit.
Mayorga was his usual self: Fearless and determined. He even dropped his gloves and let Forrest take pot shots at him. In the end, Mayorga's mind games worked again. Forrest was psyched out of his gameplan, and Mayorga won a decision.
Mayorga was the toast of boxing for the next five months. He was on the cover of "The Ring", and some included him in pound-for-pound entries.
He was lined up for a million-dollar showdown with Mosley. All he had to do was beat IBF champ Cory Spinks.
But Spinks didn't fall victim to either Mayorga's mind games or his punching power. He fought a smart, courageous fight and won a 12-round decision in one of 2003's biggest upsets.
"El Matador" has fought just once since then, winning an unimpressive nod over Eric Mitchell in April. He was overweight and undertrained for that one.
You can bet he'll be ready for Trinidad.
It could be the swan song for Mayorga. Punchers who lack defense often fizzle out soon after hitting their peaks. But, if he goes out, he'll go out on his shield.
And provide the boxing world with one more thrill.
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