It was quite a scene this past weekend at the famed Madison Square Garden in New York when Felix Trinidad made a triumphant return to the squared circle, where he stopped the game Ricardo Mayorga in eight exciting stanzas. A crowd of over 17,000 rabid, partisan Puerto Ricans cheered every move of their beloved national hero. With his win, Trinidad is right in the thick of things in the deep well of talent that resides between 154 and 160 pounds.
His record now stands at 42-1 and he adds another ex-champion to his roster of fallen foes. And while his hand was raised by referee Steve Smoger, it was really the business and the game of boxing that won on this fall night.
It hasn't been a kind year to boxing icons in 2004. Since the month of May, we've seen standouts like Oscar De La Hoya, Mike Tyson and Roy Jones( twice) go down to defeat. And make no doubt about it, these weren't just losses to prizefighters, but a crippling blow to the economy of this industry.
A network executive once told me one of the wisest things ever told to me. In explaining what professional boxing is all about, he stated, “Boxing, is show business, dressed up as a sport.”
Silly me, back then as a young, naive and impressionable young scribe, I thought it was about the fights and the fighters. And in its barest essence, it still is. Boxing is the most basic and most savage of sports. Nothing can test a man’s will and character like getting in between the ropes to face someone who wants to tear your head off.
But what really drives the engine of this vehicle is the big, marquee events. The ones that that the general public will talk about at the water cooler, the fight that will be talked about on sports talk radio, the one that actually gets a few column inches across the sports pages of America.
And for the past generation, that meant fights that involved boxers named De La Hoya, Tyson and Jones. And if boxing was showbiz, then these last couple of months were akin to having Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks and Matt Damon going Greta Garbo on us.
It's hard to do showbiz without stars. Every movie needs a leading man, and for awhile boxing’s brightest lights had gone the way of Ben Affleck.
The stark reality is that in today’s game, with dates and budgets shrinking on both HBO and Showtime, the overall coverage of boxing shrinking and boxing continuing to fade in the consciousness of the general public, boxing is driven by transcendent stars and the marquee pay-per-view events.
So into the breach stepped Trinidad, who had more than just the hopes and dreams of his country on his slender – yet powerful – shoulders, but the whole pay-per-view industry. Yeah, guys like Winky Wright and Shane Mosley might be great guys and quality fighters, but there's a reason why they fight on cable and why guys like Trinidad are a pay-per-view franchise.
And if 'Tito' would have gone down to the heavy hands of the Nicaraguan wild man, then the pay-per-view landscape would have been as barren as the Mojave Desert.
But this is where Don King came into the mix. Say what you will about the ubiquitous promoter, you can call him many things, but unwise and foolish isn't one of them. He knew that with a Trinidad win, he and his fighter would be the last man standing at the box office.
In what turned out to be a brilliantly choreographed move, King tabbed the quotable and marketable Mayorga to be Trinidad's foil. This would play in Peoria, as they used to say. A battle between two hard-punching and entertaining Latins in the Big Apple.
But King and his court also knew that Mayorga was really a welterweight – who unlike Trinidad, had no big fight experience or success at 160-pounds – and one that was a wild and unrefined fighter, who threw his punches every which way but straight.
This was exactly who the casting call had in mind for Trinidad’s return.
He was built to order for the Puerto Rican superstar. And as soon as Trinidad found out that his legs were still steady and that Mayorga was willing to stand in front of him – sometimes with his hands down by his waist, daring him to hit him with his lethal left hook – the fight, which began as competitive and compelling, soon became as one-sided as kids banging away at a piñata at a birthday party.
As the rounds passed, the two classes of fighters became more and more apparent. While Mayorga fought with passion and emotion, Trinidad fought with precision and power.
Eventually, Mayorga's heart could only take him into the eight round. But as the supporting actor he had done his part. He provided a few headlines, created a buzz and then eventually deferred to the star.
Trinidad is back, bigger than ever – and he couldn't have come at a better time.
It looks like boxing is still in business.