So much for Felix Trinidad being rusty.
The former welterweight and junior middleweight champion was such a formidable offensive machine Saturday in an 8th-round knockout of Ricardo Mayorga that you would have thought he last fought in May 2004 – not May 2002. Not only did the riveting victory breathe new life into Trinidad's career, it provided boxing with a shot in the arm and gave the sport a new – or make that old – star to cherish for at least a few more years.
And cherish him we will. Few fighters bring the passion and power the classy Puerto Rican exhibits everytime he steps between the ropes. And it was a comeback victory that was almost as incredible as Sugar Ray Leonard's unlikely decision over Marvin Hagler in 1987 after a roughly three-year layoff.
The reasons Trinidad's win was so impressive.
Trinidad's accuracy: What fighter retires for more than two years, gains a considerable amount of weight, loses it, and returns against a guy 10 months removed from a world championship and connects at a rate of 63 percent (290 of 460 punches)? Not many. Maybe not anybody. And when you consider that Trinidad landed 218 of 329 power punches for a connect percentage of 66 percent – and retained enough defensive prowess to limit Mayorga to 128 of 391 power punches – “Tito's” performance hedges on unprecedented. Trinidad's punches were hard, sharp and deadly accurate – shaking Mayorga to his core everytime they landed. It was almost uncanny.
Trinidad's condition: Beforehand, it seemed that Mayorga would hold the edge if this fight went past three or four rounds. Afterall, in the time that Trinidad had been retired, Mayorga had gone 12 rounds with Vernon Forrest and Cory Spinks – two guys on everybody's pound-for-pound list at one time or another – and 10 more against a no-name earlier this year. But it was Mayorga sucking air after the first few rounds, and it was Trinidad who didn't appear at all fazed by the frantic pace. After the vicious fight, which some were calling a “Hispanic Hagler-Hearns”, Trinidad seemed as if he could fight another eight rounds. Apparently, he really wasn't kidding about those marathons.
Trinidad's chin: Trinidad's chin has always been something of a mystery. He would go down – and sometimes appear very hurt – before storming back to destroy his opponent. It happened against Yory Boy Campas, David Reid and Fernando Vargas. Early in his welterweight reign, he was staggered and almost knocked out by little-known Anthony Stephens. And, of course, there was the knockout loss to Bernard Hopkins. So, going in, the power punching Mayorga's chances seemed to be that, if he connected, he could expose Trinidad's unreliable beard. Well, Mayorga landed. And landed and landed. But nothing happened. Trinidad's chin appeared to be sturdier than at any other point in his career. He was dropped momentarily, but it was hardly a case of Trinidad being badly dazed. Amazingly, Trinidad's chin has seemingly improved with the rise in weight.
Trinidad grew into a middleweight: Trinidad was a welterweight until 2000, when he moved up to 154 pounds and defeated Reid and Vargas. Then, in 2001, he moved up to 160 pounds and massacred poor William Joppy for the WBA middleweight title. Because of that victory, most thought Trinidad was already a full-fledged 160-pounder because of his power. But, four months later, it was obvious in his loss to Hopkins that his body was still that of a junior middle. He appeared fleshy around the middle, without the tightness of his welterweight prime. Almost three years later against Mayorga, Trinidad's body looked big and strong and tight – like a legitimate middleweight. His size appeared even more daunting in that Mayorga couldn't seem to bother him with his suddenly-inconsequential punching power. And Trinidad's advantage in strength appeared overwhelming.
Could Trinidad actually be better than before? It's possible. He said the 29 month hiatus served as a extended rest period, and it seems to have done wonders.
Yes, Tito is back alright. Back and ready to write the second – and possibly most exciting – chapter of an extraordinary career.