Felix Trinidad's most recent fight summarizes his career. The hard-punching welterweight dominated his foe from the opening bell May 29 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In the second round, Trinidad landed several hooks and an uncontested combination to the head. In the fourth round, he hooked to his opponent's lower body and folded him on the canvas like an accordion. The spectators at Roberto Clemente Coliseum chanted "Tito, Tito," the nickname of their countryman, as his hand was raised in victory for the 35th straight time.
But whom had he beaten? How many sports fans have heard of Colombia's Hugo Pineda? Who knew that Pineda was a worthy opponent in a title bout, undefeated in 37 matches? This is what usually happens in one of Trinidad's fights. He inflicts devastation -- routinely. The victim is good, but not well known. Fans of the celebrated Oscar De La Hoya (31-0) can offer only one criticism of Trinidad in advance of their momentous welterweight-title unification bout here Saturday night: The truly top-level veterans have been able to survive 12 rounds with Trinidad.
Hector Camacho went the distance with Trinidad in 1994. Pernell Whitaker did in February. But neither proved a threat to the lean, but powerful, 5-foot-11, 26-year-old from Cupey Alto, Puerto Rico, a farming village 20 miles from San Juan. Only three others, in the first two years of Trinidad's career, managed to last the distance. Back then, Trinidad was just learning the precision required to be a knockout puncher. As an amateur, he rarely knocked out anyone. But he was being brought along slowly, and superbly, by his father, Felix Sr., known as Don Felix, who remains his son's trainer and stern camp boss.
Don Felix, a boxer once, has placed a cone of silence over his son since he and De La Hoya did a nine-city promotional tour before they began training more than three months ago. Since then, however, the son has made his message known in the brief opportunities he's had to speak. Before leaving Puerto Rico 11 days ago, Trinidad proclaimed: "When I put my hands on a boxer, he falls, and De La Hoya will be no exception. He won't be able to take the punishment." The flight here did nothing to change his mind. On arrival he said: "I'm very certain Oscar will be knocked out. I'm the best in the world."
Don Felix then ushered his son into seclusion. They have worked behind guarded doors in the Hilton at the opposite end of The Strip from Mandalay Bay, the site of the scheduled 12-rounder to unify Trinidad's International Boxing Federation title and De La Hoya's World Boxing Council title.
In Puerto Rico, the thinking is that there is going to be one grand celebration Monday when Tito arrives home. In his homeland, Trinidad is in a popularity league with the entertainer Ricky Martin. Trinidad was seen off to this fight with a parade, and 100,000 people are expected to greet him if he wins. He has not had to campaign for his fame; he is appreciated for his skills by a knowledgeable public. Puerto Rican fans have been aware of Trinidad since he had gloves laced on at age 8. One of four children, the intelligent and articulate (he speaks Spanish in large gatherings) Felix Jr. likely would have been a successful businessman or filled some leadership role had his future in boxing not been virtually preordained.
Once the fighting father saw what his small son could do in a ring, only an injury could hold back the youth. Don Felix has maintained iron-handed control over the iron-fisted son. In contrast, De La Hoya and his father have an edgy relationship. Leading to this fight, Joel De La Hoya visited his son's training camp three times for a total of about two weeks -- "more than enough," De La Hoya said today, rolling his eyes. The father told De La Hoya's trainer, Robert Alcazar, that this was the best camp he had seen, but didn't express any satisfaction to Oscar. "I read it in the newspaper," De La Hoya said. "I'd like to hear it from him."
Gil Clancy, the veteran trainer and an adviser to De La Hoya, said that in the history of boxing, relationships between father and son as trainer and boxer haven't been good. "But I have to give Trinidad's father credit," Clancy said. "He's done a magnificent job with his kid."
Earlier this year Trinidad impressed Whitaker, who at 35 could not offer as much resistance as he did in 1997 against De La Hoya. Trinidad floored Whitaker in their second round with a straight right hand and later wobbled him several times. Asked after the fight to pick between Trinidad and De La Hoya, Whitaker replied: "Trinidad's a much better fighter than De La Hoya, and I would know."
Trinidad has been on the canvas six times in his career, De La Hoya four. Don Felix kept reporters from speaking with his son Tuesday when he allowed them to watch the first half of an easy workout, which revealed only that Trinidad is unmarked and immensely fit. But today, father and son dressed in fashionable suits and ties for a massive conference with the media in a ballroom at Paris, another new hotel which is co-sponsoring the fight.
When Trinidad's turn to speak came, he exuded confidence. His wife Sonya, pregnant with their second child, was at home with their daughter, Ashley Nicole, 3, and his love went to them and his mother. To his countrymen he vowed victory. "I know De La Hoya will have the majority of fans," Trinidad said in Spanish, as an aide translated. "But it doesn't matter. It will be just him and me in the ring. I am going to show him who I am. It will be a very, very great fight. But I have to tell you that this great victory is going to Puerto Rico. We are going to celebrate like never before."
De La Hoya-Trinidad
What: Oscar De La Hoya vs. Felix Trinidad in a 12-round welterweight unification bout.
When: Saturday night (undercard begins at 7:15 EDT).
Where: Las Vegas.
TV: Pay-per-view (coverage begins at 9 p.m.).
Records: De La Hoya 31-0, 25 knockouts; Trinidad 35-0, 30 knockouts.
Ages: Both are 26.
Purse: De La Hoya, $15 million; Trinidad, $10 million.