In and out of the ring, Nicaraguan middleweight Ricardo Mayorga has done his best to cultivate an image as an out-of-control bad boy. Just about every punch he throws has the worst of intentions and he will defiantly stick his chin into opponents' fists, then ask for more.
That defiance may also extend to allegations he faces in his native country of suspicion of rape, stemming from an incident earlier this month.
Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, Mayorga (27-4) is supposed to be the foil in a much-anticipated 160-pound bout with Felix "Tito" Trinidad. The match is billed more as the return of Trinidad (41-1), who is ending a two-and-a-half-year retirement. But Mayorga, who will turn 31 on Sunday, has managed to draw considerable attention to himself by seemingly living down to the persona he created.
On Sept. 3, Mayorga, a former world 147-pound champion, was arrested in Managua on suspicion of rape. According to the Associated Press, he was released 12 hours later after his lawyer charged the arrest warrant used to detain the boxer had expired. Mayorga was scheduled to appear for a hearing in the case on Sept. 22, but missed it because he was in the United States training for Saturday's fight. A new hearing has been set for Oct. 6, and if Mayorga does not appear, Judge Martha Lorena Martinez said the boxer would be declared "in rebellion," and a warrant would be issued for his arrest.
Mayorga initially told the AP that he had "a normal relationship with [the accuser] and that hotel employees are witnesses that she was happy when she left the hotel." Since then, however, Mayorga has refused to comment on the matter other than to say it has not been a distraction.
"The problems that I have really haven't been a problem," he told reporters recently through an interpreter. "They pretty much slide off me."
Many view Mayorga as a throwback to a different era. He has been known to smoke in the ring after fights and during training. He has been seen enjoying a victory beer after having his hands raised in victory.
"He sort of embodies machismo," longtime fight observer Bert Sugar said. "He swings as if there's no tomorrow. He looks like he's throwing punches from the third row."
Mayorga arrived at New York's LaGuardia Airport last weekend with his hair dyed bright red and a shirt that had the date of Saturday's fight with the message, "Tito's Retirement Celebration. Time to hang them up." And he bragged about a reported $100,000 bet he made with the 31-year-old Trinidad on their fight.
"It's a real bet," Mayorga said. "It's not putting any sort of pressure on me. In fact, I'm going to make sure he pays me after the fight. With that money I'm going to buy myself a limousine, maybe two, in Nicaragua and name it Tito, so that everyone remembers when I knocked out Tito."
Mayorga, who turned pro in 1993, fought mostly in Nicaragua and Costa Rica early in his career. In March 2002, however, he scored a fifth-round technical knockout of Andrew Lewis to win the WBA 147-pound title. He followed that with his two signature victories -- a third-round knockout of previously unbeaten WBC 147-pound champion Vernon Forrest in January 2003 and a majority decision in their re-match less than six months later.
With a chance to unify the 147-pound title, Mayorga lost a 12-round decision last December to Cory Spinks in Atlantic City. Many boxing observers felt Spinks's win offered a blueprint on how to beat Mayorga: Spinks stayed on the defensive, refused to be drawn into a test of machismo, and scored with his jab.
Mayorga failed to make weight for his next fight, so he moved up to 154 pounds and won a unanimous decision over Eric Mitchell. He steps up another level Saturday to 160 for a match that could define his career. Trinidad's lone loss is to 160-pound king Bernard Hopkins (ending a 40-fight win streak), and many felt he was at the top of his game when he abruptly retired in 2002.
Despite the loss to Spinks, the reputation of Trinidad and the higher weight class, Mayorga still seems to feel invincible.
"I predict it's going to end between rounds three and five," Mayorga said of Saturday night's bout. "I really don't want to cause the Trinidad family any more grief, so I please ask the father to stay close and to not let the fight go on longer than needed."
Mayorga was referring to Don Felix Trinidad, who famously threw the white towel into the ring in Madison Square Garden during the final round of his son's loss to Hopkins.
Mayorga's reckless arrogance -- no matter how much of it is real and how much is for show -- manifests itself in his straight-ahead, utterly fearless fighting style. That, more than his boasting or his famous four-letter-word-riddled news conferences, is why fight fans find Mayorga compelling.
"There's no sweet science to his science," Sugar said. "He's got one gear, and that's to throw punches as hard as he can."