Ricardo Mayorga swung so hard at Cory Spinks throughout their fight last December that once, when a wild shot missed its mark, Mayorga spun around in a cartoonish pirouette.

It is that type of aggression that makes Mayorga at once vulnerable and incredibly dangerous.

And it is what makes him such a compelling choice for Felix Trinidad's return to boxing.

Tonight at Madison Square Garden, Trinidad (41-1) will make his much-anticipated comeback against Mayorga (27-4) in a 160-pound non-title bout. Trinidad, the beloved Puerto Rican who won titles at 147, 154 and 160 pounds, has been away from the ring for nearly two and one-half years. But he has eschewed the typical comeback route -- a few non-threatening warmups before a truly challenging bout -- for a former welterweight champion who has shown he can shake up boxing with one punch.

Mayorga did it in January of 2003, when he unleashed a devastating right hand to knock out previously unbeaten Vernon Forrest in the third round of their 147-pound title bout, and he has been boasting that he will give Trinidad the same treatment. He has promised to look for a knockout from Round 1 and has said he would stick his chin out and accept one of Trinidad's famous left hooks.

"I can tell you this much," said Mayorga, who will turn 31 tomorrow. "It's going to be a very active fight from my side."

Mayorga is reckless but powerful (he has knocked out 23 of the 27 fighters he has beaten), arrogant but tough (he has not been knocked out since the first bout of his pro career). The 31-year-old Trinidad, meanwhile, has accumulated 29 months worth of rust, and even in his prime he was considered a slow starter. He was on the canvas in the fourth round of his victory over Fernando Vargas and the third round of his victory over David Reid.

"There is no way on God's green earth that I would have taken this fight [for Trinidad] the first fight back," said Kevin Cunningham, Spinks's trainer and manager.

But many believe that if Trinidad's skills are comparable to what they were before his retirement, Mayorga might be a tailor-made opponent. Because Mayorga is so wild, he is vulnerable to powerful straight punches, which Trinidad can throw.

Spinks provided the blueprint for defeating Mayorga, staying on the defensive for most of their 12-round fight and picking his spots en route to a majority decision.

"A guy fighting the style of Cory Spinks is amused by Mayorga," HBO commentator Jim Lampley said. "If you're fighting Cory Spinks's style, Mayorga is exactly what you want to see coming."

But Trinidad may not be able to fight Spinks's style. He's a power puncher, not a technically skilled boxer, and his lack of footwork was exposed by Bernard Hopkins, who handed Trinidad his only loss in September 2001.

"Cory has the ability to execute the strategy that we played out," Cunningham said. "Trinidad is no slick boxer. He's not elusive."

The key for Trinidad, it seems, is not getting caught up in Mayorga's bluster -- coming from the Nicaraguan's fists or mouth -- and refusing to be drawn into an all-out brawl. That is what Mayorga was able to do in his two victories over Forrest -- especially the first.

"Forrest fought the wrong fight," longtime boxing observer Bert Sugar said. "He tried to prove his machismo by duking it out with Mayorga, which is not what you want to do. I don't see Trinidad doing that. He's too calm, cool and collected."

The one thing that most people surrounding the fight seem to agree on is that it won't go the distance, as both fighters have considerable knockout power.

"It's going to come down to who's able to get theirs first," Cunningham said. "Who's able to drop the bomb first."

Trinidad, who cited the love of his many fans as one of the reasons for his comeback, will have a considerably partisan crowd backing him tonight. He has packed the Garden several times before, and it should be filled again tonight with Puerto Rican flags and passionate chants. He was mobbed by fans on Sunday at JFK Airport.

Mayorga will be the villain tonight, and, considering the bad-boy persona he has created, it is a role he seems happy to play.

"We've got to keep in mind there might be 16,000 Puerto Ricans in the stands, but I'm only fighting one in the ring," he said. "That's Tito Trinidad, and he better watch out."