-- Felix Trinidad looked like the "Tito" of old last night, scoring an eighth-round technical knockout of Ricardo Mayorga in his long-awaited return to the ring.

Trinidad (42-1, 35 KOs), who ended a 29-month retirement, delighted the partisan crowd of 17,406 at Madison Square Garden by bludgeoning Mayorga (27-5) throughout and then knocking him down three times in the eighth before referee Steve Smoger called an end to the proceedings with 21 seconds left in the round.

Many had questioned Trinidad's selection of Mayorga, thinking the aggressive, free-swinging Nicaraguan was too dangerous for Trinidad's first fight back. But Trinidad, who always went after the best fighters before his retirement, wanted a challenging bout immediately. And Mayorga's aggression actually played directly into Trinidad's fists. As Mayorga attacked and swung wildly early, Trinidad showed patience and scored by counter-punching.

"That was our game plan -- to be cool and calm," Trinidad said. "And it worked perfectly."

Trinidad threw just 460 punches to Mayorga's 564, but he landed 290 compared with just 141 by Mayorga. By the middle of the fifth, the aggregate effect of Trinidad's punches had taken a toll, and only Mayorga's bravery kept him upright until the eighth.

"I've been in tough wars before, but I dominated this fight," Trinidad said. "He can take a good punch, and he took a lot, which is bad for him."

As he said he would, Mayorga took the action to Trinidad early. He landed several combinations in Round 1, and then, after Trinidad scored with a solid left hook, Mayorga stood still, pounded his chin with his fist and accepted several more shots before breaking into a defiant, taunting dance.

The fighters went toe-to-toe in the third round, with Trinidad stunning Mayorga with a three-punch combination, and Mayorga answering in kind. Mayorga scored a flash knockdown when Trinidad's knee grazed the canvas after a he was hit by a sharp right hand. But Trinidad was not in trouble, and after the fight Mayorga admitted he knew he hadn't hurt his opponent.

Trinidad began to assert his dominance in the fifth, and at the end of the round, he trapped Mayorga in a corner and rained blows without retaliation from the Nicaraguan. Trinidad opened a gash under Mayorga's left eye and likely would have finished the fight had time not run out in the round.

Mayorga was in big trouble again in the sixth, but a low blow from Trinidad caused Smoger to stop the action for approximately a minute. After having time to recover, Mayorga came back with a furious flurry, and the fighters traded punches and then words after the bell.

After doing more damage in the seventh, Trinidad unleashed a dizzying combination in the eighth and crumpled Mayorga with a left hook to the body with 1:09 left in the round. Mayorga got up, but was floored again by a right hook to the head. A final flurry sent Mayorga to the floor once more and Smoger in to end the fight.

Trinidad's victory could not have come at a better time. With the recent humbling knockouts suffered by superstars Oscar De La Hoya, Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr., boxing seems in desperate need of a popular champion. And the affable Trinidad could fill that role.

He was certainly the most popular boxer Saturday night. Trinidad has long been boisterously and passionately supported by New York's Puerto Rican population, and his layoff did nothing to shrink their fervor.

Throughout the undercard, his fans chanted his name, and they booed heartily when Mayorga entered the arena. The crowd exploded when rapper Fat Joe, a Trinidad fan, performed before the bout, and it crescendoed into a frenzy as Trinidad entered the ring. After the fight, Trinidad stayed in the ring for a prolonged celebration with his delirious fans.

The question now is what Trinidad will do next. The most compelling and most lucrative choices seem to be rematches with either De La Hoya or Bernard Hopkins.

"We're going to get together with Don King after the fight and decide what to do next," Trinidad said.

In the evening's co-featured event, 147-pounder Zab Judah improved to 32-2 with a first-round technical knockout of Wayne Martell (24-3). Also on the undercard, Travis Simms improved to 24-0 and defended his World Boxing Association 154-pound crown with a unanimous decision over Bronco McKart (47-6).

Felix Trinidad, left, shows no rust from prolonged layoff, handing TKO to dangerous Ricardo Mayorga.