My father idolized Roberto Clemente. Clemente is the greatest athlete ever to come from my father’s Puerto Rican homeland. The only other athlete from Puerto Rico that came close to his love for the legendary Clemente was Felix “Tito” Trinidad. My father used to tell anyone who listened that Trinidad closely resembled my father’s fighting style when he was an amateur boxer in his youth. Old heads from Spanish Harlem and the South Bronx would confirm to me just how lethal my father’s fists were as a young man. In the history of boxing, there were maybe a handful of fighters with the offensive repertoire of the 5’11 skinny Cupey Alto, Puerto Rico native. His offensive prowess is one of many reasons he’s the 21st greatest fighter of the last 45 years.
Trinidad’s father Felix Sr. was a solid pro who never made it to the main event level. Early on, he saw that Felix Jr. had all the tools to not only become a better fighter than him, but a possible world class fighter as well. Sixteen of Trinidad’s first nineteen fights happened in his native Puerto Rico before the tender age of 20. Although only 20, he would secure a world title shot against the IBF 147-pound champion Maurice Blocker on June 19, 1993. My father predicted that the 30-year-old Blocker was too skinny and frail to be any challenge to the Puerto Rican prodigy. His prediction proved to be lights out as Trinidad blasted out Blocker in two rounds to begin one of the most dominant reigns in the history of the storied welterweight division.
Trinidad’s first high profile title defense occurred in his third defense on January 29, 1994 against fellow Puerto Rican star Hector “Macho” Camacho. Both Pop and I knew that Camacho had absolutely no shot against the power-punching Trinidad. Trinidad fought very patiently behind his left jab and coasted to an easy 12-round decision as Camacho ran and held the entire fight in order to survive. My father was very impressed with Trinidad that night. He observed that Trinidad did not allow Camacho to frustrate him and was content to just use his superior jab and offensive tools to win a lopsided decision.
Trinidad’s next two title defenses showed his ability to overcome adversity. In both his fights against Yori Boy Campas and Oba Carr, Trinidad was hurt and knocked down in the second round. Trinidad, after being smacked by his father and trainer Felix Sr. after coming back to the corner, proceeded to settle down and systematically destroy both fighters before putting them out to pasture. After these two tough but satisfying knockouts, my father began comparing Trinidad to one of our all-time favorite fighters, Alexis Arguello. It was Trinidad’s length, jab, explosive power in both hands and composure that my father likened to the Nicaraguan legend.
Trinidad would face no such adversity as he battered his next eight opponents in one-sided beatings. He then would sign to fight one of the greatest fighters who ever lived, Pernell Whitaker, on February 20, 1999 in the 13th defense of his IBF title. I took my father to see this fight that night as it was held in the boxing Mecca of Madison Square Garden. Although we were huge fans of Whitaker, we knew that at 35 and having to overcome a recent addiction to cocaine plus being six inches shorter than Trinidad was too much to overcome. We were right. Trinidad fought the same disciplined fight he did against Camacho. Trinidad out-jabbed and punished Whitaker to the body in winning a very lopsided decision. It was the first time Whitaker would lose a fight that wasn’t questionable. After a homecoming-in-Puerto-Rico-destruction of Hugo Pineda, Trinidad faced Oscar de la Hoya in what was the biggest welterweight title unification fight since the September 16, 1981 fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns.
On September 18, 1999, the IBF champion Trinidad met the WBC champion de la Hoya on a hot and muggy night in Las Vegas. My father just had his vocal chords removed two weeks prior as he was battling stage four throat cancer. This was the first major fight we saw together without his ability to verbally communicate. Before his vocal chords were removed, my father had expressed confidence in Trinidad winning by decision by out-jabbing and out-landing de la Hoya. Immediately, we saw that Trinidad had totally abandoned the jab. For the first eight rounds, de la Hoya did exactly what he wanted to do as he masterfully outboxed Trinidad. Felix was just following Oscar around, looking to land a huge punch. He finally did hurt Oscar in the ninth round, and Oscar decided to run the clock out by running away the last quarter of the fight. Despite Trinidad winning the last four rounds of the fight, my father wrote down on a piece of paper that he felt Trinidad had lost by at least two rounds. Shockingly, Trinidad was awarded a majority decision win. We had both bet 50 dollars on Trinidad to win. We were laughing because after all these years, we finally won a bet we had no business winning. Immediately, Trinidad vacated his two 147-pound titles and moved up to 154 pounds.
On March 3, 2000 Trinidad challenged WBA 154-pound champion David Reid for his title. Reid was an excellent boxer/puncher who my father felt could give Trinidad major difficulty. For the first three rounds he was correct, as Reid staggered Trinidad and dropped him in the third round. Trinidad didn’t panic as beginning with round four he began using his lethal left jab to gain control of the fight, a weapon he totally abandoned against de la Hoya. Reid was unable to adjust and began eating Trinidad’s thunderous left hooks and right crosses. The fight should’ve been stopped in the 11th round as Trinidad dropped a defenseless Reid three times. Reid somehow survived and lasted until the bell ended the fight in the 12th round.
As soon as the fight ended, my father wrote on a piece of paper in all caps, “REID WILL NEVER BE THE SAME!” As a result of the punishment dished out by Trinidad, Reid suffered a detached retina and was forced to retire less than two years later at the age of 28. It wouldn’t be the last time a fighter would be a shell of himself after suffering a beating at the hands of Trinidad.
Trinidad’s first defense of his 154-pound title will forever hold a special place in my heart. On July 22, 2000 Trinidad defended against the lightly regarded European super welterweight champion Mamadou Thiam. This would be the final fight my father and I saw together as his throat cancer worsened to the point where we had to hospitalize him two days later. He would finally succumb to the illness on July 30, 2000 at the way too young age of 52. Trinidad battered Thiam unmercifully from the very beginning and Thiam suffered the most grotesque looking swollen right eye. Trinidad, like most seasoned greats, concentrated on Thiam’s right eye until Thiam quit late towards the end of the third round. My father beamed with pride watching this fight as I mentioned earlier, Trinidad was his favorite boxer to ever come out of his homeland. It was only apropos that this would be the last fight he’d ever see.
Trinidad’s next fight would be a 154-pound unification title fight against the IBF champion Fernando Vargas. Vargas was an excellent power puncher whose defense was severely flawed. It was the reason why I didn’t feel he posed a serious threat to Trinidad. On the night of December 2, 2000, Trinidad came roaring out the gate. He dropped Vargas twice within 45 seconds of the first round with wicked left hooks. I was shocked that Vargas was able to survive the opening stanza as Trinidad was one of the greatest finishers in boxing history. Not only did he survive, he was able to knock down Trinidad early in the fourth round and had him in serious trouble. Vargas had continued success until midway through the fight. This is when Trinidad regained control by beginning to concentrate on his left jab. Trinidad, in turn, continued to batter Vargas with debilitating power shots to the head and body off of his jab. Less than 40 seconds into the 12th and final round, Trinidad dropped Vargas with another picturesque left hook. As soon as Vargas got up he ran into another shotgun left hook that dropped him. At this point in time, referee Jay Nady should’ve stopped the fight. Instead, Trinidad landed several thunderous bombs for an additional 30 seconds before Vargas fell in a heap. The fight was finally over. Until this day, this was the single greatest fight in the history of the 154-pound division. Unfortunately, Vargas paid a huge price for his valor. He would only win six of his next ten fights before retiring.
Trinidad immediately vacated his super welterweight titles to enter Don King and HBO’s middleweight tournament to crown an undisputed champion at 160-pounds to be held at Madison Square Garden. I was lucky enough to attend all three fights in this tournament, the first which took place in April of 2001 with the IBF champion winning a workmanlike decision over the WBC champion Keith Holmes. On May 12, 2001, Trinidad faced the WBA champion William Joppy with the winner to face Bernard Hopkins for 160-pound supremacy.
Joppy was a slick moving boxer whose only shot was to employ the same tactics de la Hoya used in his fight against Trinidad. To be honest, Joppy’s left jab was not as fine tuned as Oscar’s, a weapon necessary in order to tame the Puerto Rican power puncher. That night at MSG, Trinidad came out pumping that left jab like an AK-47. Joppy had no answer for Tito’s razor-like jab and with seconds left in the round was blasted by a pristine left hook/right cross combination that sent the packed MSG crowd into a deafening roar. Joppy looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights as Trinidad battered him from pillar to post until he dropped him with another booming left hook in the fourth round. Joppy miraculous survived the round. His corner had no business allowing him out for the fateful fifth round. Round five saw Joppy foolishly stand toe-to-toe with Trinidad. Trinidad seemed to hurt Joppy with every bomb he landed until he landed two bazooka right crosses that drove Joppy’s head onto the canvas. Joppy got up but was stumbling like a wino before referee Arthur Mercante, Jr. wisely stopped the fight. The MSG crowd, which had an incredible number of Puerto Ricans in attendance, was as loud as I ever heard it when Trinidad finished Joppy off. The stage was set for the fight undisputed middleweight championship of the world between Trinidad and Hopkins.
The 9/11 World Trade Center bombings forced the September 15, 2001 undisputed middleweight title fight to be delayed two weeks. It just delayed the inevitable. Despite being 36 and eight years older than Trinidad, Hopkins was just too big and slick for the Puerto Rican superstar. At 6’1, Hopkins was two inches taller and a natural middleweight. After an uneventful feeling out opening stanza, Hopkins began to dominate the fight with his left jab and incredible display of his defensive acumen. As I sat with fellow Puerto Ricans, I was amazed at Hopkins’ innate ability to know what Trinidad was going to do before Trinidad did. In one of the greatest boxing masterpieces of all-time, Hopkins finally got to show the world just how special of a fighter he was. Going into the 12th and final round, Trinidad had the look of a dead man walking. Hopkins jumped on him and battered him until finishing off his Picasso-like performance with a sizzling right cross. Trinidad got up on wobbly legs at the count of eight. Felix Sr. entered to ring to save his son from further damage. I was relieved that my father wasn’t around to see his favorite Puerto Rican fighter of all-time suffer such a brutal beating.
Just like the beatings he administered to Vargas and Reid resulted in both fighters never being the same in the ring, Trinidad suffered the same fate after the one-sided beating he was given from Hopkins. After looking listless in his next fight against the very mediocre Hacine Cherifi and knocking out the perennial punching bag to the stars, Ricardo Mayorga, Trinidad fought Ronald Winky Wright on May 14, 2005. Winky completely dominated Trinidad by landing his booming right jab over and over again. The 32-year-old Trinidad once again looked like a shot fighter as he did absolutely nothing significant in the fight. Winky won damn near every minute of the fight in winning a lopsided decision. Trinidad announced his retirement.
Less than three years later, he made an ill-advised comeback against another fighter who should’ve retired, Roy Jones. On the night of January 19, 2008, Trinidad and Jones, who had just turned 35 and 39 years old respectively, stepped into the Madison Square ring several years after their elite boxing skills had left them. Jones had enough left to knock down Trinidad twice to win an unanimous decision. Trinidad once again suffered incredible punishment in a losing effort. Finally, he cane to the realization he was find and finally retired for good.
Felix Tito Trinidad was one of the most fearsome and destructive fighters in the history of the sport. He had a complete arsenal with one-punch knockout power in both hands. Despite being knocked down several times in his career, Trinidad always got up and made you pay for having the audacity to knock him down. Add these skills to his incredible 15 successful defenses of the IBF 147-pound title and we can see why Trinidad is the 21st greatest fighter of the last 45 years. Trinidad would retire with a record of 42-3 with 35 knockouts. He set a standard for Puerto Rican fighters that will always stand the test of time.