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Original Issue

The Upper Hand Felix Trinidad battered David Reid to earn a new title and a new edge on rematch-seeking Oscar De La Hoya

That little tournament that was supposed to lead Felix Trinidad
and Oscar De La Hoya to a blockbuster rematch has, rather
predictably, unraveled just short of the final. About all you
can wonder is, How did it even get that far?

As it stands, both De La Hoya and Trinidad, having swept rather
easily through their "semifinal" bouts, are discussing alternate
opponents. De La Hoya, who outgunned Derrell Coley two weeks
ago, has just announced that he will fight former IBF
lightweight champion Shane Mosley in June. Trinidad, who flew in
from Puerto Rico to collapse the hopes of David Reid last Friday
night in Las Vegas, immediately began speculating on what it
might be like to move up a couple of classes to engage
undisputed light heavyweight champ Roy Jones Jr. In any event,
they seem equally determined to avoid a resolution of last
year's business, a rather disappointing fight in which Trinidad
won an unconvincing decision from an overly cautious De La Hoya.

To try to put this in a normal perspective (a phrase that might
be an oxymoron in reference to boxing), imagine that the St.
Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans had won conference
championships and then, come Super Bowl week, announced that
they were going their separate ways. The Rams would play the
college all-stars, and the Titans would give one of those Arena
teams a go. They might get together at a later date, more
convenient to their own schedules, or they might not. We'd have
to wait and see.

Simply because De La Hoya-Trinidad is the only bout that would
make sense--and big money (the fighters would each earn $20
million)--does not mean it will ever occur. As soon as the
undefeated Trinidad had disposed of an outclassed Reid, adding
the WBA super welterweight championship to his IBF and WBC
welterweight crowns, Trinidad's father-manager was insulting De
La Hoya, calling him a gallina (as in Kentucky Fried Gallina)
and offering virtually impossible rematch conditions.

"We have 15 days to talk about giving up the WBC [welterweight]
crown," said Felix Sr., referring to the WBC's demand that Felix
declare by March 18 whether or not he will defend the title, "so
we are going to give Oscar De La Hoya 12 days to decide if he
will fight Tito. It's an ultimatum. If he doesn't decide, we'll
leave him behind."

To hear the two camps talk, the only impediment to the rematch
is an agreement upon weight. Larger obstacles, such as money and
promotional rights, have already been cleared. De La Hoya, who
still fights at 147 pounds (and who would inherit Trinidad's WBC
crown if his nemesis moved up a class), was willing to go up to
151. But then Felix Sr. said he would not permit his son, who
struggles to make that weight, to fight lighter than 152. So De
La Hoya, wary of a beefed-up Trinidad (even by 16 ounces?), told
promoter Bob Arum to go ahead and sign him up with Mosley.

Now you know what boxers go for per pound: roughly $40 million.

As you can see, it's hard to tell who's gallina and who's not.
But, for the moment, both seem silly, at the least, taking short
money for far less dramatic fights and avoiding the one bout
that everybody wants.

There was brief hope that Friday's fight, held in an outdoor
stadium behind Caesars Palace, might be more dramatic, not less.
It wasn't the bout everyone wanted, but it was an improbably
brave match all the same (all the more improbable in that Arum,
still pushing for De La Hoya-Trinidad II, bad-mouthed it from
the get-go). Trinidad, for a payday of only $4 million, was
gambling his eventual De La Hoya cut against a young,
charismatic and undefeated Olympic champion. Reid, the 156-pound
gold medalist in 1996, was taking a huge step up in class in
only his 15th fight but was considered a dangerous opponent in
the 154-pound division he ruled. Indeed, in a poll conducted by
Reid's promoter, 26 of 51 boxing writers favored Reid.

Likely the writers were taken as much by Reid's story as by his
actual prospects. A former crack dealer, rehabilitated by
trainer Al Mitchell, Reid developed into the only gold medal
winner the U.S. had in Atlanta, championed as a steadfastly
serious and blazingly quick...golden boy. There is no way to
say it but that Reid was enjoying a lot of press as a kind of De
La Hoya alternative, a bolder version, a fighter who would never
resort to the kind of disastrous and gallina-like retreat that
De La Hoya performed in the late rounds of his Trinidad fight.

Everybody was right about that, at least. For bravery, Reid gets
high marks. Unfortunately, they don't register on the judges'
scorecards, where he was downgraded for getting knocked down
four times.

Reid looked formidable enough in the first half, as if his
superior strength and speed would wear down his challenger. He
even sent Trinidad to one knee in the third round with a sharp
right hand flush to the chin. "I felt I was close to victory
there," Reid said, "but I couldn't find the shots to finish him."

He never had another opportunity. Trinidad, always a slow
starter, moved ahead, implacable. In the seventh round he turned
the fight in his favor when, with a three-punch combination, he
froze Reid in place. It was an odd knockdown, delayed by
seconds, it seemed, as Reid's shaken cerebellum registered the
impact then, after consultation with his legs, agreed to shut
down operations. Reid reeled along the ropes, pitched forward
and collapsed. He eventually climbed back up, but he was never
the same.

Trinidad continued with a methodical beating, delaying the
obvious conclusion: that Reid had no business in this ring, on
this night, at this point in his career. In the 11th round,
Trinidad clipped him with a right uppercut that produced another
two-stage knockdown, as Reid's nervous system considered where
he ought to land. Trinidad knocked him down twice more, and
although the unanimous decision was inevitable, at least there
was a lingering impression of Reid's gallantry. He just kept
getting back up.

Afterward the participants were in a self-congratulatory mood,
considering that the promotion had been so besieged. Arum was
pesky all along, predicting rain (literally) on his enemy Don
King's parade. "We weathered all types of plagues," said King
later. "Rain and locusts."

But getting this fight off was nothing, apparently, compared
with putting Trinidad and De La Hoya back together. Perhaps good
sense will prevail, although that is never the way to bet. King
was hopeful, in the sense that his insults of De La Hoya ("He's
running now like a coward") were crafted to lure him to the
table. But Felix Sr., who does all his son's talking, seemed to
be stuck on pride, immovable and inflexible. "We want to make
history by beating Roy Jones," he said. "Forget De La Hoya. He's
not the last Coca-Cola in the desert."

So maybe the rematch doesn't happen soon, or ever. The little
tournament was more for show than dough. Still, it was nice we
came this close. Wasn't it?

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN IACONO DOTTING THE EYE Trinidad (right) survived an early knockdown and came back firing to nearly stop the brave but overmatched Reid.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN IACONO SITTING PRETTY Comfortable at his new weight of 154 pounds, Trinidad says he's done campaigning as a welterweight.

For now, both Trinidad and De La Hoya seem silly, taking short
money for far less dramatic fights and avoiding the one bout
that everybody wants.