Felix Trinidad began his 160-pound campaign with a brutal TKO of
The Puerto Rican posse encircling the Madison Square Garden ring
last Saturday night was chanting "Tito! Tito! Tito!" while
inside the ropes countryman Felix (Tito) Trinidad was proving
that he's the middleweight Mambo King. Peppering William Joppy
with punches the way that other famous Tito--Puente--once
thumped on the timbales, Trinidad dethroned the two-time WBA
champion with a brutal fifth-round TKO.
Since abdicating his 147-pound crown two years ago, Trinidad has
stopped previously unbeaten 154-pounders David Reid and Fernando
Vargas. He kept right on drumming against Joppy in his first
fight at 160.
The prize of this prizefight was the chance to face Bernard (the
Executioner) Hopkins at the Garden on Sept. 15 for the undisputed
title. "Tito definitely outclassed Joppy," said Hopkins, the WBC
and IBF champ, who watched from ringside. "Next he'll have to
prove he's the best in the class."
Five days before the fight, Hopkins had predicted, "Trinidad will
walk right through Joppy." The sweeping dismissal seemed to
offend Joppy. "Trinidad is overrated," he snarled. "When he beat
Vargas and Reid, he was fighting kids whose bones hadn't fully
developed. I'm a true middleweight."
Agile and slippery, the 30-year-old Joppy had campaigned at 160
or 168 pounds for his entire 34-bout career. His lone loss, to
Julio Cesar Green in 1997, had come on a questionable decision.
Since then Joppy had won eight in a row, but all against
opponents far below the level of Vargas and Reid. The only name
was Roberto Duran, who, at 47, had legs, as well as hands, of
Though Joppy was older and supposedly more seasoned, the taller,
far more powerful Trinidad, 28, entered the ring a 3-to-1
favorite. His 39-0 record had been built on heavy-fisted
combinations, tight defense and relentless pressure. Elusive
opponents like Joppy have sometimes given Trinidad trouble--but
only for so long. Oscar De La Hoya opened a sizable lead over
Trinidad early in their 1999 welterweight bout only to give it
back by running away in the final four rounds. Reid knocked
Trinidad down and was ahead until wilting in Round 7 of last
year's super welterweight match and losing on a unanimous
Figuring he would have to take Trinidad out early, Joppy was
anything but elusive, carrying the fight to Trinidad and swinging
from his heels from the opening bell. He landed a chopping right
16 seconds into the first round that seemed to startle Trinidad
and battled briskly until 50 seconds remained. Then, after
missing a sweeping right, Joppy left himself open. To the delight
of the 18,235 partisans on hand in the Garden, Joppy was floored
by a left, a straight right, another left and another right. He
rose unsteadily at the count of five, and for the rest of the
night his face was a study in puzzlement.
In Round 4 a three-punch salvo sent Joppy tumbling backward.
Again he righted himself just in time and, clinching repeatedly,
lasted to the bell.
In the fifth Joppy was flattened for good. Spun around by a pair
of lefts, he walked into a pair of rights and went down. He
struggled to get up and, still struggling, fell again. When he
staggered headfirst into a ring post, referee Arthur Mercante Jr.
waved the bout to a halt. "My left was for the cemetery,"
Trinidad said. "My right was for the hospital."
Luckily for Joppy, Trinidad finished him off with the right. "I
didn't think he'd have that much power coming up to 160," Joppy
said. "I have never been hit like that."
Will Tito's syncopated savagery be enough to drown out the
Executioner's song in the bout that will unify the middleweight
title? "Trinidad had the perfect opponent: a guy an inch shorter
who couldn't punch," said Hopkins. "I'm two inches taller, I like
to fight inside and I have a whack."
To want to dance with the Mambo King, Hopkins may have to be
King Grabs The Crown
Leave it to Don King to turn a simple title puzzle into a
complicated Chinese box. A week ago the heavyweight championship
picture seemed fairly clear: King's own John Ruiz would defend
his bogus WBA title on Aug. 4 in Beijing against perpetual
opponent Evander Holyfield. Meanwhile, Hasim Rahman, who won the
WBC and IBF belts on April 21 with a knockout of Lennox Lewis in
South Africa, would face either Lewis in a rematch on HBO or Mike
Tyson, the WBC's No. 1 contender, on Showtime, probably late this
On May 9 Rahman was reportedly ready to sign a $17 million deal
for a Lewis bout. The next day Tyson's boxing adviser, Shelly
Finkel, persuaded the Rock to consider an offer from Showtime. On
Friday, King sucker punched everyone by signing Rahman away from
longtime promoter Cedric Kushner, who, according to Rahman, had
failed to pay him a promised $75,000 in time to renew their
contract, which the fighter says ran out on April 12.
King sealed the deal by presenting Rahman with an eye-catching
signing bonus: a check for $4.5 million and a duffel bag
containing 5,000 $100 bills. The promoter's plan is to have
Rahman collect an easy $5 million more by putting his titles on
the line against his former sparring partner, Brian Nielsen, on
the Beijing card (for which, according to insiders, the Chinese
government has reportedly promised King $17 million). If Rahman
beats Nielsen, he reportedly will receive $15 million to take on
the winner of Holyfield-Ruiz III. "A Rahman-Ruiz fight will be
Don King's XFL," says America Presents promoter Dan Goossen,
whose top heavyweight, IBF No. 1 contender David Tua, knocked out
the Rock in 1998. "You can't make lemonade out of lemons."
Then again, King has supposedly offered Rahman two other
post-Nielsen options: $20 million to meet Lewis or $30 million to
face Tyson. Iron Mike seems the more likely opponent. Rahman must
fight him by November or relinquish his WBC crown. All this is
subject to litigation--last Friday, Lewis filed for an injunction
to block King's deal with Rahman. Lewis insists he has a
guarantee for a rematch with Rahman; on Monday, Kushner filed his
own suit, asserting that he still has Rahman under contract; the
same day Finkel also sued to, as he said, "enforce our
rights"--but for now the cash-rich King is back on his throne.
Looking for a Big Role
Hollywood or Bust(er)
After his stunning upset knockout of Mike Tyson in 1990 made him
an overnight success, James (Buster) Douglas has toiled in
obscurity, battling obesity and mediocrity. Now the one-hit
wonder is taking a shot at Hollywood--sort of. On location in his
hometown of Columbus, Ohio, Douglas, 41, will play an FBI agent
in Pluto's Plight, an independent sci-fi flick scheduled to begin
shooting next month. "The way I envision my role, I'm like the
Will Smith character in Men in Black," says Douglas, who brushes
off concerns about his inexperience as a thespian, pointing
proudly to his single appearance as an inmate on the syndicated
television series Street Justice.
John Russell, who has handled Douglas throughout his boxing life,
will manage Douglas's acting career. Russell, who like his charge
is a rookie in the entertainment business, promises to enlist the
help of Hollywood heavyweights--including another old heavyweight
underdog, and longtime friend--Sylvester Stallone, to help with
Douglas's dramatic development. "Buster speaks well, and he's got
personality," says Russell. "He's a talented, lovable guy."
Asked if he thinks he can out-act his famous foe Tyson, whose
forays into film have consisted exclusively of appearances
as...Mike Tyson, Douglas laughs. "I'll take him on the silver
screen just like I took him in the ring," he says. --Luis
COLOR PHOTO: WILL HART/HBO Trinidad hurt Joppy early and often, proving he had packed his punch before moving up to a new division.