A wink and more than a prayer

May 10, 2005 3:46 AM

All the talk about the demise of the heavyweight division can be brushed off with just this: Felix Trinidad Jr. and Winky Wright.

Boxing is not dead; it’s not even breathing very hard when it can put together two magnificent specimens like this and say, "Fight."

On my personal pound-for-pound list, I have Trinidad at No. 3 despite the fact he’s had only one fight in the last three years — a picture-perfect demolition of Ricardo Mayorga. And I have Wright at No. 5. (Okay, to satisfy any morbid curiosities out there, Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather Jr. are 1 and 2, and Kostya Tszyu is No. 4.)

But not only are the skill levels extraordinarily high, the stylistic matchup of Trinidad-Wright should make the May 14 battle at the MGM Grand Garden an absolute must-see. There’s Trinidad, who has one of the greatest arsenals in boxing history combined with an almost frightening accuracy, against a master boxer who confounds things by being a southpaw. After years of begging for big fights, Trinidad is coming off two wonderful victories over Sugar Shane Mosley.

Picking a winner would be somewhat hoggish, akin to gulping down your cake and icing it, too. With such a wonderful matchup, gambling is almost an after-thought.

I said "almost."

The best thing about betting on fights like this is the expectation that you will get some consistency. Neither Trinidad or Wright can be counted upon to throw in a clinker. Would all our horses be so kind. However, there are indeed intangibles to be considered.

The biggest is just how serious is Trinidad about this comeback. Pat Putnam, one of my original boxing gurus for so many years at Sports Illustrated, said he thinks this could be a fight between someone who is hungry (Wright) and someone who is bored (why Trinidad returned).

If that’s the case, and given Wright’s considerable skills and fine chin, there can be a major case for betting big on a 2-1 or so underdog.

I’m not so sure, though, that Tito was just growing antsy on his island paradise. I think, after the loss to Bernard Hopkins when he undoubtedly was affected by the events of 9/11 (only 17 days prior) he had grown somewhat stale. Tito had been fighting at such a high level for so many years, maybe he just needed a holiday.

Whatever, he looked as if he had been taking dancing lessons during his time off. Trinidad’s feet have been his Achilles heels. He fought as if he were on tracks — just going straightforward, as irresistible as a tank to anyone who happened to be in his way.

Oscar de la Hoya and Hopkins showed that the way to beat Trinidad was to show movement, shift angles and derail him. But against Mayorga, I saw Trinidad do some nifty shifting of his feet, something I never saw before.

Okay, he was fighting a guy who couldn’t spell boxing. But that marked improvement in his footwork could make Trinidad even more special than a two-fisted marksman. He’ll need it against Wright, who does not stick-and-move, but who showed against Fernando Vargas that he can go forward and sit in the "pocket" and tear up an opponent.

That won’t work against superior firepower, like Trinidad’s. And his magnificent jab, Mosley told me, while decisive against him, may be far less effective against a taller opponent like Trinidad.

So it sounds as if I like Trinidad? Of course. But I also love Wright. Let’s put it this way. I’m almost certain this is a "go" fight, all 12 rounds. While I think the decision could be darn close, would I want to bet against Don King’s man, Trinidad? Tito is not only King’s guy, he is all of boxing’s. He’s the guy who could create the monster pay-per-view shows against such as Hopkins, de la Hoya and, yes, even Roy Jones Jr.

The question then is could Wright, whom I can’t see scoring a knockout, get the decision?

The answer is yes.

Even up, I wouldn’t bet on it. At 2-1 or better, though, I wouldn’t bet against it, either.

What to do, what to do? By now, you should know me. Put a gun to my head, I’ll bet the underdog (Wright +170, according to Las Vegas Sports Consultants). Especially a very, very "live" underdog who is brimming with confidence (so is Trinidad, but then, he always does).

I’ll let you in on something. I first met Wright on the French Riviera in Antibes. He was fighting on an undercard in Monte Carlo during his stay with the Acaries brothers, France’s leading promoters. Winky actually carried my computer for me from one building to another in search of a phone line that worked. He was a nice guy before he made it and he’s still a nice guy (no, Trinidad does not molest motorcycle riders or anything like that, he too is a nice guy).

But I can call Winky by his given name, Ronald, without having to duck. Now, who do you bet on, Ronald or Felix?

At 2-1, it’s Ronald.

I don’t pick horses by name.