It is the autumn of boxing’s low content. Happens every year. No promoter, or network, can afford to go up against October baseball. It’s just as well. The hiatus of big fights gives us a chance to take note of the erstwhile shrinking big picture.
Felix Trinidad Jr. has cleared up some of the debris. His magnificent return, after 29 months, shows that not only is he rejuvenated (he was rested, not rusted against Ricardo Mayorga)- but so is the game.
Suddenly, there is the prospect of a major bout and, in this new age, it doesn’t include Oscar de la Hoya, Mike Tyson, Roy Jones Jr. or any heavyweight. It would be a rematch of Trinidad with the only man to have beaten him, Bernard Hopkins. Yes, Hopkins and Don King on the same contract won’t be easy, but it can, and "must" be done. The game is desperate.
This had been the year of the falling star. Lennox Lewis retired, Jones got knocked out (twice, mind you), de la Hoya became chopped liver, Sugar Shane Mosley was eclipsed in a Winky and Tyson became bankrupt in more ways than one. Fernando Vargas took the year off, Kostya Tszyu has been on the shelf longer than the last bottle of the "new" Coca-Cola and whatever happened to Naseem Hamed? Even little stars, like Marc (Too Sharp) Johnson and Paulie Ayala fell.
But with precision punching, the likes of which I’ve never seen, Trinidad announced not only was he back, but he in fact is a danger to Hopkins, a man who beat him up for 11 rounds and then finished him in the 12th only three years ago.
Trinidad, after two minutes of apprehension while facing the Managua Madman’s wild swings, was better than ever. But before we start believing that vengeance should be his against the middleweight ruler, let us not forget: Ricardo Mayorga is no Bernard Hopkins, especially defensively.
Hitting a guy who stands right in front of you and has no concept of defense is not exactly like landing against someone whose chin is tucked into a shoulder and can either parry or duck.
It appears that Hopkins, wishing to make his 20th defense of the 160-pound title, will return to fulfill his HBO obligations in late January. The choice of opponent will likely be Felix Sturm, the German whose jab bothered de la Hoya in June, or possibly Howard Eastman, the Brit who gave William Joppy a close fight a couple of years back.
My suggestion is let Trinidad fight the guy Hopkins skips on the same card. That would also end Tito’s obligations to HBO and build a major confrontation for the spring as free agents. With Hopkins seemingly enamored with Bob Arum, the champion should have enough clout to counterbalance King. There seems to be enough money to satisfy all greeds.
If not, Antonio Tarver could become a major goal. Trinidad’s original game plan, before Hopkins scrambled it, was to move up from welterweight through junior middle and middle to get to Jones at light-heavy. Tarver, hopefully settled with his "promoter" Joe DeGuardia to allow his career to move on. Hopefully, Tarver will soon face Glencoffe Johnson, the tough journeyman who completed the job on poor old Roy. The great Gene Kilroy observed after Jones was on empty against Johnson, "You don’t show up when you’re just a scrapbook."
Jones simply became old. He was great in his day, but it’s gone now. The same way it is for Tyson and, I suspect, James Toney. Tyson and Toney were never physical fitness buffs and their aging bodies seemingly can no longer take the stresses of boxing. De la Hoya may be through as a top-class fighter. Why he would want to continue is another question entirely, though he is brave enough to perhaps want a rematch with Trinidad in a big-money fight he can not win.
Wladimir Klitschko showed again he is not going to be a major player in the dilapidated heavyweight division, which at least will provide some action Nov. 13 in a Don King extravaganza (his word, not ours) with four matchups. Unfortunately, this includes the long-awaited pairing of Evander Holyfield and Larry Donald, which is kind of where the division is these days.
Boxing is not dead, or even in hibernation beyond October. Just next month there are some wonderful bouts featuring the return of Tszyu against Sharmba Mitchell, the rubber match between Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera and a rematch of Winky Wright and Mosley.
There’s a chance of Joel Casamayor challenging Jose Luis Castillo or Diego Corrales facing one of the other lightweight champions. Sooner or later, someone is going to come up with a decent opponent for Floyd Mayweather Jr. (he could wind up on the same January card with Arturo Gatti and Jesse James Leija, the winners to meet). A rematch between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez, who had the fight of the year, is almost certain.
No, Trinidad didn’t save a dead game. He just breathed new life into it.