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The Inside Track | Q & A WITH FELIX TRINIDAD

From Trinidad's Corner, the Choice Is De La Hoya

September 13, 2002|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In September of 1999, Felix Trinidad was seemingly a beaten man after nine rounds of his welterweight title fight against Oscar De La Hoya. Trinidad was behind on most scorecards, his face bruised and battered.

But then, unexpectedly, De La Hoya began to run. He spent the last three rounds backpedaling, in effect giving the fight to Trinidad, who won on a majority decision.

In December of 2000, Trinidad fought a far different match against Fernando Vargas, knocking Vargas down five times and going down once himself before winning on a 12th-round technical knockout.

Trinidad, who lost last September to Bernard Hopkins--it was his only defeat--recently announced his retirement at 29. Earlier this week, Trinidad agreed to talk about his future and to analyze Saturday night's 154-pound championship fight between De La Hoya and Vargas. Trinidad spoke to reporters through a translator by phone from his home in Puerto Rico.

Question: You have repeated over and over again your determination to remain retired. But when you talk about a big fight like Saturday's and hear about the big money both fighters can earn, are you tempted at all to reverse your decision?

Answer: It has nothing to do with my going back to the ring. I have contributed a lot to boxing already. I am very proud of what I have accomplished. I have won five world titles in three categories, I fought the best of the best around and I never ran away from a fight. I fought everybody. I believe this is the best moment to [retire]. I am economically solid and completely healthy. That's the key to it all. I have had 42 fights and I am healthy mentally and physically. On the whole, that is what is really important.

Q: So is this a real retirement, one without a comeback on the horizon?

A: This is a real retirement. I want to be one of the first to retire when I am still ahead. I want to be an example to others. I want to walk away healthy.

Q: You walk away still a relatively young man. What will you do with the rest of your life?

A: I am going back to college. I will use tutors the way I used trainers, to prepare myself academically.

Q: For what? Have you decided on a major?

A: Not yet.

Q: From the unique perspective of a man who has beaten both of Saturday's combatants, who do you think will win?

A: De La Hoya will win the fight.

Q: Many boxing people feel De La Hoya's speed of hand and foot will be the key to victory for him. Was that the main element in his ability to dominate you early in your fight against him and is that why you are picking him now?

A: I wasn't surprised that De La Hoya was as fast as he was against me. I was ready. The quickness could be one of the elements [Saturday], but not the decisive element. The most important element will be the stamina of the two fighters.

Q: You say that you see De La Hoya winning. By decision or by knockout?

A: De La Hoya has the possibility of beating Vargas by knockout. From the time the first bell rings, Vargas will go after De La Hoya, try to jump on him, and De La Hoya will be boxing, using his left hand, always backing up. Vargas, because he hates De La Hoya so much, will be going after him, trying to hurt him. The physical condition of the two fighters will determine whether Vargas hurts De La Hoya, or whether De La Hoya can outbox Vargas or knock him out.

Q: Which will it be? If you had to make a choice, would you say knockout or decision?

A: I believe De La Hoya can win on a knockout, based on his quickness and the fact Vargas is not the same fighter he was when I fought him. Quickness and damage are the reasons.

Q: So you go along with those who say Vargas has not looked the same since you sent him to the canvas five times, that in his subsequent fights against Wilfredo Rivera and Jose "Shibata" Flores, he showed the effects of that beating?

A: Yes, he has not been fighting to the potential he had before. He has not shown himself to be the quality of fighter he was before. When Vargas fought me, I thought he was stronger than De La Hoya. But Vargas has slowed down since that fight. His stamina is down. But since he fought Oba Carr [in May 1999], De La Hoya has also gone down in terms of the quality of his fighting ability.

Q: So what does that all mean for Saturday?

A: De La Hoya must be prepared to [slug it out] with Vargas. If he has not prepared himself for that, he will lose the fight. If Vargas is not prepared to box [as well as brawl], he will lose.

Q: You yourself mentioned the hatred Vargas has for De La Hoya. Can those emotions be detrimental to him in the ring Saturday, causing him to lose control?

A: Vargas is a veteran fighter who has the potential to beat De La Hoya. When he gets into the ring, I am sure he will control his emotions.

Q: What vulnerability in Vargas' style did you spot that allowed you to knock him down so many times? What was your most effective punch against him? And can De La Hoya take advantage of that vulnerability in the same way?

A: The left hook was very effective for me, but De La Hoya does not have that kind of left hook. Neither of them has a knockout punch. Neither of them has one-punch power.

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