Trinidad vs. Jones: Mutual Certainty
By Coyote Duran (Jan 16, 2008) Doghouse Boxing (Photo © David Martin Warr)  
On the surface, the January 19 meeting between three-division titlist Felix ‘Tito’ Trinidad and former World Light Heavyweight Champion Roy Jones Jr. is a union of destiny. A battle six years too late, albeit better late than never. Beneath the veneer of pay-per-view gloss and the thickness of career redemption, however, lies a mutual certainty: the fear of irrelevance.

There are three kinds of fighters: those who can’t, those who can and those who really can. In their primes, Trinidad, 42-2 (35), and Jones, 51-4 (38), were the latter. These days, they’re more ‘cans’ who are dangerously close to becoming
‘can’ts’. As a result, Trinidad and Jones have elected to engage in a meeting on this coming Saturday where the winner will reignite the flame of relevance in his Hall of Fame career.

It goes without saying that no fighter wants to walk into the sunset as a sad shadow of who he once was. At his mightiest, Tito was on the cusp of middleweight domination after briefly stomping through the junior middleweight ranks and denying all challenges to his IBF welterweight title for over six years. It all came to a crashing halt when Bernard Hopkins stood in his way in 2001.

When Roy Jones Jr. powers peaked, he beat John Ruiz for the WBA heavyweight strap almost five long years ago. His claim to being a genuine world heavyweight champion was half-baked but his accomplishment was still profound for a man whose first major alphabet strap was at middleweight. Believing he did all he could at heavyweight, Jones returned to light heavyweight to defend the Undisputed Championship he still rightfully laid claim to. In a tired showing, Jones successfully defended his championship via majority decision against Antonio Tarver almost four-and-a-half years ago. His crashing halt came six months later when, in rematching Tarver, he fell victim to a crushing left hand. Like Trinidad, Jones was never the same after his first decisive loss (Montell Griffin being a disqualification loss).

Sure, that losing feeling didn’t last long. Trinidad would come back to work in May 2002 and clock out early via TKO win in the fourth against Frenchman Hacine Cherifi. That summer, Trinidad would announce his retirement, seemingly capping off an excellent career.

Jones wasn’t as fortunate, post-2004-Tarver. Four months later, Jones would undeservedly gain a shot against Glen Johnson for the IBF light heavyweight title. Jones would look uninspired once more, losing on every judge’s scorecard going into the ninth heat when Johnson pancaked him, setting up a frightening scenario that saw the former pound-for-pound ace laid out for several minutes. Career-wise, Roy Jones Jr. appeared done for.

For their respective accomplishments since their aforementioned career benchmarks, Felix Trinidad and Roy Jones have taken paths of mutual certainty. Both men knew they would come back eventually because, like most fighters, they just couldn’t stay away. Unlike Trinidad, Jones didn’t retire but everyone else thought he should’ve. Whereas Trinidad took over two years to return in a sure-fire win over Ricardo Mayorga at middleweight, an unnatural division for ‘El Matador’, Jones rested for slightly over a year before losing to Tarver in a rubbermatch in October 2005.

Where humility is concerned, it’s always been a more glowing trait in Trinidad. Jones’ air of invincibility has always maintained a haughty hold on him while Trinidad is easily more endeared for the love for his fans, the love of a challenge and the love and respect for his father. It’s these things combined, along with a wellspring of confidence, that convinced Trinidad that Winky Wright was the right choice for his next fight in May 2005. 12 rounds and much frustration later, humility gave way to humiliation as Trinidad lost to a fighter he could’ve possibly beaten five years prior. Dejected once again, Trinidad retired for a second time.

In a way, Roy Jones (who will have turned 39 three days before facing Trinidad) has learned from his mistakes. After the Tarver rubbermatch, Jones has fought once each in 2006 and 2007; against lightly regarded Prince Badi Ajamu and previously undefeated Anthony Hanshaw. Wherein each of Trinidad’s losses he seemingly lost the reserve of confidence he built up to the point of those losses, Jones, in taking on challenges he knows he can win, replenishes his confidence; ergo recharging his bulletproof ego. When Trinidad and promoter Don King came calling, that ego told Jones to accept the challenge.

Now, with the fight rapidly approaching, cheery-but-hype-filled exchanges have now become ire-laced dialogue. Jones has pledged to knockout Trinidad in four and Trinidad, in turn, has threatened to expose Jones’ weaknesses. But underneath the threats, does either man really have anything to gain from all of this?

If we look to November 2007’s example of Ricardo Mayorga vs. Fernando Vargas, a fight that had absolutely no bearing on boxing or its various ratings systems, then we find our answer. The only thing Mayorga-Vargas provided was entertainment value; not that that’s a negative thing. The fight delivered on its promise in addition to appeasing the sensibilities of all Vargas fans who wrung their hands over their hero’s health in his remaining days. If nothing else, we were also ensured the return of Ricardo Mayorga to his best career weight of 147 (or so he has planned).

One can only really expect nothing more from Trinidad-Jones (or Jones-Trinidad, depending on who you favor. There are no major belts on the line at the 170 pound catchweight.). The fighter that wins will have his day to brag but will he rocket into the top ten light heavyweight ratings? That’s doubtful. Jones beating a fighter who had peaked at middleweight shouldn’t ensure one a shot at a championship but when considering the antics of sanctioning bodies, one never knows.

Weight’s not so much an issue for Jones these days since he’s slowly and steadily re-acclimated himself to light heavy. Can Trinidad say the same about his move to 170? He claims to still have the acclaimed power that made him the success he was at welterweight and junior middleweight but anyone can say whatever they want when they want to hide what they aren’t. Where was Tito’s power when facing Winky Wright? It was obviously there against Mayorga but you’ll also notice that if Wright and Mayorga were any more separate in the speed department, they’d have to change their respective names to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Fred Sanford. And speed’s something Roy Jones Jr. still has a bit of.

Let’s say Trinidad does find the same formula Tarver and Johnson used in beating Jones (if taking advantage of a tired and overextended Jones is indeed ‘finding a formula’). A win for Trinidad over Jones will gain virtually nothing more than Jones would, should he defeat Trinidad. Barring any surprise performances months after Saturday night, neither man has what it takes to contend with the best the 175-pound division has to offer. They only have each other as dance partners and the theme of prom is ‘Relevance 2008’.

Felix Trinidad and Roy Jones Jr. may be acting out of late-career desperation but their desires leading into Saturday night come from the fear of being forgotten. Both have had more highs in their legacies than many of their peers and they know it. What they don’t realize is that no one will ever forget those highs; those accomplishments, those accolades. But that’s not nearly enough to tell either of them that they’ve done enough because they’re addicted to the thrill and the mere idea that one more win could be THE win. The one that brings them back to what they should be in their minds: Relevant.

There will always be fans that will say Roy Jones didn’t fight the best challenges at light heavyweight to be great. There will always be fans that will say that Felix Trinidad couldn’t cut the mustard at a higher weight against an elite fighter. Each man serves the other’s purpose. In a way, that’s kind of sad. In their own ways, they share the mutual certainty that each man will make the other great again. If this makes them happy or young or even relevant for only one night, then we’ll take it. Let’s hope this mutuality helps to bring out the best fighter each man could possibly hope to be at this stage of his sunset.

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