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Jan 23, 2004 By Orlando Rios, JR.
Appropriately billed Forces of Destruction, the battle between Fernando Vargas and Felix Trinidad had everything a world championship fight should have. Two champion fighters at the peak of their game, the Latino clash between Mexico and Puerto Rico, and the privilege to be rightfully called, “Mr. Knockout King”. Vargas entered the ring with a record of 20-0, 18 KOs, while Trinidad entered at 38-0, 31 KOs. At 22, Vargas was only a kid in the boxing world, while Trinidad, 27, had already been in several big world title fights, including his controversial win over Oscar De La Hoya back in 1999. Although many boxing experts questioned Vargas’s decision to fight Felix Trinidad so young and so soon, Vargas was ready, even promising he wouldn’t run during the fight (in response to Oscar De La Hoya running for the last 3 rounds vs. Trinidad).
After 12 grueling rounds, 5 knockdowns, 4 low blows, 3 of which resulted in points deduction, Felix Trinidad came out victorious, but not without controversy. After being dropped for the first time in his career only 20 seconds into the fight Vargas bounced right back up, only to be dropped again with another left hook. Making it out of the first round on pure heart, Vargas settled down, and began to punish Trinidad in round 3, before a low blow ended the threat.
Round 4 saw Vargas drop Trinidad with a left hook of his own, and Vargas looked to convert on the knockdown, but a second low blow dropped Vargas to his knees and ended his opportunity to jump on a stunned Trinidad. With a point deduction, Vargas was back into the fight, points wise, but physically, too much might have already been taken away from him. (2 knockdowns and 2 low blows)
Vargas dominated round 5 and was back in the fight before taking yet another low blow in round 7. Another point was deducted, and Trinidad was on the brink of disqualification. Although heart carried Vargas the rest of the fight, too much physically was taken away, and Trinidad dominated the second half of the fight. Vargas himself was penalized a point for low blows in round 10, but many, including Larry Merchant believed it was a make up call.
Forces of Destruction ended the only way it could, with a knockout. After a right cross-landed flush on Vargas, Trinidad landed his money punch, a left that dropped Vargas flat. Moments later, Trinidad dropped Vargas again with another left hook, and once again, Vargas picked himself up off the canvas. After being called several times by Referee Jay Nady, Vargas was allowed to continue, but the fight, for all intense purposes, was over. Vargas, who tried to hold on like a “skilled veteran” (Jim Lampley), took one more final shot, this time a right hand that dropped Vargas for the last time, ending the fight, but starting the controversy.
Some call it being smart. Others call it cheating. Whatever the case may be, one thing is clear, Felix Trinidad hit Vargas below the belt not once, but three separate times, and those low blows did have a profound effect on who won the fight. The first low blow occurred in round 3. After it appeared that the right eye of Trinidad was bothering him, Vargas took a moment to analyze what was wrong with Tito and then jumped on him. Although Tito did his best to cover up, even holding onto the right arm of Vargas, he took some big left hand shots. And since that didn’t appear to work, Tito went low. Some low blows are accidental, but the first one wasn’t an accident or didn’t appear to be an accident. Trinidad clearly went low causing a halt to the action.
After dropping Trinidad with a left hook in round 4, Vargas again jumped on Trinidad, but before he could amount any more damage, again Vargas took another low blow, causing him to drop to his knees and forcing Nady to deduct a point. Vargas was never really the same after that. Although he was there mentally, Fernando had too much taken away. The combination of 2 early knockdowns and 2 back-to-back low blows at the most critical points in the fight gave Trinidad time to rest while Vargas now had to deal with the low blow aftermath. John Wayne once said, “If you’ve got them by the balls their hearts and minds will follow.” Tito never took Fernando’s heart, but he had taken Fernando out of his game plan. The third low blow came in round 7, and from there on, Fernando only won one more round, 11. All three judges had Tito ahead going into round 12, and those low blows, like it or not, played a factor in the fight.
The DLH Factor?
Was Oscar De La Hoya a factor in the fight? Maybe, and here’s why. One year earlier,
De La Hoya fought Trinidad and felt the he had the fight in the bag by round 9, and so did his corner, who told Oscar to take it easy. He did, and ran around the ring for the last 3 rounds, allowing Tito to close the gap. Trinidad went on to win the fight, and for many boxing fans, especially Mexican fans were embarrassed, even booing the Golden Boy for his antics.
Oscar not only gave the fight away, but also in this Latino based rivalry, (Mexico and Puerto Rico), Mexicans fans shared the embarrassment. Going from a legendary fighter like Chavez who never ran, to De La Hoya who gave up the fight by running, Vargas in a sense believed he could restore the pride. He promised all boxing fans, that unlike Oscar, he wouldn’t run, and would show Trinidad “How a real Mexican represents.”
Getting caught up in the hype and also perhaps trying to embarrass De La Hoya for what he had done, Fernando may have been taken out of his game plan, and in some way, this might have played a factor in the way Vargas fought. A man of his word, Fernando fought to show that he wasn’t going to back off or run.
The obvious winner of the bout was Felix Trinidad. But who exactly was the overall winner between Vargas and Trinidad? Already the WBA Super Welterweight Champion, Trinidad gained the IBF championship belt and 5 months later won the WBA Middleweight championship over William Joppy. In September of 2001, Trinidad was target practice for the bigger and stronger Bernard Hopkins losing for the only time in his Hall of Fame career. After allegations of illegal hand wrapping broke out, Trinidad fought only once more, defeating Hasine Cherifi before suddenly retiring in 2002. Rumors still abound of a possible return to boxing, but no official word has been said.
On the other hand, Vargas quickly gained the support and respects of boxing fans world- wide. Although he did lose, he stood his ground and kept his word that he would never run from Trinidad. He traded with Tito and even dropped him in round 4. But a combination of low blows and the relentlessness of Felix Trinidad and 5 knockdowns ended the fight. Vargas returned in May 2001, to wear and tear down Wilfredo Rivera and in September became champion again by defeating former sparring partner Jose “Shibata” Flores for the WBA Junior Middleweight Championship. Vargas returned to the ring in September 2002 and gave Oscar De La Hoya the fight of his life, coming close to dropping the Golden Boy on more than one occasion. In the end, Vargas was caught by a left hook, and never fully recovered in time, and the fight ended after a De La Hoya flurry in round 11. With the loss, Fernando gained even more fans!
In 2003, Fernando returned to the ring defeating the WBC #1 contender,
Fitz Vanderpool and Tony Marshall in late December. At 26, Fernando still has a lot to give to boxing, and is looking toward a possible rematch with Oscar De La Hoya.
Maybe to sum it all up for you, in the words of Bernard Hopkins, “Trinidad won the fight, but Vargas won the war.”
Many critics said the Vargas-Trinidad fight was exactly what boxing needed. Two true warriors who left everything in the ring, and got so much more outside the ring. I’m talking about immortality. I promise that whenever somebody brings up the top 50 greatest boxing matches in years to come, you can bet that the Trinidad-Vargas fight will be on that list. The boxing world is changing, and great fights are few and far between.
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