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Tito the Great or Tito the Cheater?
Jan 28, 2004 By Orlando Rios, JR.
Former NFL coach John Madden, who coached the Oakland Raiders from 1969 to 1978, once said that he used to tell his offensive linemen to wear the dark colored gloves when the opposing team wore dark jerseys, and to wear white gloves when the opposition wore white jerseys.

The reason Madden explained was that it made it a little harder for the referees to see his linemen holding the defenders, since their gloves and jerseys matched. Smart huh? Or is it cheating? To some, it’s cheating, specifically if you were the one being held.  But to others, like Madden, the offensive line, and Raider QB, Ken Stabler, it was just being smart, knowing tricks of the trade to give you the upper hand. Basically, just fun and games. 

It’s just like giving your best friend the bad, defective controller so you had the upper hand in Madden or NBA Live.  Other examples of little tips and tricks in sports is the use of vaseline and sandpaper in baseball, and the ever famous sticky glue in football, which was shown in the movie Little Giants and The Replacements.   

So how exactly does Felix Trinidad tie into all of this?  Back in 2001, a story broke of Felix Trinidad possibly fighting with illegal hand wraps in a story that Maxboxing.Com writer Steve Kim talked about in an article.  The story goes that representatives of Bernard Hopkins camp went to see Trinidad getting his hands wrapped for the fight, which is customary in boxing, and upon arriving and seeing the wraps on Trinidad’s hands, specifically the left hand Team Hopkins contested the wraps and even threatened to cancel the bout, believing the wraps were incorrect.  It took the Chief Inspector of the NYSAC to force Trinidad’s hands be re-wrapped the correct way, and even then, it didn’t take until the third try to get the wraps correctly done. 

With the hands correctly wrapped, the title fight between Bernard Hopkins and Felix Trinidad went on, with Hopkins completely and thoroughly dominating Trinidad, stunning him at the end of round 10, and dropping in round 12 to end the fight.  Hopkins preformed flawlessly and was dominating on all three judges scorecards at the end of the fight.

While some saw the whole hand wrapping incident as a way for Hopkins to distract Trinidad and take him mentally out of his game, others saw it as a smoking gun to Felix Trinidad entire career.

Early Signs?

As I said earlier, Kim broke the story of the hand wraps and brought up the stories of Fernando Vargas and William Joppy, both of whom which were dropped by monster Trinidad left hooks.  Fernando Vargas, who lost to Trinidad in December 2000 in which he was dropped a total of 5 times, mentioned that while in Puerto Rico promoting the fight with Trinidad, a man affiliated with boxing went up to him and told him to check Trinidad’s wraps. 

William Joppy, Trinidad’s next opponent after Vargas, who was dropped 3 times before the fight was halted after 5 rounds, was also warned of Trinidad’s hand wraps by former Heavyweight Champion, Hasim Rahman.  Although neither fighter at the time paid much attention to the hand wraps, both did mention that Trinidad’s shots had an “unnatural” feel once the story broke.   Joppy believed Trinidad’s hand wraps were equivalent to getting into a street fight with brass knuckles, while Vargas said, “When I got hit, I was like Mike Tyson just hit me. I knew he was strong, but this was ridiculous. I couldn’t believe what he was hitting me with.”

Getting away with it?

Did Felix Trinidad cheat?  From the get go, no one would have or could have even suspected that Trinidad could possibly be fighting with juiced hands. Why is that? When it comes to cheating successfully, two things have to happen. One, the evidence has to be disposed of and two, the cheat must fit the image. Unlike articles of clothing, which usually lead to cheaters getting caught by their spouses, hand wraps can be easily disposed off.  The only possible physical evidence available is through photographs and perhaps video. Secondly, the cheat must fit the image.  To better understand exactly what I mean we go back to the 2001 Baseball season, in which San Francisco Giants Slugger Barry Bonds belted out 73 homeruns, breaking the old record of 70, hit by Cardinals 1st baseman Mark McGwire. 
Problem is that up until that point, in 15 seasons, Barry Bonds had never in his career even hit over 50 homeruns! But in 2001, he managed to bust through and hit 24 more homeruns than he had the previous season and hit an MLB record 73.  Immediate allegations of steroid use broke because of these conflicting stats.  But it didn’t end there.  When it was discovered that Mark McGwire had taken performance enhancing drugs during his record breaking 1998 season, sports writers turned their attention back towards McGwire’s homerun buddy that season, Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa, who up until his record breaking 1998 season, had never even hit more than 40.

The year before he hit 66 homeruns, Sosa only had 33 homeruns, doubling his previous year’s total. Only Mark McGwire broke the 50 homerun club, twice, in 1996 with 52 and again in 1997 with 58 homeruns before belting 70 in 1998.

And all this brings us back to Felix Trinidad.  Going into the Hopkins fight, Trinidad was 40-0, 33 KO’s.  In the eyes of the boxing world, Trinidad was considered a knockout artist, and his decisive wins over Joppy and Vargas only solidified that image.  While on the other hand, Gianluca Branco, who entered the Arturo Gatti fight at 32-0, 15 KO’s, wouldn’t be considered a knockout fighter, with only half of his wins by knockout, as compared to Trinidad, who had 33 knockout wins in 40 total bouts.

Already known for his relentlessness, his courage, his heart, his power, and his dangerous left hook, suspicion never arouse as to the possibility of Trinidad’s hands being juiced. The cheat has to fit the image.  It’s almost thought numbing to believe that a great champion like Felix “Tito” Trinidad might have needed the extra wrappings to drop fighters like Bernard Hopkins, David Reid, William Joppy, and Fernando Vargas, who was dropped for the first time in his career only 20 seconds into the fight by the first big Trinidad left hook.

Every story has two sides. In the case of Trinidad and his hand wraps, the two sides are strongly divided.  Those who believe Trinidad cheated site the Hopkins story as their biggest alibi, believing that the Hopkins camp had uncovered the fact that Felix Trinidad was cheating, by fighting with illegal wraps. This in turn, added even more to Tito’s devastating left hook, which to some boxing critics has been a career changer for some fighters.  On the other hand, those who oppose the hand wrap story believe the Hopkins camp not only blew the story out of proportion, but they did it to distract Trinidad and take him out of his game, which could have resulted in the lack luster Trinidad performance that night.  The opposing party also believes that only guys complaining about the wraps were the fighters, as Maxboxing’s Dougie Fischer put it, who were KTFO’D by Tito.

But Dougie Fischer did bring up an interesting point. How is it that only Hopkins’s team found out about the wraps, and not the camps of other fighters like Oscar De La Hoya, Fernando Vargas, David Reid, and William Joppy?

In response to the allegations of illegally wrapping his son’s hands, Felix Trinidad, SR. came out saying that he does place a lot of gauze on the hand of all his fighters, but not an excess amount of tape. On the other hand, the representatives of Bernard Hopkins who saw and contested Trinidad’s hand wrapping, tell a different story, saying Trinidad’s hands had four to five layers of gauze and tape, compared to only having a knuckle pad and then tape.

So who do you believe? Who can you believe? There is no denying the greatness of Felix “Tito” Trinidad.  He is an Ambassador for boxing. Trinidad has done more for boxing than most people realize.  He’s a five time world champion, and has fought and beat some of the toughest fighters of his time, and came out victorious on all accounts except for his fight against Hopkins.  He will be inducted into boxing’s Hall of Fame, and will always be remembered for his relentlessness, for his courage, and for the manner in which he carried his people and his country.  It can be said in Puerto Rico, that Felix Trinidad is boxing, and future Puerto Rican fighters have big shoes to fill, or to some, have big hand wrapping's to fill. Now, in the words of Sean Connery from the movie the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, “And the game is on…”

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