A victorious Felix Trinidad is eager for a showdown with Oscar De La Hoya
The Eagerly awaited welterweight revival of The Odd Couple may be delayed until the next millennium—and if it ever does open, it may not play Broadway. Oscar ( De La Hoya) and Felix ( Trinidad) can't seem to agree on anything, from money to weight to who'll get top billing.
In the past two weeks both stars have showcased their talents in 12-round victories. On Feb. 13 in Las Vegas, Oscar held on to his WBC title with a sloppy but stirring split decision over Ike Quartey. Last Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, the usually fastidious Felix (29 KOs in his previous 33 fights) retained his IBF crown with a unanimous decision over Pernell (Sweet Pea) Whitaker, a lithe but light-hitting former champion. Though he decked Whitaker and rocked him more than once, Trinidad couldn't finish him. Still, the performance confirmed Trinidad's status as the Felix that fans want to see sharing, if not an apartment, certainly a ring with Oscar.
In the prefight press conference last week the Trinidad and the Whitaker camps took shots at De La Hoya, the division's undisputed box-office champ, who has a history of ducking dangerous contenders. Whitaker's trainer, Lou Duva, landed the lowest blow, dubbing him "Oscar De La Homo," while Trinidad's promoter, Don King, referred to him as "Chicken De La Hoya." Said King, "If Oscar doesn't stand up like a man and a Mexican, he'll prove himself a peep-peep and a cock-a-doodle-doo, and embarrass his children, his children's children and every alien on Mars."
Whitaker had already faced De La Hoya, losing a disputed 12-round decision in 1997, and needed to beat Trinidad to earn another Oscar night. A defensive wizard who throughout his 15-year career has frustrated opponents with his jab-and-grab rigadoon, Whitaker insisted he was ready for Trinidad. "He may be nine years younger than me," said Whitaker, 35, "but I'm the one with the fresh legs."
If so, it was because he hadn't fought in 16 months. Whitaker tested positive for cocaine after his last bout and was suspended for six months. Last March he failed another drug test and spent 30 days in rehab and remained under suspension. Sweet Pea was suddenly Snow Pea.
Trinidad, meanwhile, hadn't fought in 10 months, a layoff due partly to litigation: Last summer he filed suit against King for fraud and breach of contract. After a judge ruled against Trinidad in November, he was compelled to re-sign with King. This year Trinidad's biggest battle has been with the bulge. In early February he was reportedly 10 pounds over the 147-pound welterweight limit Last Friday, a half hour before the 4 p.m. weigh-in, he was reportedly three pounds over. With two hours to make weight or forfeit his title, a sweat suit-swaddled Trinidad ran the streets of Hell's Kitchen. When the fighter returned at 4:22, King exclaimed, "The moment of truth is at hand!" Trinidad stripped to his Skivvies and ascended the scale. His weight was announced as 147 "He came out looking like a champion welterweight," proclaimed a relieved King.
Which is pretty much how Whitaker looked at the opening bell. A 9-to-2 underdog, he took the fight to Trinidad early, spattering him with jabs and slapping him with combinations. But Trinidad was too big, too strong and too young. He dropped Whitaker with a quick right hand in the second round, shook him badly in the sixth and the eighth, and stalked him from the middle rounds on. Too artful to get KO'd, Whitaker hung in on craft and faith in himself. He left the Garden with a 41-3-1 record and a fractured jaw.
Though the decision was lopsided (two judges had it 118-109, the other 117-110), Trinidad's failure to stop Whitaker may .undermine King's odd coupling with De La Hoya's promoter, Bob Arum. Felix wants to move up to 154 pounds; Oscar wants to stay at 147. Felix wants pay parity; Oscar thinks he deserves the lion's share. On top of all that, King has contractual obligations to Showtime, Arum to HBO and its pay-per-view arm, TVKO. "Oscar will never fight Felix while King's around," predicts Duva. " King will demand 14 options, which would tie up Oscar until the millennium after the next millennium."
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