20 Years Later: The Peak of Tito Mania – Felix Trinidad vs. William Joppy
By: Hector Franco
“Tito Trinidad may be the deadliest puncher in these divisions since Ray Robinson.” – Larry Merchant
20 years ago, on May 12, 2001, at Madison Square Garden, the second half of Don King’s middleweight world championship tournament took place when Puerto Rico’s Felix “Tito” Trinidad (42-3, 35 KOs) faced off against William Joppy (40-7-2, 30 KOs) for his WBA middleweight title.
Trinidad, 28, entered the fight with a record of 39-0 with 30 knockouts, and Joppy, 30, came in with a record 32-1-1 with 24 knockouts.
The tournament would crown boxing’s first undisputed middleweight champion since Marvin Hagler.
Longtime reigning IBF middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins had taken care of business in the first bout of the tournament, winning a wide unanimous decision over Keith Holmes to unify the WBC and IBF titles.
Trinidad was coming off of the most prominent year of his career in 2000, where he moved up from welterweight to junior middleweight and unified the WBA and IBF titles scoring significant victories over David Reid and Fernando Vargas.
The bout with Vargas is regarded as one of the best in the history of the junior middleweight division and led to Trinidad being awarded Fighter of the Year honors for the year 2000. Trinidad’s father, Felix Trinidad Sr., also earned the Trainer of the Year award to put a cap on a spectacular year.
Trinidad’s move up in weight was an attempt to make history to become one of just a handful of fighters to hold titles in the welterweight and middleweight divisions.
Some of the greatest fighters in the sport’s history had held titles at welterweight and middleweight, including Ray Robinson, Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, and Emile Griffith.
By defeating Joppy, Trinidad would become the first fighter since Ray Leonard to win a middleweight title in his first fight at the weight class.
“My goal is to win the 160-pound middleweight crown on May 12 against William Joppy and then go on to unify the title by beating Bernard Hopkins,” Trinidad stated through a translator for an HBO preview show promoting the bout with Joppy. “I know that I’m fighting against boxers who are perhaps more powerful who may hit harder, but I’d like to tell them all, Joppy and then Hopkins, to watch out for me because I really want to win.
“I really want to knock them out, and I’m certain that when they feel my punch, they will know who Tito Trinidad is. They’re going to find out where my middleweight punch is, I guarantee it.”
During this time, Trinidad was the most popular boxer out of the island of Puerto Rico. Similar to fighters like Manny Pacquiao or Ricky Hatton, he fought with the weight of a country behind him that brought more meaning every time he stepped inside the squared circle.
In the early 2000s, the pound-for-pound list was a round-robin between Trinidad, Shane Mosley, and Roy Jones Jr.
As the longest-reigning champion in welterweight history, having made 15 title defenses holding victories over Oscar De La Hoya, Pernel Whitaker, Oba Carr, Yory Boy Campas among others, and then moving up to unify at junior middleweight, Trinidad had as a good a case as anyone for the pound-for-pound crown.
“Felix has the qualities of an idol and celebrity, but also and most importantly the qualities of a hero that merits an example to the young and all the people,” stated Trinidad’s then-attorney Jose Nicolas Medina. “ We have great champions that have been champions in one category. He is the first number one pound-for-pound in the whole sport.”
Trinidad’s opponent, Joppy, was the ultimate underdog heading into the fight. His career trajectory mirrored some of today’s fighters, such as Demetrius Andrade, as a world champion who was looking for his opportunity to prove himself against the best.
Joppy started boxing at the age of 20, the same age that Trinidad won his first world title at welterweight. He would get his first title opportunity by traveling to Japan and stopping Shinji Takehara via a ninth-round stoppage to win the WBA middleweight title.
Joppy would make two defenses before losing the title by controversial decision to the Dominican Republic’s Julio Cesar Green in August 1997. The Virginia native would get his revenge on Green a few months later in January 1998, winning a dominant unanimous decision in a rematch.
In January 1999, tragedy struck Joppy when an auto accident broke c7 vertebrae in his neck, leaving him out of the ring for most of the year.
Miraculously, Joppy would return in the summer of 1999 and would go on to make five defenses in his second reign, even scoring a seventh-round stoppage over Green in a rubber match.
For Joppy, the fight with Trinidad was his opportunity to become a household name and earn bigger paydays. More importantly, the Trinidad fight represented a chance at recognition and notoriety.
“This is my great fight,” Joppy stated during an HBO interview promoting the fight. “This is going to get me over that hump. This is going to put me on that pound-for-pound list. This is my dream come true. I know that Trinidad is the house fighter, but I’m going to shock the world.”
Having been a career-long middleweight, Joppy felt that he would be able to handle Trinidad, who spent most of his career at welterweight.
“Trinidad can not deal with me,” Joppy said during one of the final press conferences. “Him beating Vargas and David Reid, they were still babies. He’s dealing with a veteran now. Welcome to the middleweights, Trinidad.
“I’m going to show him things he’s never seen before.”
Heading into the fight with an outstanding record of 19-0 with 15 knockouts in world title fights, Trinidad didn’t lack confidence in facing Joppy.
“Well, he should go ahead and try to back me up,” said Trinidad. “And then do whatever he’s been saying he’s going to do. Once we’re in the ring, I will show him. He might want to do what he said, but whether I let him do it or not is another matter.
“Let’s see on May 12 if he can do a fraction of what he said he’s going to do.”
The stage was set in front of the pro-Puerto Rican crowd at Madison Square Garden in one of the greatest atmospheres boxing has seen.
Ring Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Doug Fischer and former ESPN Senior Writer Dan Rafael described the atmosphere as electric and one of the best crowds for a fight that they have attended.
When Trinidad made his entrance, the crowd went into a frenzy, with loud chants of Tito reverberating throughout the arena. Trinidad basked in the roar of the crowd as a fighter who loved the adulation he received from his fans.
The fight began with Joppy taking the initiative heading straight out to Trinidad. However, this proved to be a vital mistake, as Joppy’s lack of focus on defense would prove to be his downfall.
With 48 seconds remaining in the first round, Joppy left his hands down by his waist, and Trinidad took immediate advantage by landing a quick left hook that stunned the Virginia fighter.
Another left hook and right hand followed, putting Joppy down hard on the canvas. He was able to get up to wobbly legs with the bell saving him from further punishment.
Joppy’s corner was in a panic, leaving him standing in his corner while yelling instructions. But, the middleweight champion’s resolve and high activity level kept him in the fight.
The second round was a showcase for Trinidad’s accuracy as he landed 29 out of 49 punches at a 59 percent connect rate. But Joppy kept throwing punches in an attempt to overwhelm the Puerto Rican.
Joppy’s most effective round came in the third when he threw a record 116 punches, the most ever thrown against Trinidad in a fight tracked by CompuBox.
Trinidad’s power was on full display against Joppy. But, the fight highlighted some of his often-overlooked attributes in finding and taking advantage of openings and his overall accuracy.
In the first minute of the fourth round, Trinidad caught Joppy with a left hook while his hands were down, causing him to roll over on the canvas from another knockdown.
Joppy somehow managed to survive the round, but the end seemed imminent.
In the fifth round, Trinidad landed a pair of right hands on the inside after creating space. The first right landed, and as Joppy was swaying down, Trinidad landed another brutal right hand. Joppy attempted to get up on wobbly legs forcing referee Arthur Mercante Jr. to stop the fight at the 2:25 mark.
The Puerto Rican landed an unbelievable 108 out of 191 total punches at a 57 percent rate, with 80 of those punches being power shots.
Trinidad, now holding the WBA middleweight title as a three-division champion, stood tall as arguably the best in the world. One can argue if Trinidad was indeed the greatest fighter to come out of Puerto Rico, but his popularity could not be questioned.
While fighters like Carlos Ortiz, Wilfredo Gomez, Wilfred Benitez may have fought in more revered eras, they never peaked at the zenith that Trinidad reached.
Trinidad’s run from 1999 to 2001 was a short one, but the significance of that period would be what other Puerto Rican fighters would be measured by from that point forward.
In September 2001, the run would come to an end at the hands of Bernard Hopkins in the finals of the middleweight tournament.
The pressure in which Trinidad put on his opponents could only be compared to the pressure he felt having to fight with the weight and emotions of an entire country.
For the night of May 12, 2001, at the world’s most famous arena, Felix Trinidad and Puerto Rico were at the top of the boxing world.
The Top Five Robberies of the Past 25 Years
THE TOP 5 ROBBERIES OF THE LAST 25 YEARS
By: John Freund
Here’s a news flash: Boxing isn’t fair. The best fighter, or the one who fights the best in the ring on a given night, doesn’t always win. In other sports, the scoring is obvious. Everyone knows when a basket is made or when a touchdown is scored. But in boxing, the scoring remains a mystery until after the final bell. And that often leads to controversy. Whether that controversy stems from poor judgment or corruption on the part of the judges, is up for debate. One thing is for certain though, there are plenty of asterisks alongside boxing wins and losses. Following, are five of the most egregious robberies of the last 25 years:
Note – this list factors in the commercial significance of each bout. So fights like Williams-Lara, and Rios-Abril, while clearly miscarriages of justice, are not weighted as highly given their lack of mainstream significance.
#5) De La Hoya vs. Trinidad – Sep 18, 1999
Billed as ‘The Fight of the Millennium,’ the last of the so-called ‘Superfights’ of the 20th Century, it was a battle of unbeaten champions as reigning WBC megastar Oscar De La Hoya squared off against boxing’s other pound-for-pound king, IBF Champion, Felix ‘Tito’ Trinidad. This match would both unify the Welterweight titles, and prove who was the best fighter in the world.
Or so people thought…
“Outclassed is too big a word for what’s happening here, but it’s verging on that.”
When Jim Lampley spoke those words in Round 9, the so-called Superfight had thus far been nothing more than a chess match. And not even a competitive one at that – picture Bobby Fischer versus some hustler in Washington Square Park. Yup, it was that kind of lopsided.
De La Hoya frustrated Trinidad all night with his lateral movement and footwork, never getting caught up in the ropes and keeping his distance from the heavy-hitting Puerto Rican by effectively utilizing his jab. De La Hoya – a fighter known for his jab and vicious left hook – continually stunned Trinidad with right cross after right cross. He seemed to be landing them at will.
I gave De La Hoya 8 of the first 9 rounds. Larry Merchant had it 6 to 2 with 1 even. Howard Lederman had it 6 to 3, which, in my opinion, is exceedingly generous. Regardless of the score, there is little debate about who won the early rounds. It’s rounds 10-12 that this fight is remembered for.
De La Hoya, on the advice of his corner, played defense in the final three rounds – which is a polite way to say that he ran the hell away from Trinidad and didn’t fight for 9 minutes straight.
Now, to be fair, De La Hoya’s entire strategy was to box – stick and move, stick and move – and he employed that strategy beautifully for 9 rounds. He didn’t let Tito cut off the ring, and he picked his opportunities to fight and throw combinations, landing at least 2 or 3 per round. Tito, on the other hand, barely threw a single combination in the first 9 rounds. That’s how effective De La Hoya’s game plan was.
Yes De La Hoya took off the last 3 rounds, and yes he lost all 3 (though the 10th was pretty close). But even still, there is no question who won the fight. As Jim Lampley said, he didn’t outclass Tito, but it was verging on that.
The judges, of course, saw it differently. They handed Tito the win, and that’s how the ‘Golden Boy’ came to record his first ‘L.’ Incidentally, this fight set the record for non-heavyweight PPV buys, with 1.4 million; a mark that would stand for 8 years until De La Hoya-Mayweather broke it.
There would be future controversial decisions in the Golden Boy’s career – one where he was robbed against Mosely, and another where he was gifted against Sturm. Regardless, this fight goes down as one of the biggest boxing robberies of all time, given the hype surrounding it, the status of the two stars inside the ring, and the fact that they never fought again – so we’ll never really know who was the best boxer in the world at the time.
#4) Chavez vs. Whitaker – Sep 10, 1993
Before there was Mayweather-Pacquiao, before De La Hoya-Trinidad, there was Chavez-Whitaker.
Julio Cesar Chavez is a boxing legend, often considered the greatest Mexican boxer of all time, which is saying a lot. Coming into this fight, he had a jaw-dropping record of 87-0. Chavez was that rare combination of boxer and brawler, someone who could bob and weave and play defense on the outside, until he worked his way inside on you and broke your will. He was the best in-fighter in the game, and his chin was legendary; the first time Chavez ever hit the canvas was in his 91st pro fight.
Pernell Whitaker, meanwhile, was the best outside-fighter in the game. A slick southpaw with phenomenal footwork – he would dance, move, duck, hop, and sometimes even leap to places other boxers could only dream of reaching. Whitaker brought a 32-1 record into this fight, with his only loss being to Jose Luis Ramirez in what many consider to be a fight that Whitaker actually won. He was the Floyd Mayweather Jr. of his day, and Chavez-Whitaker was the ultimate ‘Bull vs. Matador’ matchup; it was brute force against blinding speed.
The first half of the fight was dead even. Whitaker established his game plan in Round 3, slipping and dipping, utilizing his speed and elusiveness, and finding just the right moments to throw wicked combinations. Chavez, who was the best in the business at cutting off the ring, was relegated to chasing the man they called ‘Sweet Pea’ around and around, just as Trinidad would chase De La Hoya six years later. Chavez did manage to force the action enough in the first 6 rounds to make it close on the cards, if not even.
But Round 7 was when Whitaker took over. He began to outclass Chavez, sticking and moving, capitalizing on his hand and foot speed. Whitaker even fought Chavez on the inside – and beat him there; something no one thought possible. There were moments when Whitaker double-jabbed Chavez, and somehow brought his right back in time to block a Chavez left hook. Thus was the blinding speed of Pernell Whitaker.
By Round 11 Chavez was exhausted. He was lunging and leaning, his punches lacking their usual sting. They fought the whole round on the inside, and Whitaker dominated without question. It was a masterful show of boxing prowess, and it earned Whitaker the right to be known as the first man to defeat Chavez in the ring.
But the fight was ruled a draw. Conspiracy theories abound, as Don King – Chavez’s promoter – was under federal indictment at the time for a litany of charges, including match-fixing. Dan Duva, Whitaker’s promoter, lodged a formal complaint with the Texas department of licensing and authorities after British judge Mickey Vann admitted to docking Whitaker a point for a low blow in the 6th Round. Referee Joe Cortez warned Whitaker for the blow, but did not instruct the judges to dock a point. To make things even more suspicious, the judges’ scorecards mysteriously disappeared the day after the fight…
If one were so inclined, one might argue that Don King rigged the match to keep Chavez’s revenue-generating, zero-loss streak alive for as long as possible. Of course that would imply that Don King were capable of such devious, underhanded, mafia-style tactics.
Regardless of what actually happened that night, one thing is certain: Sweet Pea won the fight, and was robbed of a victory.
#3) Castillo vs. Mayweather 1 – Apr 20, 2002
I can already hear Mayweather fans cursing my name. Go on, I can take it. Do your worst in the ‘Comments’ section…
If you’re a Mayweather fan, it’s time to eat some humble pie. Your hero was beaten and beaten soundly, and on Hitler’s birthday no less! (No idea why that’s relevant, I just like to point out Hitler’s birthday whenever I see it anywhere…)
Mayweather, at age 25, with a record of 27-0, was years away from the iconoclastic figure nicknamed ‘Money’ for having generated more of it than any other boxer in history. This was ’02, and ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’ was moving up from Jr. Lightweight to Lightweight to face a Mexican bruiser named Jose Luis Castillo. Most experts predicted a Mayweather rout; just another rung on King Floyd’s ladder of greatness.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation – someone forgot to tell Castillo that he was supposed to lose. The fiery Mexican crowded his elusive opponent, pinning Mayweather against the ropes and viciously attacking his rib cage. Remarkably, Mayweather stood and traded with Castillo instead of slipping away eel-like, as he normally does. Perhaps he wanted to prove he could go toe-to-toe with a heavy-handed lightweight. Whatever the reason, as Larry Merchant later said, Mayweather ‘fought the wrong fight.’
His loss was apparent, even to Mayweather, who could be seen hanging his head immediately after the final bell sounded, and staring down at the canvas in the run-up to the decision. This wasn’t the loud and proud Pretty Boy Floyd we’d all come to expect. This was a man who knew he was beaten.
Yet the judges decided otherwise. Two of the judges scored it 115-111, and Anek Hongtongkam (best name ever!) had it 116-111.
I personally had Castillo up 8 rounds to 4. Harold Lederman at ringside had a similar score. I can understand 7-5 Castillo, but anything beyond that is stretching it. And to say that Mayweather not only won this fight, but won it convincingly – as all three judges’ scorecards imply – is an outright travesty. Castillo out-muscled, out-maneuvered, and out-classed boxing’s soon-to-be brightest star.
A lot of people blame the decision on Bob Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Castillo at the time. It’s clear what Arum’s motivation would have been to fix this fight – Pretty Boy Floyd was on the rise, and having that big goose egg in the ‘Loss’ column helped make him a household name.
And a household name he would become, as Mayweather went on to rack up 49 victories with no official defeats, and generate more money than any boxer in history. Would all that have changed if Castillo had gotten his just desserts? No one will ever know…
It’s impossible to say for certain if the fight was fixed, or if the judges were just in awe of Mayweather and scored him more generously than they should have. But don’t forget, this is boxing, where what goes on outside the ring is just as important – or sometimes even more important – than what goes on inside the ring. Perhaps Castillo himself put it best when he responded to the controversy by saying, “Well, I don’t want to say the wrong thing, but boxing is certainly filled with interests, let’s put it that way.”
#2) Holyfield vs. Valuev – Dec 20, 2008
If you’ve never seen this fight, don’t bother. It’s easily the most boring championship match of all time. I’ll give you a quick rundown of the entire fight right here: Valuev stands in the center of the ring and does nothing, while Holyfield dances around him and does next to nothing. Picture that for 12 rounds.
The reason this is an all-time great robbery is because, at the end of the day, next to nothing is still more than nothing.
Holyfield won this fight 11-1. The only round that is even plausible to give to Valuev is the 12th, yet somehow, in some universe, the judges gave Valuev the win. I guess they decided that lumbering around for 33 out of 36 minutes and throwing 4 or 5 punches a round – never mind any combinations – is enough to retain a title. Yikes.
This is a big deal, considering Holyfield would have made history with this win, notching his fifth world title and becoming the oldest man ever to win the heavyweight crown at age 45 (besting ‘Big’ George Foreman by several months). But alas, it was not to be.
The one cool thing about this fight is that Valuev is a monster. And by that I mean he’s 7 feet tall and weighs over 300 lbs. Holyfield, at 6″3, 210, looks like a hobbit dancing around that Stone Giant thing in Lord of the Rings.
The reason this fight is #2 on the list is because the decision is so egregiously wrong. Other than the 12th, I defy you to find one round that Valuev won. I know this isn’t the most meaningful heavyweight bout of all time, but from now on, when someone mentions the fact that George Foreman is the oldest man ever to win the heavyweight title, you can bring up the asterisk that is Holyfield-Valuev.
#1) Pacquiao vs. Bradley 1 – Jun 9, 2012
You knew it was coming. The grandaddy of all highway robberies. The most shameless star-making event in boxing history. The day that three judges decided Tim Bradley out-fought Manny Pacquaio.
A little context before we delve into this one: The fight took place in 2012, right around the time everyone was clamoring for a Pacquaio-Mayweather Superfight. We all know what happened there. Instead of Pacquaio-Mayweather, we got Pacquaio-Bradley.
Okay, fair enough. Bradley came into this fight undefeated, with impressive wins over Lamont Peterson and Joel Casamayor. He was ranked a top 10 pound-for-pound fighter, so after negotiations with Mayweather and for a Cotto rematch both fell through, why not give a guy a shot?
The fight went as everyone predicted. Manny just had too much speed, too much power, too much technical skill for Bradley to handle. Bradley fought Manny’s fight and PacMan picked him apart, landing his straight left all day long. As Max Kellerman declared in Round 5, Manny ‘Outclassed him.’
The fight itself brought zero surprises. It was the decision afterward that left everyone floored. In the narrowest of margins, the judges gave a mixed decision to Bradley.
It’s tough to find a single person who thinks the decision was justified. By my count, Manny won the fight 10 rounds to 2, and most of those were pretty decisive. The only rounds I gave to Bradley were the 10th and 12th. Now, I can see a 9-3 decision, and can even stomach an 8-4, but giving more than 4 rounds to Bradley…?
The judges unanimously gave Bradley the 7th round, even though Manny doubled him in punches landed! 2 of the 3 judges gave Bradley the 8th, even though Manny outpointed him 15-9 in that round. And there was no question who was throwing the harder leather. Jim Lampley and Emanuel Steward were commenting all night how much more power Manny had, and how Bradley simply couldn’t handle his trifecta of speed, skill, and punching power.
After the fight, Bradley was asked by Max Kellerman in the center of the ring if he thought he won. He said that he would ‘have to go back and watch the tape to see who won the fight.’ The crowd booed. Kellerman then asked Pacquiao if he thought he won the fight. Pac responded, “Absolutely, yes.” And the crowd went wild.
Now, if you’re going to claim that a fight is fixed, you should at least have a theory as to why it would be. There’s a pretty convincing one for this fight, and it starts and ends with Bob Arum.
Bob Arum promoted both fighters. Pacquiao was already a legend, and having had 3 losses, wasn’t protecting a goose egg the way Mayweather was throughout his career. So what’s one more loss going to do to his iconic reputation? Absolutely nothing.
Meanwhile, a win for Bradley makes him an instant star – which is exactly what happened. It also sparked a very lucrative Pacquaio-Bradley trilogy, of which Pacquiao convincingly won the last two fights (and wasn’t robbed by the judges).
And if you want to be uber-consipratorial about the whole thing (and who doesn’t!), you could say that, ‘isn’t it a coincidence that Bradley signed with Top Rank just before this fight, and fought a big match on the Pacquaio-Marquez 3 undercard, thus introducing him to a more mainstream audience?’ And… let’s just go the full nine here… ‘isn’t it strange that Bradley looks a heck of a lot like Floyd Mayweather Jr., whom fans wanted to fight Pacquaio, but the fight never materialized (up to this point)?’ Could Bob Arum be pulling his best Vince McMahon impression, giving us a substitute for Mayweather-Pacquiao – only one in which the drama was artificially manufactured instead of naturally ingrained?
Color me cynical, but I think all of the above is possible.
Whatever the case, things certainly didn’t go as planned for PacMan moving forward. He would fight Marquez for the fourth time later that year, and get famously knocked unconscious, then spend over a year recovering before returning to the ring. Boxing fans often point to the Bradley fight as the beginning of Manny’s downfall, if you can call the last 4 years a ‘downfall.’
Bradley, meanwhile, went on to fight and beat some top contenders, including an aging Juan Manuel Marquez, Jessie Vargas, and Brandon Rios.
Tim Bradley is by all accounts a very warm, likable guy, and it’s worth noting that he is not the one who robbed Pacquiao. It was the judges who robbed Pacquiao.
Or maybe it was Bob Arum…
Regardless, this fight is yet another reminder that boxing can be such a cruel mistress: she can seduce you, and just as quickly stab you in the back.
What are some of your all-time biggest boxing robberies? Leave a comment below…