1. IT was supposed to be the best fight the welterweight division had seen since Sugar Ray Leonard beat Thomas Hearns in 1981. Certainly it was the most anticipated. “This is the fight of the century,” said then-world featherweight champion Naseem Hamed. “How could I dare miss it?” But the unification showdown between Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya, staged at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on September 18, 1999, was far from the fight of the century.
2. THE combatants came into the fight with fearsome reputations and unbeaten records. Trinidad, 35-0 (30), was regarded as the hardest puncher in boxing, while De La Hoya, 31-0 (25), was considered one of the sport’s absolute finest. There was no clear favourite, and opinions swayed as the fight got closer.
3. TRINIDAD, of Puerto Rico, arrived in Las Vegas several weeks before the fight and, staying at the Hilton Hotel, demanded privacy. He refused interviews and locked the media and public out of his training sessions until there were only days to go. There were rumours that he was uneasy, and struggling to make weight. On the Tuesday before the superfight he decided to organise a public training session that proved he was in peak condition.
4. DE LA HOYA was convinced that victory would be his, and that it would be more straightforward than anyone envisioned. “Nobody knows what I’m going to do,” he said. “That’s playing it smart, confusing my opponent. I’m hungry again. Trinidad’s not a boxer. Whenever he gets hit, he gets wobbled. He’s weak. I don’t think he’s a solid physical structure. I might wipe him off the map or just outbox him. I want to remain undefeated and retire as champion. It’s never been done [outside the heavyweight division]. Watch what happens when I retire from boxing.”
5. BEFORE the fight it was announced that De La Hoya’s purse was a guaranteed $21million compared to Trinidad’s $8.5million. Promoter Bob Arum also added there was a further $11million available in prize funds, that would be split between the pair, if the fight performed well at the Box Office. It did, with 1.4million paying to watch the fight on television, making the PPV revenue a cool $71.4million. All in all, at the time of the fight, it was the richest non-heavyweight fight in history.
6. THE crowd was awash with personalities. Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Julio Cesar Chavez and Mike Tyson were there. Angelo Dundee watched on with tennis superstars Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graff. Elsewhere Sylvester Stallone, Jack Nicholson, Cameron Diaz, and Danny DeVito were in attendance.
7. BUT expectations could not be met. The fight was a disappointment, particularly to the those who were expecting a shootout. It was a chess match, and one that De La Hoya seemed to control. At the end of the 12th and final round, Oscar launched his hands to the air in triumph, convinced he had down enough. Certainly, it seemed like he controlled the first eight rounds before opting to slow his output over the last four because he thought victory was his.
8. TRINIDAD was named the winner. The announced scores of 115-114, 115-113, and 114-114 that handed him the majority victory were a surprise to many. The Puerto Rican had certainly been aggressive, but his attacks, largely reduced to just one-twos by De La Hoya’s solid defensive work, had been ineffective. But those who argued that Oscar had cost himself victory, by coasting through the final third of the bout, certainly had a point.
9. JEFF FENECH, the Australian legend, was disgusted by the verdict, and the performance of the judges. “If anyone makes a mistake at work, they get the sack. But in this business the judges get away with it. I wanted Trinidad to win but, after the first round, De La Hoya won the next seven. He won the fight. It was a terrible fight, but Oscar won. This sport sucks.”
10. TRINIDAD had plenty of support, though. Many believed he had done enough. And there was no louder support than that coming from his promoter, Don King. “Give my fighter credit. He beat your man. You’re trying to manipulate these people. There’s no controversy here…” Sick and tired of his old nemesis banging on, Bob Arum switched off his microphone at the post-fight press conference and told him to shut the hell up.