STAR POWER FELIX TRINIDAD, THE FIGHT GAME'S BEST-KEPT SECRET, FINALLY GOT TOP BILLING AND PROVED HE HAS THE PUNCH TO REMAIN A MAIN EVENT

February 19, 1996

By the middle of the fourth round, his face smeared with the
blood running from his nose and his legs backpedaling shakily,
Rodney Moore had reached the end of a short tether and wore the
desperate look of a man who wanted only one thing--a place in the
night to hide.

Undefeated Felix (Tito) Trinidad, the International Boxing
Federation's welterweight champion, had been stalking Moore last
Saturday night from the opening bell, methodically cutting off
the ring while stepping inside to drive hard left hooks and
right hands into his body. The fans at the MGM Grand in Las
Vegas sensed the inevitable when Trinidad threw a hard right
that bloodied Moore's nose near the end of the third round. They
came out of their seats in the fourth round as the champion
crashed a low hook into Moore's right hip, dropping him to one
knee. "I thought he had broken my leg," Moore said. "It felt
paralyzed."

Trinidad bore in after Moore beat the 10 count. Two more
crushing hooks to the body had Moore casing the exits, an
uppercut staggered him, and a left hook to the head, flush on
the glove Moore was using to cover his face, set him up for the
patty-cake finale. It was a hook that merely glanced off Moore's
temple but sent him reeling awkwardly backward into a neutral
corner, where he turned and again settled to his knees, facing
the ring post. He had just risen, looking dazed and disoriented,
when the bell saved him from certain annihilation, and he chose
to stay on his stool when the bell signaled the start of the
fifth round. At once there was Trinidad striking his most
familiar pose, standing just inside the ropes with his long arms
thrust high in the air.

The 23-year-old Trinidad is now 28-0, with 24 knockouts, since
going pro almost six years ago. The victory over Moore was his
eighth successful defense of the title he won from Maurice
Blocker on June 19, 1993, and the seventh defense that ended in
a knockout. Only Hector Camacho, against whom Trinidad won an
easy 12-round decision two years ago, has been able to go the
championship distance with him.

Although Trinidad was never challenged on Saturday, there was
much in his performance that underscored why many regard him as
one of the top fighters, pound for pound, in the world, in the
company of IBF super middleweight champ Roy Jones Jr., and
perhaps WBC welterweight champion Pernell Whitaker. And why,
among great Puerto Rican fighters, he has already been named as
heir to the tradition built by the likes of Wilfredo Gomez and
Wilfred Benitez. The 5'10" Trinidad moved with a dancer's grace
against Moore. He threw every punch in a fighter's
repertoire--leading with the jab, doubling up on hooks and
uppercuts, crossing with the right--and pressured Moore
relentlessly, increasing the heat slowly as he closed in.

"Did you see how beautifully he cut off the ring?" said veteran
California trainer Jimmy Montoya. "He was putting so much
pressure on him. All the time. Jabbing. Throwing combinations.
In and out. A real tough kid. Very hard puncher, full of energy.
Very smart. I don't think there's anybody in or around the
welterweight division who can beat him. I don't think Whitaker
can handle him. And I think he'll knock out [IBF junior
middleweight and WBC super welterweight champion] Terry Norris.
The only question is whether he can take a hard shot from a guy
like Norris."

The plan is for Trinidad to defend his IBF title again, perhaps
against former super lightweight champ Frankie Randall, while
holding out hope for a welterweight unification bout against
either WBA champ Ike Quartey or Whitaker. "I want Whitaker.
That's my goal," Trinidad said after Saturday's fight. "It's
between him and me to show the world who's the best
pound-for-pound boxer."

Whomever he fights, Trinidad hopes to be the main attraction.
Until the Moore fight, he had a reputation as one of the
greatest living fighters who had never fought a main event. And
even last Saturday's bout was overshadowed by the medical
suspension of Tommy Morrison, who was scheduled to fight on the
undercard. Trinidad had become the best-kept secret in boxing.
Just a year ago, when Whitaker was asked if he wanted to fight
Trinidad, Sweet Pea thought the reference was to the country. "I
don't want to fight there," said Whitaker. Now Trinidad is among
the most appealing and marketable fighters in the world--a rising
slugger with Sugar Ray Leonard's choirboy looks and more than a
few of his skills.

Unlike Leonard, who used the 1976 Olympics to launch his career,
Trinidad failed to qualify for Puerto Rico's Olympic boxing team
in 1988, despite being a five-time Puerto Rican amateur
champion. His father, Felix Sr., was upset at the snub, and in
1990 he arranged for his son, who was only 17, to turn pro.

Trinidad had a mere 12 KOs among his 51 victories as an amateur,
but the amateur game rewards movement and volume of punches
landed. All that changed when he began to fight for money. "I
started planting myself, with my feet more firmly on the ground,
and the punches got stronger," Trinidad says. He knocked out his
first five opponents, and by his second year as a pro he was
flooring fighters one after another. The boxer had become a
puncher, and his handlers were matching him as though he were
Leonard. In only his 16th pro fight, in Paris, Trinidad faced
the hard-punching Alberto Cortes, who had already won 51 fights.
It was a war. Cortes had Trinidad down twice in the second
round, but he came charging back in the third and was punching
Cortes senseless when the referee ended the bout.

By late 1994, after stopping two undefeated fighters, Luis
Campas and Oba Carr--both of whom had Trinidad sprawling on the
deck--he had begun to earn a name as a lights-out puncher with a
classic style. "He'd have given trouble to any of the great
welterweights I've seen, including Tommy Hearns and Sugar Ray
Leonard," Emanuel Steward, the former trainer of Hearns, told
The Vancouver Sun after the Carr fight. "I'd put him right up
there."

Where more people see him every time he fights.

COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVEROWhen Trinidad wasn't pounding Moore's body with left hooks, he was setting him up with the jab. [Felix (Tito) Trinidad boxing Rodney Moore]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)