By Thomas Gerbasi  Originally posted at BoxingScene

 

 

September 29, 2001. Eighteen days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, New York City was still in a daze, but life was beginning to get back to normal, or at least the new normal throughout the battered Big Apple.

That meant sports were slowly, but surely, coming back, giving us a much needed escape from the “real” world. One of the biggest events, a boxing match postponed from the 15th to the 29th, was the middleweight title bout between Felix Trinidad and Bernard Hopkins at Madison Square Garden.

It was a chance for diehard fight fans to fill “The Mecca” and see the biggest fight of the year, one pitting an old-school crafty veteran seeking a life-altering win against an unbeaten Puerto Rican idol looking to please his legion of fans once again.

The crafty veteran won, Hopkins putting on a career-best effort over 12 rounds.

An hour after the final bell, on the F train to Brooklyn, I saw grown men cry. Draped in Puerto Rican flags, heads in hand, it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen following a sporting event. Trinidad losing hit his fans so hard it was as if they lost.

Sure, “Tito” hadn’t lost in 40 previous fights, but this wasn’t like the Yankees dropping a series to the Red Sox. This was important.

Even before the final verdict, as Hopkins put on a master class, you could feel the air get sucked out of the Garden round by agonizing round. In previous bouts in the House that Tito built, there were bands, drums, cheers and chants. If you weren’t there, it’s hard to describe, but in the midst of his wins over Pernell Whitaker and William Joppy, it felt like the place was going to cave in from all the foot stomping and euphoric noise.

Hopkins silenced that crowd, and the Garden wasn’t the same until Trinidad returned to the venue three years later for a fight with Ricardo Mayorga that I described that night as the “Latino Hagler-Hearns.” When I got home and watched the replay, it was more of a one-sided beatdown in favor of Trinidad, but that’s what the Tito in the Garden atmosphere was like.

felix-trinidad

And while the sport is still thriving, despite the usual naysayers predicting its demise once again, there is something missing.

Don’t get me wrong – there were thousands of Brits making the trip to the Garden for Anthony Joshua’s fight against Andy Ruiz Jr. in June, Mick Conlan packed the house in Belfast recently, and Terence Crawford is a franchise in his home state of Nebraska. But Trinidad always brought something different, and as serious as he would get when the bell rang, there was such a joy to what he did.

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