It was early 2000 in Las Vegas and iconic promoter Don King was at his scheming best.
He was planning to stage an outdoor fight in Las Vegas in March in a figurative thumb of the nose at his long-time rival, Bob Arum.
Some six months earlier, King's fighter, Felix Trinidad, had upset Arum's Oscar De La Hoya in a welterweight title unification bout that set gate and pay-per-view records. When King and Arum couldn't come to terms on a rematch, King wouldn't allow Arum to force Trinidad to sit idle by signing a fight against the promising David Reid.
The move infuriated Arum, who angrily predicted rain for the night of the fight and that King would wind up losing $1 million, to which King chuckled and bellowed, "That's OK. Because if I do, it will be 600 years until I'm broke."
Eight years later, King still has plenty of cash, but he's broke when it comes to ticket sellers.
And that explains why he has lured Trinidad from retirement yet again. On Saturday, Trinidad will face Roy Jones Jr. at Madison Square Garden in New York, a bout which can be seen nationally on HBO Pay-Per-View, in a 12-round fight at a weight limit of 170 pounds.
In 2000, a fight between Jones and Trinidad would have been a blockbuster of epic proportions. Now, though, it appears King has a boxing version of "Ishtar" on his hands.
The public, understandably, is skeptical of a bout between men who been so inactive the last five years. And King's attempts to promote the fight have not been helped by the New York Giants' playoff run, which has pushed the fight off the front of the sports pages and will cut into the last-minute walkup crowd King is banking on to fill the Garden's coffers.
Whether the fight is a bomb or a success, King will survive. He always does.
Trinidad, however, is looking at his third and final strike. It's inconceivable that he could beat Jones, who is naturally bigger, quicker and has been more active. Jones has fought three times since Trinidad was last seen in a boxing ring, and though he isn't near the fighter he was when he was boxing's pound-for-pound best, neither is Trinidad.
Trinidad has clearly fallen further, and his second long layoff isn't going to help. Though Jones has been tagged as shot because of his back-to-back knockout losses to Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson, he had enough left to defeat a skilled young fighter, Anthony Hanshaw, on July 14.
Trinidad's last outing was 30 months ago and was utterly forgettable. He failed to win a round against Winky Wright, who beat him primarily with a jab.
One of the reasons that Trinidad has become so popular, in addition to his infectious smile, is his eagnerness to fight anyone at any time. He is a fierce competitor, and that, along with nonstop pleading from King, are what lured him back.
"Right now, I just want to get a victory and celebrate that with all of the fans (who) will be in New York and then go home to celebrate with all of the fans in Puerto Rico," Trinidad said. "That is what I have missed during my leave, the feeling of the big victory."
A victory would be a huge boost for King's sagging promotional company, which will likely lose one of its few remaining stars after WBA-WBO-IBF lightweight champion Juan Diaz fights the final bout on his contract, likely on March 8 against Nate Campbell in Cancun, Mexico.
Diaz's manager, Willie Savannah, is unhappy with King and is planning to test free agency when his contract expires.
Without him, King's biggest names are Nikolai Valuev, Samuel Peter and Cory Spinks. And, significantly, King is only the co-promoter of Valuev and Peter. Trinidad could boost King back into the mix, though, with an upset.
If Trinidad was able to stop Jones, he'd immediately vault into contention in both the middleweight and super middleweight divisions and would have several big-money opportunities. He could even get a shot at middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik if Pavlik is able to get past Jermain Taylor next month.
That bout would play to Trinidad's style and could become one of the year's biggest pay-per-view successes.
But talking that way is like talking about the Chargers' chance to defeat the Giants or the Packers in the Super Bowl. There is this little matter of getting past the immediate obstacle first. Trinidad has to find a way to defeat Jones, who not only has the advantage of superior size and speed but also of having been relatively active.
It's easy to root for Trinidad, because he's one of the game's good guys. Unfortunately for him, it's about the only advantage he has over Jones at this stage.
- Felix Trinidad