The Main Event

Boxing’s Middle Weights Save the Sport Again

It's hardly surprising, then, that last week's festive buildup was lost on one local fight maven. "It's [Trinidad-Vargas] nothing more than a good Friday-nighter in the old days," snorted longtime trainer Al Certo. This before the bout. "How can you call it a superfight? But that's what's left in boxing. They just happen to be undefeated, which makes it look attractive." As to recent stink-outs among heavies, including his own charge, Polish misfit Andrew Golota, Certo was equally harsh: "They're all overpaid, and you know who gets fucked? The public."

So Vargas (and of course Trinidad) in the end saved fightdom from another embarrassing night. Foul as always, the overall pay-per-view experience couldn't suck enough—a tiresome pastiche of undercard mismatches, endless analyses, stock profiles, and ever-grating announcers. And would someone please disappear that ubiquitous holy terror of all women boxers, Christy Martin? Xena, Glenn Close, anyone.

Vargas's second-round escape proved as stupefying as the first. Still fogged, he resembled one of those '80s robot dancers, as he swiveled head and torso without letup, just enough to elude the slashing haymakers that whizzed by. By the third, his legs returned, along with the toe-to-toe power and aggression that would ultimately serve his undoing. Throughout training, Vargas had burned through a number of sparring partners ("Don't worry about paying me," said the last, "just get me out of here"). This was different.

After simultaneous hooks in the fourth, Trinidad too hit the canvas. But as in the past, his momentary lapse seemed little more than a wake-up call. And while the exchanges grew in fury by the middle rounds, the kinetic balance tilted notably in favor of the Puerto Rican's jab and strength. Seeking an unlikely KO in the 12th, Vargas instead walked into a poleaxing left that put him down like a rag doll. Then up, and down again, and, dangerously, yet a third time for lights out—where the hell was the ref? Vargas, who'd said earlier he'd have to be carried out on a stretcher, nearly was.

With a frozen smile solidly in place, Don King crowed afterward about how "Steven Spielberg couldn't have written a better script for the final round." How fitting—hype and Hollywood. "We needed this," oozed TVKO ring announcer Jim Lampley, speaking proprietarily for boxing, as well as PPV futures. Meanwhile, Vargas was on the way to the hospital for a CAT scan. How he recovers careerwise from five floorings (he'd never been down once before) is anybody's guess. Lampley and King shouldn't forget him. Thanks in large part to his huge ticker and good whiskers, the hype held up. It doesn't always.

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