Felix Trinidad stands today atop the boxing world. Untouched. But, to a surprising extent, unwatched.
His 12th-round TKO victory over Fernando Vargas Saturday night to give Trinidad unquestioned supremacy in the 154-pound division was an exciting, dramatic fight, just the elixir boxing needs for its battered image.
Even though it turned out to be a one-sided match, with Trinidad getting stronger as the match went on as is his pattern, there was enough action to excite even the most casual fan. Any bout with six knockdowns, with both fighters going down, a match with equal parts skill and courage, is a huge attraction.
Unfortunately for the sport, not enough people were attracted.
The crowd at the Mandalay Bay Events Center was announced as 10,067, 2,000 short of capacity. And, according to sources, some of those tickets were given away.
With a rodeo in town, hotels that would normally buy up fight tickets chose not to do so, leaving the public to buy the seats.
The pay-per-view figures may not reach 400,000. Last month's Lennox Lewis-David Tua heavyweight title fight, a match which had less action in 12 rounds than Trinidad-Vargas had in the first 30 seconds, drew 420,000.
Trinidad's purse for Saturday night was $4 million, half of what an Oscar De La Hoya earns. Vargas made $2 million.
All of which bolsters the fact that Trinidad, for all his skill, all his punching power, all of his ability to recover from early knockdowns to dramatically beat his opponents, cannot interest sports fans sufficiently to earn their financial support.
Not even the masterful salesmanship of Trinidad's promoter, Don King, can turn the Puerto Rican fighting machine into a money machine.
Veteran trainer Emanuel Steward calls Trinidad "a killer robot." That's inside the ring. Outside, Trinidad is just a robot everywhere but on his native island, silent and uninvolved because of a language barrier that doesn't seem to concern him. He appears content to live like a king in Puerto Rico.
In boxing terms, however, Trinidad is not content, at 27, to live on his accomplishments.
So what's next?
Trinidad has two options. One is to stay at 154 pounds and be the leader of a quartet drawing comparisons to the Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran-Thomas Hearns-Marvin Hagler superstar group of the 1980s.
With Vargas at 154 pounds and De La Hoya and Shane Mosley at 147, the possibilities could stretch over the next few years. Trinidad could fight the much-anticipated rematch against De La Hoya, whom many feel beat the undefeated Trinidad in their 1999 fight.
Trinidad could fight Mosley, who has the speed and skill to provide another exciting test for him.
And finally, in a year or more, when he has recovered from the beating he took and gained the added experience he lacked Saturday night, the 22-year-old Vargas could be ready for a rematch with Trinidad.
All of these fights would help Trinidad build on his sparse fan base and increase his earning power.
Trinidad's other option is to move up to 160 pounds, take on middleweight champions Bernard Hopkins and William Joppy, and then climax his career at 168 pounds where Roy Jones might be available.