Boxing is the most exciting way to watch sports. The fights that stick out in people’s minds are the ones that told the best story. These are the fights that have an impact beyond the squared circle and will be remembered for years to come.
Twenty years ago, on December 2, 2000, Mexico and Puerto Rico added another chapter to their long and interesting history.
When he fought 22-year-old Fernando Vargas, Felix Trinidad (42–3, 35 KOs) of Puerto Rico was in the middle of the best stretch of his career (26–5, 22 KOs).
After years of not being able to get big fights at Welterweight while holding the IBF Welterweight title, including a bid to fight Terry Norris at 154 pounds in 1997 that led to a lawsuit with promoter Don King in 1998 that the Puerto Rican lost, he finally got fights against big names in 1999.
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In February 1999, at Madison Square Garden, Trinidad would beat an older Pernell Whitaker for the first time in his career. In September 1999, he fought Oscar De La Hoya in one of the most-anticipated boxing matches ever.
A fight between two men in their primes, both 26 years old, both experienced champions, and both hard-hitting. Add to that the rivalry between Mexico and Puerto Rico, and you had the makings of something truly special.
Unfortunately, the fight between Trinidad and De La Hoya looked better on paper than it did in the ring. Fans saw a bad fight with a controversial ending in which Trinidad won by a majority decision.
The fight made a lot of money. At the time, 1.4 million people bought the pay-per-view, which was a non-heavyweight record.
When Trinidad left the Welterweight division, he did so as the longest-reigning Welterweight champion in history, having held the title for six years, eight months, and fourteen days.
In March 2000, Trinidad moved up to Junior Middleweight and fought WBA champion, David Reid. Reid knocked Trinidad down, but Trinidad went on to knock Reid down several more times and win by unanimous decision.
Pernell Whitaker, Oscar De La Hoya, and David Reid, all of whom won gold medals at the Olympics, were all beaten by Trinidad.
After defending his title against Mamadou Thiam in the summer of 2000 and stopping him in the third round, Trinidad was ready for a unification fight with another Junior Middleweight champion.
Fernando Vargas had a long amateur career and represented the U.S. at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He started his professional career by stopping his first 14 opponents. In December 1998, he faced Yory Boy Campas for the IBF Junior Middleweight title.
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Vargas would stop Campas after seven one-sided rounds when Campas gave up in his corner. At 21 years old, Vargas was the youngest Junior Middleweight champion ever.
At the end of 1999, when he fought Ronald “Winky” Wright of Saint Petersburg, Florida, Vargas stepped up his level of competition. He won a close and controversial majority decision.
In April 2000, Vargas won a unanimous decision against former Welterweight champion Ike Quartey in one of the best fights of the year and possibly the best performance of his career.
Vargas would make one more defense of his title, getting a TKO over Ross Thompson in the fourth round before fighting Trinidad to unify the titles.
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Vargas set the standard for young fighters who want to challenge themselves at such a young age. Boxing is a sport for young men, and the only way to get experience is to do it.
Vargas had to defend his IBF title five times before he fought Trinidad.
As a joint promotion with Don King and Main Events, HBO’s TVKO pay-per-view would show the Trinidad-Vargas fight. In a year full of all-time great fights, like the first fight in the trilogy between Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales and Oscar De La Hoya’s amazing fight with Shane Mosley at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Trinidad-Vargas would give fans one more night to remember.