Boxing: Unification the lure for undefeated champions

THERE ARE enough sub-plots in tonight's welterweight title fight between the World Boxing Council champion, Oscar De La Hoya, and Felix Trinidad, the International Boxing Federation title holder, to keep a soap opera running for years.

First there is the rivalry between Mexicans and Puerto Ricans and between those who speak only Spanish and those who are bilingual. Trinidad, from Puerto Rico, insists on Spanish only - even though it severely limits his commercial opportunities, while the Mexican-American De La Hoya is smoothly bilingual and as a result will earn about pounds 4.8m in endorsements this year.

Then there is the question of whether De La Hoya will abandon his superior boxing skills and slug it out with Trinidad in an attempt to prove that he is as tough as anyone despite his good looks, his legions of shrieking female admirers and a nickname of "Golden Boy".

On face value, tonight's scheduled 12-round bout promises to be one of the best fights in years. It pits two undefeated fighters against each other - both 26 years old and in their prime - who have an abundance of talent and are expected to be the biggest non-heavyweight draw in boxing history. Executives at HBO, the American TV company who are broadcasting the pounds 30 pay-per-view fight, say they expect about one million subscriptions.

Each fighter is capable of taking the other out early in the fight. De La Hoya, who has a 31-0 record, is generally seen as the stronger and faster of the two men, both of whom possess powerful right hands and left hooks. Both man have been knocked down in fights.

Sugar Ray Leonard, the former welterweight champion who fought and beat the likes of Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns in the 1980s, says De La Hoya has an excellent chance to win if he doesn't stand toe- to-toe with Trinidad: "If he boxes and uses a couple of good body shots and tries to pick Trinidad apart, then I think you have to like Oscar's chances."

That may be easier said than done. Trinidad is a powerful puncher, as his 35-0 record suggests, and although his opponents have not generally been as good as De La Hoya's, the Puerto Rican has ruled the IBF since 1993 and is said to be laser-focused on De La Hoya.

However, the veteran trainer Teddy Atlas is picking De La Hoya for one special quality: "The ability to find a way to win, which he always finds."

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