All over town, the Tito fans are worried. Well, not exactly worried.
“Concerned, man. Call it concerned,” says a guy named Angel on 161st Street across from the Bronx Courthouse. Sporting an I LOVE PUERTO RICO T-shirt and a tattoo of a snake about to devour a tree labeled THE GARDEN OF EDEN, Angel says it’s keeping him up nights, the possibility, however remote, that William Joppy, current middleweight champion, might upset “the hero of my people,” the 28-year-old undefeated Felix “Tito” Trinidad, on May 12 at Madison Square Garden. “I got that feeling, in my stomach. I don’t like it.”
“There’s no star on the island big as Tito,” agrees Angel’s compatriot Eddie Sanchez, a Bronx transmission repairman by way of Bayamon, who is also uneasy. “Ricky Martin? You got to be kidding. So how is William Jal-loppy gonna beat him? No Jal-loppy beat Tito, he’s the Cadillac … the Puerto Rican Lamborghini.”
Still, Sanchez admits, “super-nationalism aside,” there are factors, obstacles. This is Trinidad’s first fight at 160 pounds, the middleweight limit. Until recently, he was fighting at 147. “Joppy is used to the weight. Tito’s coming up. Maybe he don’t want to go toe-to-toe, know what I mean?”
On 116th Street, sentiments are similar. A man named Ralph selling underwear beside a mural saying R.I.P. PUN (the deceased rapper Big Pun once accompanied Trinidad into the ring) says, “You see Lennox Lewis get knocked out? It’s trouble for favorites, man. Joppy can punch. Until now, when Tito gets knocked down, he always gets up. Until now … man, my kids’ll go into mourning, they’ll have to stay home from school.”
As the fight approaches, the risk grows. Last week, Trinidad, who is trained by his domineering father and rarely says much, signed a full-page Times ad protesting the Navy bombing on Vieques. His name appeared alongside those of Ricky Martin, Benicio del Toro, and catcher Iván Rodríguez. “Now he’s a national hero – oh, boy, that just raises the stakes,” says former light-heavyweight champion José Torres.
But Joppy’s not so worried about not being a national hero. Unassuming in a pair of baggy jeans, Joppy was asked if he minded being “an afterthought,” given all the attention being paid Trinidad. “No problem,” he said. “After the fight, people in this town will be thinking about me plenty.”