By John Gregg
Seven months after suffering a devastating defeat at the hands of Bernard Hopkins, Puerto Rico's national hero returned in triumph.
Felix "Tito" Trinidad returned to the ring for the first time since losing his middleweight crown and destroyed Frenchman Hassine Cherifi via a brutal fourth round TKO.
Boxing and moving more than he had in his loss against Hopkins last September, Trinidad established his jab and then went to work with both hands in taking the former WBC 160-pound king Cherifi apart.
Trinidad dropped Cherifi once in the third and then twice more in the fourth before referee Ismael Quinonez Falu mercifully intervened and halted the destruction at the 2:32 mark of the round.
"Cherifi is a good fighter, a solid middleweight but he really didn't do to much to me. I came to win," Trinidad explained after the victory. "I hit real hard with the left hook but tonight I also hurt him with the right hand. Tonight, I hurt him with the right hand a lot."
Trinidad (41-1, 34 KO's) set up his jab early in the first round and Cherifi (32-6-1, 20 KO's) appeared tentative against the former five-time champion's power. With 44-seconds to go in the 1st, Trinidad (160) caught Cherifi (159) with a long right hand to the chin. The shot landed flush and the bald Frenchman's ponytail danced from the concussion of the blast. Seconds later, Trinidad, Cupey Alto, PR, scored again with yet another long right and Cherifi, 34, gave ground.
Trinidad, 29, repeatedly changed directions and displayed more movement than in the Hopkins' title fight and he created his own openings in the second round. At the 2:39 mark, Trinidad scored with a stiff left jab and then followed up with a left hook to the ribs. Moments later, Trinidad began walking his opponent down and caught Cherifi, Lyon, France, with a quick one-two to the face. Cherifi attempted to return fire but he began reaching with his punches and he became even an easier target. With 1:55 to go in the 2nd, Trinidad cracked Cherifi with a solid left hook and then followed up with a crisp right hand to the head. Trinidad cut the distance on his powerless advasery and ripped Cherifi with a left hook to the body in close quarters. With the hometown fans screaming their approval, Trinidad closed out the second stanza with another crunching left hook on the inside.
The Puerto Rican boxing community continued to sing and serenade their hero as Trinidad returned to unloading heavy lumber in the third round. However, at the 2:37 mark of the 3rd, Cherifi did managed to drill Trinidad with a clean right hand to the jaw. Trinidad returned to snapping the Frenchman's head back with riveting left jabs that took the steam and the will out of Cherifi's heart. With 1:38 to go in the round, Trinidad stepped inside and hammered Cherifi with a clean right cross to the mouth. Moments later, Trinidad ripped Cherifi with a digging left hook to the liver and then followed with a whistling right cross to the jaw. Cherifi hit the deck on the seat of his trunks but managed to scramble to his feet at the count of three. Trinidad attempted to close the show with seconds remaining in the round, but despite catching Cherifi with another sharp right hand the Frenchman survived the round.
Trinidad continued to circle to his left and hammer Cherifi with savage shots to the face and ribs in the fourth round. At the 2:20 mark, Trinidad jolted Cherifi with a hard left hook and then a wicked right hand down the middle. Cherifi's knees buckled and as he gasped for air, Trinidad ripped him with a series of telephone pole left jabs and then a classic left hook to the jaw. Cherifi's entire body recoiled from the blast and he collapsed to the canvas on both knees.
With the fans screaming, Cherifi attempted to rise but he tumbled back down to the floor only to regain his feet at the count of four. Trinidad continued unload following the mandatory 8-count and Cherifi was unable to hold or clinch. At the 1:23 mark of the 4th, Trinidad sank a brutal left hook into the fleeing Frenchman's right hip. With the crowd chanting, "Tito, Tito, Tito", Trinidad drilled Cherifi with yet another clean right hand followed by a screaming left hook to the point of the chin.
Cherifi hit the canvas for the final time, rolled over on all fours, and then slowly climbed to his feet at the count of five. Cherifi raised his right glove and gestured to referee Quinonez Falu that he had enough.
The night was over for the citizen from Lyon and the party was just starting in old San Juan. The lingering bad taste of last September had vanished at least for the evening.