by Paul Magno
Clichés are a part of the sports world and, certainly, Boxing lends itself to its share of them.
When talking about the upcoming Welterweight title fight between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito, the cliché that first comes to your mind is the one about an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, but nothing could be more appropriate when describing what’s likely to happen this Saturday, July 26th in Las Vegas when these two fighters finally meet.
This title fight will be the continuation of one of sports’ longest and bloodiest feuds: The feud between Mexican fighters and their Puerto Rican counterparts. This rivalry is Boxing’s equivalent to the Yankees/Red Sox in Baseball and Bears/Packers in Football and just as fiercely played out.
Aside from the mythical rivalry between nations, this will be a battle between two solitary men looking to establish themselves as the #1 fighter in one of Boxing’s best divisions. Fame and even bigger paydays await the winner while a trip to the back of the line awaits the loser.
As Cotto and Margarito wind down their respective training camps and work on some last minute details, they know what’s at stake here. They have been torturing themselves for weeks to be able to withstand their rival’s best shots and attacks. Both fighters know just how important this fight is to them and to the rest of their careers. But this fight may be even bigger, more important than anyone in either training camp can imagine. This fight just may be the biggest and most significant title fight of the year.
Cotto vs. Margarito is a fight Boxing needs- maybe even more so than either of the combatants.
Why This Fight is Important for Cotto:
Let’s put aside the image of Miguel Cotto, Welterweight, who has enjoyed a nice run of success and lets look at the previous 5 years of his career at 140 lbs. Cotto was a well-regarded prospect and then champ. However, the critics seemed to know something that the general public didn’t. Why was Cotto conveniently steered away from the truly big punchers at 140? Cotto had fought a very good selection of fighters as a Jr. Welter and certainly couldn’t be accused of taking the easy road, but, still, the absence of a seriously strong power puncher on his resume gave pause to some who weren’t quite ready to crown Cotto as the next big import from Puerto Rico and the heir apparent to Felix Trinidad.
Cotto had names on his ring record and quality guys like Paulie Malignaggi and DeMarcus Corley, but no Hatton’s, Tszyu’s or any other serious chin-checkers. Rumors spread around of Cotto’s inability to take a punch and hinted at a less-than-stellar set of whiskers on the offensive monster. The rumors were somewhat backed up by him getting seriously rocked at the hands of Corley and, the then unknown, Ricardo Torres.
Cotto’s move up to Welter seemingly augmented his skill-set and he hasn’t been seriously rattled since his fight with Torres in 2006. Still, Cotto’s not been in against any serious 147 lb. bangers, but he has come up against quick-fisted counter punchers like Zab Judah and Shane Mosley, who tested Cotto and certainly bothered him with some shots, but never had him in serious trouble for any substantial amount of time.
His skill-set has definitely improved and Cotto has learned some defense that has helped him roll with and avoid some big shots, which could be the reason we haven’t seen Cotto on rubbery legs lately.
Improved defense or not, Cotto’s critics still point to his chin as the one potentially costly chink in Cotto’s armor. A win against Margarito would take the wind out of any “Cotto has a weak chin” arguments because if he’s able to absorb any number of flush shots from Margarito and survive his offensive onslaught, Cotto’s chin would hold up against any other Welter’s punching power.
A win over Margarito would mean being able to assume the #1 spot in the division with few serious challengers and no obvious physical flaws to point out. In other words, the critics will have no choice but to shut up.
Why This Fight is Important for Margarito:
Margarito turned pro at 16 years of age, fighting for pesos in the tough fight environment of Tijuana, Mexico. And, yes, 3 of his 5 losses came before Margarito turned 19. However, that’s not what his critics point to when questioning Margarito.
They point to his time as WBO champ, his approximately 5 years as WBO Champ, to be precise. A title reign that saw him defend the belt 7 times against extremely pedestrian competition in mostly one-sided, predictable blow-outs.
The legend that has been built around Margarito is that he is so feared that nobody wants to or has ever wanted to fight him. While superficially you could make a case for that statement, you also have to call into question why a reigning World Champion affiliated with Top Rank (at the time, the most powerful promotional company in the business) and with an inside track to fighting on HBO, couldn’t find opponents among the vast body of talent in his division. Were guys like Hercules Kyvelos and Manuel Gomez the only brave souls willing to fight Margarito or were Margarito’s matchmakers just as careful at picking opponents as others were about picking him?
You will find a steady pattern when it comes to the type of fighter Margarito often finds himself fighting. Smaller plodders with decent, but unremarkable power litter his resume. Critics will point to the fact that there was not one single skilled defensive boxer on his hit list until his 37th pro fight.
Margarito’s last 4 fights were a step up from the norm as he fought two legit world class Welters in Paul Williams and Joshua Clottey. He ended up losing to Williams after making a strong run down the stretch of their fight and he beat Clottey in a fight that Clottey was clearly and dominantly winning until hurting his hands. The other big wins on his recent resume were his two fights against former belt holder Kermit Cintron. Margarito beat Cintron convincingly twice, but his destruction of the crude and poorly prepared Cintron only proved him to be a strong and aggressive fighter- something that we all knew already.
Margarito’s physical strength, power and aggressive attitude make him worthy of being listed as an elite Welterweight, but does he have what it takes to be considered #1 in the world? The question that follows him around is whether he has the ability to beat another world-class fighter or if he will remain the destructor of second-tier pretenders, but unable to beat the big boys. A win over Cotto would answer that question and elevate Margarito to a position where he’d be at the top of his division and finally making the big paydays which have eluded him up to this point.
Why This Fight is Important for Boxing:
Just look down a division at 140 and up a division at 154 and you will see why this fight is big for the breadbasket of the sport.
The four champions at Jr. Welter are Timothy Bradley, Kendall Holt, Paulie Malignaggi and Andreas Kotelnik- all good, solid pros with classy styles, but none are really capable of the kind of war that would grab the interest of the fight world. The biggest draw of the division, Ricky Hatton, is on the tail-end of his career and his dance card seems to be full as he has a date with Malignaggi in November and a possible showdown with Manny Pacquiao in ’09. The only big fight on the immediate horizon at 140 is Hatton/Malignaggi, which will be interesting, but very unlikely to produce the kind of compelling showdown most fans crave.
Now, take a look up at the Junior Middleweights, current home of Boxing’s biggest draw, Oscar De la Hoya. Having Oscar in a division would normally mean big fights, but not the 2008 incarnation of De la Hoya who seems intent on a “one and done” philosophy against one of the Welterweights at the end of the year. You can’t really blame Oscar, though, since the 154 lb. division is pretty much devoid of real marquee names and not exactly the fertile ground from which mega-fights are born.
When the three biggest fights on the horizon are Oscar vs. TBA, a meaningless fight between Shane Mosley and Ricardo Mayorga and a rematch of a title fight snoozer, Sergio Mora/Vernon Forrest, you know that the division is not in the best of shape.
Given this lack of real excitement above and below it, the Welterweight division stands out as having the potential to make up for this deficit. However, fights have been slow to materialize and some of the division’s best talent is either gone from the sport or possibly testing the waters in other divisions. Mayweather has retired, Mosley is moving up to 154, Williams is testing the waters for a move up in weight and Carlos Quintana has been sent back to the end of the line after being destroyed by Williams. The Welterweight division, which held so much promise, is slowly falling apart. This is something that Cotto/Margarito can fix.
Cotto/Margarito is the only truly meaningful action fight in the immediate future from 140 all the way through 154 lbs. It’s a fight that, if it never got made, would’ve left the mid-section of boxing with absolutely nothing to show for all the promise it held.
A lot of people say that the true indication of the health of Boxing can be ascertained by the condition of the divisions from 140 to 160. Right now, not only is Margarito vs. Cotto the best fight to make, but, in a lot of ways, it’s the only fight that can legitimately be made. It’s a fight that will reaffirm the hardcore Boxing fan’s love of the sport and keep them interested in what very well may be some lean years ahead for the sport’s middle divisions.
With so many of the sport’s top draws retiring or on the verge of retirement, the winner of this encounter could very well assume one of the top spots in Boxing and help shape the sport for years to come.
Ultimately, though, this fight is big because it’s the way Boxing should be- the best fighting the best…Unstoppable Force vs. Immovable Object…Yankees vs. Red Sox…Mexico vs. Puerto Rico…etc.
For fights like this one, clichés can be overlooked.
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