by Paul Magno
Cult of Personality: The use of mass media to create a heroic public image through unquestioning flattery and praise.
Part MMA-style bluster, part shrewd public relations- Antonio Margarito’s rise to the top of a stacked Welterweight division, like Margarito himself, was a slow-rolling juggernaut building momentum with every half-step forward while disregarding each half-step back.
Give promoter Bob Arum enough time and material and there’s no one better at creating a buzz. And a big, chest-thumping Mexican Welterweight is plenty raw material around which to construct a legend and a myth.
But as much as Arum did to create the Margarito cult of personality, the real fuel behind everything is the fervor and loyalty of the young Mexican-American fight fan who was thirsty for a hero of their own. Barrera, Morales and Marquez were all great fighters who proudly fought under the Mexican flag, but none of them appealed to the growing Latino demographic on a personal level. Margarito, however, was one of their own- Born American, raised Mexican and working class through and through. The emerging “Tijuana Tornado” was not a skilled technician or a highly professional boxer-puncher- He was a lunch pail-carrying fighter who threw tons of punches, pursued relentlessly and appealed to a stereotypical macho aesthetic as well as the diminishing attention span of an entire generation.
The third part of the Holy Trinity of hype was the Boxing press itself. In love with the idea of a throwback fighter, they glowingly reported on every Margarito fight, completely accepting Arum’s versions of events and buying into the Margarito back-story.
Despite being hard-nosed and jaded, there is nothing that Boxing writers like more than a “throwback fighter.” It’s the reason they gushed over guys like Arturo Gatti and only begrudgingly reported on the accomplishments of true greats, and Gatti contemporaries, like Pernell Whitaker and Ricardo Lopez.
The boxing press caught on to Margarito’s story right around the time of his win over Antonio Diaz for the vacant WBO Welterweight title, but they would deeply sink their teeth into the mythos right around Margarito’s 2 round blow out of Andrew “Six Heads” Lewis. What resulted was a love story that will be entering into its sixth year now.
Along the way, while reporting on Margarito’s macho exploits and lapping up Arum’s obvious sales job, some hard news was lost and some facts were completely glossed-over.
Blindly overlooked was the fact that post-Lewis massacre, Margarito’s WBO Welterweight title reign was among the worst in recent memory with just about one defense a year until the very end when the WBO forced its hand with mandatory defenses against Joshua Clottey and Paul Williams. Also swept under the rug was Margarito’s failed attempt at 154, his struggle against a Clottey with two hurt hands and, of course, his Southern California loss to Paul Williams. All we heard about in that period of time was his domination of a guy named “Hercules,” his ear-demolishing effort against Sebastian Lujan, his destruction of a stiff and painfully green Kermit Cintron and, of course, Margarito and Arum’s 8 million dollar offer to Floyd Mayweather.
The phantom offer was the masterpiece of Arum’s hype job; The perfectly safe way to get his guy over while simultaneously burying a dagger in the back of an outgoing, Mayweather, who was splitting from Top Rank just as the megabucks started coming in.
It was a transparent ploy at destroying the public image of Mayweather while using the very same tough guy, “most feared man in Boxing” reputation that Arum had been cultivating for awhile. Of course, the Margarito fans, who never had any use for Mayweather anyway, bought into it lock, stock and barrel; The fawning media, also with little love for the brash Mayweather, took the decoy as well and ran with it. Soon, with little other than some rushed words from Arum and a vague YouTube video which shows a brief and cordial meeting between Margarito and Mayweather, the publicity stunt became fact in the minds of so many. Logic be damned, Mayweather was afraid of Margarito! He had to be…or so his supporters chose to believe.
The fact of the matter is that a Mayweather/Margarito fight would’ve been an impossibility at the time and everyone knew it…except those who chose not to. The idea of Mayweather battling his way out of a Top Rank contract only to turn right around and immediately fight under the Top Rank banner and help build up Arum’s backup Welter is truly laughable and nothing short of pure fantasy. Let’s not even mention the fact that Mayweather and Arum had pending legal action against one another. Yet, the true believers gobbled it up and spread the word around, easily overlooking the obvious flaws in logic.
The Margarito Cult of Personality was chugging along at full speed with little slowing it down at that point. Even fighters who legitimately beat him in that period of time, Daniel Santos and Paul Williams, got little respect or recognition from their victories. Somehow, through the love fest, Margarito’s vanquishers were still seen as lesser fighters than their man. Almost as though a mere Technical Decision or Unanimous Decision were not enough prove their superiority- only a complete destruction of Margarito, like King Kong being shot off the Empire State Building or The Wolfman’s heart being pierced by a silver bullet, would be evidence of a loss.
Post Williams defeat, Margarito’s fans saw their guy demolish an utterly average and aged Golden Johnson and then, once again, a still-stiff and green Kermit Cintron to capture the IBF title.
Then came his bout against the consensus #1 Welterweight, Miguel Cotto. Margarito performed true to form and wore down Cotto, eventually resulting in Cotto’s corner throwing in the towel (and Cotto agreeing with them).
The surge in electricity after that moment was from the cumulative effect of millions of Margarito true believers flooding websites and message boards to thump their chests and glorify their hero in unison. The Cotto victory turned Margarito into an almost god-like figure. Half monster, half modern armament. He is now, in the minds of many of his supporters, as close to invincible as any human being can get.
The press now treats him with kid gloves, even after blowing off a proposed rematch with Clottey in November (He was traveling too much to stay in shape) and nearly walking away from the upcoming fight with Shane Mosley ( He was upset with the money). Any other fighter gets pinned to the wall for such transgressions, especially after making his toughness and willingness to fight anyone part of his talking points for the last five years, but Margarito gets a free ride because, well, he’s a “throwback” fighter…He’s a “beast”…”The Most Feared Man in Boxing.”
Boxing has been referred to as the sports world’s red light district, a no man’s land where disorder is the rule, where perception doesn’t just become reality…it IS reality. Rumor becomes fact with the idea being that whoever lies first and best is credited with telling the truth….Most of the myth around Margarito is not a lie, only a skillfully molded truth fueled by the desires and hopes of the people who have invested their hearts and, yes, money into glorifying the idea of a fighter like Margarito.
Antonio Margarito is what he is- a flawed and technically challenged fighter who has been craftily steered around certain types of opponents. He has fairly recent losses to Santos and Williams and was well on his way to a loss against Clottey. He’s also the rightful #1 Welterweight in the world and a big favorite to beat all but two or three fighters in the BTBC Top 20 at 147.
As he prepares to fight “Sugar” Shane Mosley this Saturday, we can be assured that, after this bout, a lot will be learned about Margarito, the fighter, as well as Margarito, the man.…But the cult of personality around Margarito is not really about the man from Tijuana with the WBA belt…Its about the idea of Antonio Margarito and everything that idea represents to his true believers… and from what we’ve seen during the last 5 years or so, an idea is a difficult thing to defeat…