What? Miguel Cotto vs. Antonio Margarito I
When? July 26th 2008
Where? MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Miguel Cotto, the current lineal and WBA middleweight title holder, has been one of boxing’s biggest stars for the best part of the last 10 years. Although born in the USA, Cotto is Puerto Rican to the core. He became an amateur star in his homeland and represented Puerto Rico at the 2000 Olympic Games. Unfortunately, he failed to shine in Sydney and was defeated by Brazil’s Kelson Pinto.
However, when he turned professional six months later, Cotto quickly established himself as the biggest star to emerge from the boxing class of the 2000 Olympics. Ideally suited to the professional ranks, Miguel Cotto proved to be as tough as nails and possessed a lethal body attack, led by his left hook.
By 2004, “Junito” had racked up 20 consecutive victories to set up a clash with his Olympic nemesis, Kelson Pinto, for the WBO light-welterweight title. Cotto would have his revenge, crushing Pinto in six rounds and establishing himself as a star on the world stage in the process.
He made five defences of his title, including an impressive victory over Paulie Malignaggi, before moving up to 147 pounds to challenge for the WBA welterweight title. In December 2006, Cotto stopped fellow Puerto Rican Carlos Quintana to become a two-weight world champion.
That victory set up big money fights against American welterweight stars Zab Judah and Shane Mosley. Cotto overcame the speed of Judah to pummel him to an impressive 11th round stoppage win. However, it was his victory over Mosley that showed he had the necessary skills to beat a guy like “Sugar Shane” as well as the toughness and punching power. Cotto, it seemed, was the complete package.
Antonio Margarito on the other hand was not a well-rounded fighter. He came from the traditional Mexican boxing school. Like so many Mexican fighters before him, his amateur career was limited. The lure of the money on offer in the paid ranks saw Margarito turn pro some two months before his 16th birthday.
As his nickname suggests, “The Tijuana Tornado” was not exactly a technician in the ring. His style had all the subtlety of a freight train. Margarito’s patchy early record reflected the fact that he was very much learning on the job and could be out-boxed, but he always possessed incredible durability. He could take whatever punches were thrown at him in order to land his own. And as he learned more about footwork and how to cut off the ring, he became more and more successful.
Margarito’s other great strength was his ability to boil his 5′ 11″ frame down to 147 pounds. On fight night, once rehydrated and fed, he would regularly enjoy a significant size, strength and weight advantages over his opponents.
When Margarito knocked out Puerto Rican Kermit Cintron, for the second time, to claim a welterweight title belt, also for the second time, he established himself as one of the most feared fighters in the 147 pound division. It also fuelled a growing desire to see a showdown between Cotto and Margarito.
This fight would feature an unbeaten superstar (Cotto) who held one welterweight title, against a wrecking ball who held another welterweight title (Margarito). And the cherry on top was the fact that it would be another chapter in boxing’s greatest national rivalry – Puerto Rico vs Mexico.
The fight began with both fighters living up to their reputations. Cotto boxed beautifully in the opening round, he used his quicker hands to pepper Margarito with combinations and used his footwork to keep out of trouble as the Mexican looked to back him onto the ropes or trap him in the corners.
But as early as the second round, Margarito began to have some success. Anytime Cotto stopped moving, Margarito pounded him with vicious hooks, working especially to the body in the early rounds.
The eye-catching work was coming from Cotto; when he landed punches, they were clean, hard and snapping Margarito’s head backwards. But Margarito was having success of his own. Although his punches were wilder and often half-blocked by Cotto, they were effective. The body attack began to slow Cotto down and, as early as the second round, Cotto’s face began to swell and cut from Margarito’s uppercuts.
After six rounds of action, Cotto was comfortably ahead on the scorecards but there was nothing comfortable about what was happening inside the ring. In the 7th round the accumulation of punishment began to tell as a series of uppercuts from “The Tijuana Tornado” had Cotto hurt. Margarito was relentless; at times he was literally jogging after Cotto. He may have only been landing one out of every three or four punches he threw but that one punch was hurting Cotto, and hurting him badly.
From the 7th round onward, it appeared only a matter of time before Margarito would score a knockdown. It is a testament to Miguel Cotto’s durability, toughness and determination that it would not come until the 11th round.
After 10 brutal rounds, the fight itself was close, something that you would not guess from the appearance of the fighters. Cotto was bloodied, his face was swollen and he appeared exhausted. Margarito, despite eating punches for 10 rounds looked much the fresher man and was relatively unmarked.
Almost half way through the 11th round, the accumulation of punishment finally brought Cotto to one knee. He beat the count but his face was a bloody mask and he had no fight left in him. Hurt, Cotto backed all the way across the ring into the corner. As Margarito closed in for the kill, Cotto dropped to a knee again, this time without even taking a punch. He had mentally thrown in the towel, and his father and trainer Evangelista, literally threw in the towel to spare his son further punishment.
The fight was hailed as an instant classic. The action was both brutal and thrilling and culminated in a suitably dramatic finale. Margarito was immediately elevated to being the best welterweight in the world and a top 10 pound-for-pound fighter. At this point, Floyd Mayweather was retired whilst Manny Pacquiao was still fighting at 135 pounds. With the win, Margarito owned both the 147 pound division and the title of most feared fighter in the sport.
However, subsequent events have cast a shadow over the fight. In fact, in light of what transpired in Margarito’s next fight, the Cotto-Margarito fight is one that this writer does not enj0y watching.
Margarito moved on from his victory to a showdown with Shane Mosley in January 2009. In the minutes before that fight, Mosley’s trainer – Naazim Richardson – was observing as Margarito’s hands were wrapped for the bout, a standard practice. However, the eagle-eyed Richardson noticed something did not look right with Margarito’s wraps. He demanded they be re-wrapped and called in the California State Commissioner to examine the wraps. It was later confirmed that Margarito’s team had been trying to use a substance similar to Plaster of Paris in Margarito’s gloves, a wet substance that dried to form a rock hard cast around his fists.
The fight went ahead and without the benefit of his loaded gloves, Margarito was no match for Mosely. He was stopped in the 9th round. A year-long suspension followed and Margarito was effectively finished as a top level fighter. He returned to action after his ban and, shamefully, was given a big money fight with Manny Pacquiao. In that fight Margarito suffered a badly broken orbital bone which kept him out of the ring for a further year.
As for Miguel Cotto, it is still unsettling to watch the fight literally beaten out of such a proud warrior. Seeing Cotto, bloodied and battered, cowering in the corner and knowing now that Margarito may very well have been fighting with loaded gloves angers me in a way few sporting events have ever done. It is difficult to gauge the full effect the beating he endured had on Cotto. He would take six months out of the ring to recover physically, but the mental scars of such a beating are more difficult to overcome.
Thankfully, Cotto would get his chance at revenge. In December 2011, Cotto and Margarito met in a rematch. This would be Margarito’s first fight back after surgery to repair his orbital bone. The animosity between the pair was palpable. Cotto took great pleasure in targeting Margarito’s right eye with left hook after left hook. By the 10th round, the ringside doctor called the fight off. Cotto had his revenge by beating Margarito into retirement.
Since then Cotto has gone on to a super-fight with Floyd Mayweather as well as capturing the middleweight title just over a month ago. Margarito on the other hand, has not entered a boxing ring since the rematch and his name has become a byword for cheating in the sport.
Michael McCarthy, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By Bryan Horowitz (Flickr: DSC04134) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons