Gone is the fear that once chilled the hearts of his fellow fighting men. The aura that had surrounded the man and his name has dissolved. No longer is he the warrior whose power and toughness intimidated the most dangerous of champions. Antonio Margarito was indeed a feared man. Once. This was before the scandal of the tampered knuckle pad found in his hand wraps, before the beatings he took at the back end of his career, before the horrific eye injury he suffered at the fists of Manny Pacquiao in 2010.
Now, we see the sharks circling; they sense the blood in the water, know the injured prey is there for the taking. The recent announcement that the ‘Tijuana Tornado’ is looking to make a comeback is viewed by many as a pathetic act of desperation for an ex-champion who, for more than one reason, should never step through the ropes again. But for others, right or wrong, an Antonio Margarito comeback represents an opportunity.
“Others” include the young, up-and-coming boxers who like the idea of the name Margarito appearing on their record. And then there’s the businessmen who stand to pocket big money, even if some will call it “blood money.” Do they care? Of course not. They give little if any thought to the former champion’s welfare or future prospects. Despite the medical clearance Margarito recently obtained, his health remains a significant concern as it is obvious that, in the interests of his future and his family, a return to the squared circle should be the furthest thing from his mind.
Of course boxing history is littered with ill-advised comebacks. The lure of the spotlight and the big money that can be made becomes too much to resist. But who picks up the pieces when it all goes wrong? The opponents? The promoters? The fans? When all is said and done, none of them will be there to help an old, blind ex-fighter who couldn’t refuse a final chance at a big payday. In Margarito’s case, it’s a payday which could very well come at the cost of an eye.
Back in 2008, Margarito was riding high. A sensational victory over then undefeated Miguel Cotto placed him in a position of power in the welterweight division. The big fights were there for the taking and many feared the stalking menace with the iron chin and the relentless fighting style. But Margarito’s time at the top was short-lived.
In his very next bout, against Shane Mosley, Margarito was caught with a tampered knuckle pad in his hand wraps. The match went ahead, without the questioned wraps and knuckled pads, and Margarito was given a boxing lesson by Mosley. Many cheered when the referee called a halt in the ninth round and questions about whether or not Margarito had gained some of his biggest victories by loading his hands became legitimate lines of inquiry.
A one year suspension followed, a far too lenient punishment in the eyes of many, and when he returned Bob Arum put him in the ring with Manny Pacquiao for a huge payday and, as it turned out, a serious battering. He was thoroughly dismantled by the smaller and much quicker man and it was the beginning of the end for the maligned slugger from Tijuana. The blazing handspeed and power of Pacquiao was enough to break Margarito’s right orbital bone and damage the eye itself. Some believe the fight should have been stopped much earlier than it was; the injuries Margarito suffered are likely to trouble him for the rest of his life.
A return match with Miguel Cotto followed the Pacquiao defeat and the New York State Athletic Commission came under heavy criticism for allowing the fight to happen. When Cotto exacted his revenge on his arch-rival via medical stoppage in round nine, the critics were vindicated and Margarito’s eye was severely damaged for a second time.
It has been four years since the night of Cotto’s revenge, when Antonio Margarito last fought. A costly divorce is said to be the catalyst for his return but there seems to be little place in the current boxing landscape for a 37-year-old fighter with limited defensive skills and a bad eye. Still, the Margarito name can sell tickets, though the final outcome is not likely to be redemptive.
Despite this, the man pushes forward, calling out his old adversary, Miguel Cotto. In a recent interview with ESPN Deportes, Margarito didn’t hold back, though his opinion of Cotto is undoubtedly motivated more by the need for money than anything else.
“I failed in the second fight because I chose the wrong strategy, not because of whatever he thinks or says. He only contradicts himself, because after the second fight he was asked to compare my punching power between my two fights and he said there was no difference, it felt the same,” said Margarito. “So if I brought in something illegal (to the first fight) as he says, then he would not have felt the same effect of the punches in the second fight. I think Cotto is a girl. He has fear, because everyone wants to see a third bout. Right now, we each won one fight. I think he’s afraid to fight Antonio Margarito in a third fight to see who is the best.”
What Margarito fails to comprehend is that very few people want to see him fight Cotto a third time, and the few that do wish to see him harmed again, to see him suffer for his past infractions. Antonio Margarito may not deserve your respect, but he does deserve a chance at a better life outside the ring. I, for one, fear that could be in jeopardy should he decide to step between the ropes once again. Let’s hope Margarito makes the right decision, for his own health and for the good of the sport. — Daniel Attias