For casual boxing fans, events are usually name-driven; if Oscar De La Hoya’s fighting, they might watch. But there comes a time when casual boxing fans ought to watch based on the recommendation of more informed sources — and those informed sources are, to quote Radiohead, “twitching and a-salivating like with myxomatosis” about how anyone who even kind of cares about the sport must, must, must tune in this Saturday, when Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito square off in the kind of mega-brawl that is almost certain to live up to the years of anticipation behind it.
Over the next few days, I’ll be providing the usual breakdown of keys to the fight and a prediction on the winner. Starting now, though, I just want to simply explain why you should believe the hype, despite the fact that the hype hasn’t broken through into the mainstream yet and is confined to hardcore fans so far.
Because The Experts Are Two For Two In 2008
Everyone who knows much about boxing predicted in early 2008 that two fights would stand above all others for the entire year: Israel Vazquez vs. Rafael Marquez III (122 lbs.), and Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez II (130 lbs.). Everyone was totally right. I showed both fights to friends of varying degrees of interest in boxing, and nobody left my apartment anything other than amazed and ready for more professional pugilism. The two other best fights of 2008 — Joel Casamayor vs. Michael Katsidis (135 lbs.) and Kendall Holt vs. Ricardo Torres (140 lbs.) — were pleasant surprises, but still well behind the surefire classic that was Vazquez-Marquez and high-caliber action of Pacquiao-Marquez.
Everyone who knows much about boxing predicted, the moment Cotto-Margarito (147 lbs.) was signed in May, that it would be a candidate for Fight of the Year — and that’s even after Vazquez-Marquez established itself, in my mind, as one of the best few fights in nearly 20 years.
If you’ve seen Cotto and Margarito, you know why. What they share is a devotion to offense and a punishing style that make them favorites of fight fans no mater who they’re fighting. Since they’re fighting each other? It’s just impossible to imagine anything other than a painful, grueling war. So punishing are the blows of Margarito and Cotto — and it gets a little grisly here — that one of Margarito’s fights was stopped when he punched his man so much he left his ear literally dangling loose off his head; Cotto’s punches have delivered unto his opponents broken orbital bones and even dislocated shoulders. HBO’s Larry Merchant called Margarito, in his last fight, a knockout win over Kermit Cintron, “boxing’s version of an ultimate truth machine.” Those who get knocked out or quit find out they aren’t made of quite the stuff they thought they were. Likewise, HBO’s Max Kellerman called Cotto “boxing’s version of the Terminator.” Cooly, dispassionately, he just keeps attacking until he’s finished off his target. This is not the old “unstoppable force” against the “immovable object” dilemma. This is two seemingly unstoppable forces. Like in the answer to that old philosophical dilemma, however, there cannot exist two such unstoppable forces, logically. Finding out which one really is — that’s where some of the excitement lies.
(There are tactical, sweet science reasons this fight will be interesting as well, from the standpoint of the ways in which the two fighters are different. I’ll get to that later this week.)
Because It Could Be One Of The Final Ingredients To A Superstar In The Making
Just because you haven’t heard of Cotto yet — if you haven’t — doesn’t mean you won’t be soon. In 2007, Cotto twice sold so many tickets in Madison Square Garden that they were forced to open the mezzanine, which hadn’t happened since 2001. He is the heir to Felix Trinidad’s throne in boxing-mad Puerto Rico, which gives him a rabid fan base. He is one of the best handful of boxers in any weight class today, with the respect of virtually every serious boxing fan.
Beating Margarito — the sternest test of his career, stylistically — would confirm that Cotto is just as good as everyone thinks he is. Beating him convincingly would propel him into a new stratosphere of stardom, and possibly earn him a fight against boxing’s golden goose, Oscar “The Golden Boy” De La Hoya himself, in De La Hoya’s December retirement bout. And then everyone would know his name.
Margarito’s story is less compelling, but of note. He has more of a cult following. Floyd Mayweather appeared to go out of his way not to fight Margarito, even when offered $8 million. (That’s another trait Margarito and Cotto shared — Mayweather wanted no part of either of them.) His whole career, he’s been struggling to get to the top, and some bad choices, subpar performances in some of his most important fights and the view that he puts fearsome beat downs on many of his opponents have made that road to the top very long. He’s finally there. He may not have Cotto’s superstar potential, but Margarito’s win would be a career validiction that, aside from his in-ring struggles, has been marked by tragedy outside it. Margarito still fights for the memory of his dead brother, a recounting of which you can find here.
Because Of The Mexico-Puerto Rico Rivalry
There may be no fiercer boxing rivalry than the one between Mexico, where Margarito hails from, and Puerto Rico. Margarito has picked up a little bit of love from Mexican fans, who helped turn his losing effort against Paul Williams in 2007 into a big ticket-seller, although not the slavish devotion they awarded to Marco Antonio Barrera or Erik Morales. Cotto, as previously mentioned, is the heir to Trinidad, although he has not captured the love of his countrymen the way Trinidad did.
Put any top-flight Mexican in against any top-flight Puerto Rican, though, and nationalistic impulses will be inflamed vigorously. There has been one report and one report only that tickets have not been selling so briskly for this fight in Las Vegas, but even if it’s true, what fans are there are sure to be making a ton of racket. That kind of environment usually makes fight night even more electric.
For the rich history of the Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry, read this Ring piece. Cotto-Margarito has a chance to join the ranks of the rivalry’s best battles.
Because It Could Determine Boxing-Wide Supremacy In At Least A Couple Ways
Cotto has rapidly climbed the ranks of esteem to become one of the best boxers in the world today of any weight class. Right now, I consider him the third-best fighter alive, pound-for-pound, behind only Manny Pacquiao (135 lbs.) and Joe Calzaghe (175 lbs). If Cotto defeats Margarito convincingly, I will think about vaulting him to the #1 spot, and I’m not alone in that estimation. In other words, this could be the fight that determines who the best boxer of them all is.
I have Margarito near the bottom of my top 20, but this fight is about more than pound-for-pound greatness. It could be the fight that determines who the best fighter is in perhaps boxing’s best division, behind maybe only the lightweights at 135 and then only because of Mayweather’s retirement. As a 147-pounder (welterweight), Cotto has beaten a slew of top-10 contenders over the past few years: Shane Mosley, Zab Judah and Carlos Quintana foremost among them. Margarito’s stay at welterweight has been longer, with an even longer list of top-10 victims, and he has beaten top-10 contenders like Josh Clottey and Cintron recently. Throw in a narrow Margarito loss to Williams, and between them, Cotto and Margarito have fought the division’s best and come out with only one L.
For this graf, you might want to click on “boxing basics tutorial” along the top of the screen if you’re not up to speed: Presently, both men have alphabet title belts. Ring magazine, which hands out the more definitive designations of who’s best, have Cotto ranked #1 and Margarito #4, which means that this fight won’t be for the vacant Ring belt, since only the #1/#2 or #1/#3 bout can determine that. But it’s as close as you get to ascertaining the best welterweight in the world, short of that. And while great fights are what matters most –and this one is almost certain to be just that — the fact that boxing supremacy is on the line makes Cotto-Margarito that much juicier. As if it needed it.