For at least a year, Antonio Margarito — a man who had become among the handful of the very best boxers in the world and a major attraction in the sport — will not be able to fight in California and therefore the entire United States, the result of a California Athletic Commission decision to revoke his boxing license over illegal hand wraps packed with a foreign substance prior to his Jan. 24 welterweight (147 lbs.) fight with Shane Mosley.
This is a depressing day to be a boxing fan. Off hand, I can’t think of anyone who had obtained Margarito’s stature and got caught trying to cheat with loaded gloves then punished by an authority within the sport. It’s hard to think of anything more scandalous — not steroids, not even fixed fights — than someone, anyone, trying to artificially harden a boxer’s fists, a practice that his literally ruined the lives of athletes on the receiving end of such fortified blows. (Sportscenter mentioned the debacle just now, and I suspect only baseball’s steroid news is keeping boxing from taking a media pounding today.)
Margarito defenders will be quick to point out that his trainer, the likewise newly-licenseless Javier Capetillo, took the blame for the illegal hand wraps, and there were other indicators that Margarito was out of the loop. That may well be, but there are reasons to be suspicious. What’s more, given the testimony at the CSAC hearing, there is every reason to be suspicious that this wasn’t the first time Margarito had something in his gloves.
Let’s run through the news of the day, in approximate chronological order, with more updates possible as more news and reaction rolls in. It must be noted that the Los Angeles Times was all over this story, and I’m going to link to their work heavily.
Things kicked off with the state attorney general recommending “the harshest penalty possible,” and Margarito’s attorney arguing back that he had “an unblemished record and was entirely unaware of any irregularity.”
How unaware was he? Apparently, he was so unaware that by the time he got to this Jan. 30 interview, he still hadn’t heard anything.
Now, as of today, Capetillo has said he put something in the gloves. Mosley trainer Nazim Richardson said something was in the gloves, and saw it that night when it fell out of Margarito’s gloves. State inspectors have said they saw something in the gloves that night. Even Mosley had a look at this foreign object. But Margarito, well after the fact, was apparently the only one in the whole building who thought the dispute was just about the location of tape. You tell me how likely that is.
The inspector who reviewed Margarito’s wraps, Che Guevera, described what he saw in a knuckle pad thusly:
“It was sweat-soaked, thinner and harder in certain areas, not hard as
a rock, but firm and hard,” Guevara said, adding it had a stain “like old blood” on it. “It was not flexible. It was very firm.”
A second inspector described it in much the same way:
inspector Mike Bray revealed what he witnessed of the “illegal” pads hidden in knuckle wraps. “There was a blood stain on the corner of the pad; [it was] moist and dirty looking with a white substance smeared across the pad, like a cast plaster … I can see a substance smeared in the middle of this pad,” Bray said, reading from notes he’d filed about the inspection.
State commissioners got the opportunity to feel the insert in a plastic bag. But, strangely, there’s still been no determination made about what was in the second glove, and may not be until Mid-March. This is just weird. How long does it take to determine whether a substance is plaster or not?
Either way, it’s hard to imagine how a blood stain or even sweat stains could be on the pad unless it was used before. Somewhere.
Then, a deputy attorney general, Karen B. Chappelle, did something strange:
Earlier, Chappelle attempted to introduce a claim that the pads were worn by Margarito in his July TKO victory over Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas, but the commission said that point lacked relevance.
I know I just said it’s hard to imagine how the pad got the way it was unless it was used before, but I don’t know why any state commission would care what happened in a fight outside its jurisdiction. Yet I wonder what evidence Chapelle had to introduce her claim. Keith Kizer, the executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, has rather flatly stated that there’s no way Margarito had illegal hand wraps against Cotto. It smacked of ass-covering then. It gets a little bit more serious now. The Nevada commission should, at minimum, do some kind of sincere review of what happened that night to see if there’s evidence it missed.
I wondered whether Margarito and crew might bring this up:
Margarito and Capetillo’s attorneys pointed to chain of custody issues with the pads after they were recovered from Margarito’s hands, drawing testimony that three people in Mosley’s dressing room touched the pads. Chappelle noted the pads had already been ruled illegal and inspector Dean Lohuis read the rule that was allegedly violated: “The use of water or any liquid or material on any part of the hand wrap is strictly prohibited.”
Given that someone in the Margarito camp has acknowledged using an improper insert, and the CSAC and Mosley’s camp all agree that there was an illegal insert, I hope this “chain of custody” question doesn’t affect any appeals of the punishment. Chain of custody is important for, among other reasons, making sure that evidence isn’t tampered with. There’s no evidence of tampering by anyone other than Margarito’s camp here. It would be a shame if a technicality revoked the license suspension.
As I said before, there were other indicators that Margarito was unawares:
Margarito’s attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, had another inspector acknowledge that “there didn’t seem to be foul play on the part of Margarito. He didn’t show me anything to show me he knew what was going on.”
You can’t prove a negative, which is what makes a great deal of this case difficult. For Margarito’s sake, it’s helpful that an outside witness said this. But I don’t know how the inspector would know what Margarito knew. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as the old saying goes. It’s also why athletes who say they were unwittingly injected with steroids still get punished — you have to be accountable for yourself, or else you could get away with anything just by alleging someone else cheated on your behalf.
Later came this bizarre explanation:
Capetillo just told his attorney — in front of commissioners — that he accidentally implanted inserts into the hand wraps of his boxer. “I committed a big mistake,” Capetillo said. “I don’t want this young man [Margarito] to have problems. I’m here to cover any responsibility. I take full responsibility. I committed this innocent mistake.” Capetillo explained he accidentally pulled the insert from his training bag and placed it in Margarito’s knuckle wraps on Jan. 24, just before Margarito’s fight with Shane Mosley.
I’m not sure if Capetillo is saying this to protect his boxer from a lengthier punishment or if he really is taking credit. What’s more, why would he have an insert like that at all in his bag? And how did it just “accidentally” get in Margarito’s glove? “Blood-stained, sweat-soaked and moist with a white substance” would seem to be the kind of pad that would stand out as unusual and hard to mix up with another pad.
I think a one-year license suspension, under the circumstances, is a little light. I’d say what I think more firmly if all the evidence was in and we knew what the foreign substance was, but we don’t. There are still other questions besides the substance analysis that I think the CSAC should examine, like why the state inspector didn’t notice anything strange at first. And there are other questions that expand beyond California and even, in some cases, beyond Margarito. Like whether Margarito’s gloves were loaded before, and when. Like whether Capetillo used these inserts for other fighters he trained. Like whether there should be national standards for hand wraps.
For now, unless there’s an appeal, we know Margarito won’t be fighting Miguel Cotto in a megabucks summer rematch. We know he will lose a year from his athletic prime, and that after years of clawing to get to the top, Margarito will assuredly lose fans. We know his entire career will be suspected by many, myself included. That’s a good deal of punishment. But I have to wonder if it fits the attempted crime, or compensates for any crimes of the past. Yes, my friends. This is a tragic and enraging affair.
1. ESPN adds some details, such as how license suspensions transfer from one state to the next. And that the vote was unanimous.
2. The L.A. Times is back. They seem to be the only people who even sent a reporter.
-Margarito’s attorney said he would explore filing a lawsuit to appeal the ruling.
-Arum said he wouldn’t stage a fight in California for the life of Margarito’s suspension. These boxing promoter types are a real regular group of grown-ups, ain’t they?
-Capetillo said the insert came from another fighter who must have used it during training. It sounds like Margarito’s team is sticking to the magic gauze-got-wet-and-then-hardened explanation. I know I’d promised more pictures of my gauze experiment with my cat disapproving, but he wasn’t in the mood to pose just now. At any rate, the clump of gauze below is two weeks in wet storage, and it hasn’t gotten hard. It’s just gotten a little moldy, and even the moldy parts are as soft as ever:
-Anyway, nothing I’ve heard of that explains the “white grout-like substance” in a photo displayed at the hearing and described by the Times.
-This quote from a commissioner answers perfectly why Margarito should be suspended whether he knew about the wraps or not, not that anyone appeared to buy that argument:
“When you’re the top dog, you bear some responsibility for your team,” commissioner Dr. Christopher Giza said to Margarito.
3. A few other items. Miguel Cotto is
anything but loud, but even this is understated by his standards:
California’s Boxing Commission evaluated the case and made a decision. They have necessary evidence to judge [Margarito and his trainer] according to their rules. I think that my future won’t be affected by this decision. I will continue with my training for February 21 and I’m focused on winning the title against Michel Jennings and bringing another championship to Puerto Rico.
Also from Fightnews.com, the mayor of Tijuana is welcoming Margarito to fight there anytime. Per Kevin Iole, Arum says a fight in Mexico is a possibility, although Iole points out that would appear to condone cheating. That said, Arum hasn’t hesitated to ignore safety regulations from time to time — fighters under his banner have fought in Mexico even when they’re medically suspended in the United States.
4. Hey, whaddya know, someone besides the Times did send a reporter. And all three outlets I’ve found that were in attendance — Ring, The Sweet Science, The Long Beach Press-Telegram — were a little sympathetic toward Margarito.
-Ring’s man on the scene said he just would have fined Margarito, but can live with the punishment. Also, in a second piece, Capetillo said the insert, per Ring’s paraphrase, “was harder than normal because it’s the type used to protect a fighter’s hands when hitting a rock-hard sand bag.” Anyone familiar with this practice?
-The Sweet Science piece, by David Avila. seems to have missed part of the hearing. “Blame it all on those wet hand wraps. Though charges of plaster of Paris were being tossed around the country on Internet sites and blog spots, what it came down to was the simple fact that two knuckle pads inserted in the hand wraps were moistened. That’s it.” Actually, the question of whether any plaster was used remains unresolved. And everyone — Capetillo, Margarito, the inspectors, Mosley’s team — agreed that one way or another, a hard pad made its way into Margarito’s glove.
How hard? Not very, according to Avila. “One of the actual knuckle pads used by Capetillo on Margarito’s hands was on a table 10 feet away from me. I walked over to the table and asked the deputy district attorney Chappelle to feel the knuckle pad exhibit and object of the hearing. I felt the knuckle pad that was placed in a plastic zip wrap a good 15 seconds and realized that it felt soft. Maybe a little old and soft, but not hard as I expected. It felt like old gauze. One of the doctors told me that when it is moistened it would get harder. And that is why the Commission makes it illegal to wet hand wraps.” So even if it was only a question of wetness, — and it’s not — at least Avila recognizes that the pad could maybe have become hard.
-At the Press-Telegram, Robert Morales sounded impressed by the “strong” case presented by the Margarito team. But he also thought the other side closed “solidly.” New detail — one of the inspectors, Bray, said the substance “looked like plaster or a thicker kind of white-out that you could use on paper.”
In almost all the pieces, Arum is taking an unusual lashing from the press about his threat to not do further business in California and take Margarito to Mexico. Arum usually gets the benefit of the doubt from the press, in my observation. I guess this level of ridiculousness is hard to ignore.
5. Maxboxing might have the most comprehensive account of them all. Worth noting:
Chapelle said “the Justice Department does not view [testing the wraps] as a high priority as they are seriously backlogged with murder and assault cases,” by way of explaining the delay.
This two-sentence stanza is HILARIOUS: Margarito “cited that he has always paid attention to how his hands are wrapped and claimed that Capetillo has been his sole hand wrapper during their 11 year career together. During the hearing, he saw the pads for the first time.” Is it possible for those two sentences to exist next to one another without alarms going off about the viability of Margarito’s story? He always pays attention, but he missed the pads that were inserted in his gloves. Huh.
Also, this was interesting: “When asked by this writer if the sentence would overturned should the test results come back favorable for Margarito in Mid-March, Chairman Timothy Noonan answered ‘No,’ claiming that because the gauze was wet, nothing would be changed.” I’m not sure what to make of that. Wet gauze by itself doesn’t seem to warrant a year ban, but we’re talking about hardened pads here. That’s confirmed. There were hardened pads — everyone agrees. To me, that’s worth a year ban or more. The “or more” depends in part on the results of those tests, which would suggest an attempt to harden the pads even more.
The lede to the piece, by Gabriel Montoya, also leans sympathetic. There are a lot of experienced writers, it seems, who are at least a little skeptical of the case against Margarito.