That was mind-boggling. Mind-boggling.
Shane Mosley knocked out Antonio Margarito in the 9th round Saturday night on HBO. You read that right. Margarito, with his cement block of a head, got knocked out by anyone. And the man who did it, Mosley, did it with a near-perfect performance at age 37 to overcome 4-1 odds in what was likely the fight of his life.
There was so much to learn here. For starters, the welterweight (147 lbs.) division is positively enchanting — Mosley loses to Miguel Cotto, Margarito crushes Cotto, Mosley crushes Margarito, and that’s just the top three guys. And boxing is an amazing, amazing sport — tonight is the reason for the old saying about “this is why they fight the fights.” There’s more besides.
A distraction from all that awesomeness: There are, after all, some “what ifs” to Mosley’s win — Margarito apparently tried to cheat before the fight by loading his gloves with a hardening substance, which raises questions about whether he succeeded in doing so before. But Margarito could barely lay a glove on Mosley, so I think all those should be mooted. Mosley was the master, Margarito was the student, and nothing would have changed that.
In the first really big fight of 2009, the year started off in the vein of 2008, with a shocking upset. Last year saw the end of some of boxing’s veteran big names, but it also showed, as 2009 has early, that you can’t count the old guys out against the new school. And the 20,820 fans at the Staples Center, a record crowd for a facility that hosts the freaking Los Angeles Lakers, for God’s sake, is a serious thumb in the eye of people who say boxing is dead. To those people, I say, flatly (and no matter who you are, if you are sensitive to vulgarity, skip the next sentence): Fuck you, you lose and are wrong.
Before we dig in a little to the summary, I wanna give some props to friend-of-the-site Irvin Ryan, who predicted a TKO win for Mosley in the late rounds. It was a bold pick, to say the least, considering that Margs has such disdain for big punches coming his way. Nice call, Irvin. Really nice call. As for me, I could’ve envisioned a Mosley win, but not like that. I’d questioned Mosley’s strategy, but there was nothing to question. Naazim Richardson, Mosley’s trainer for the evening, has always been something of a mystery because he’s really only ever worked for Bernard Hopkins. I’m not taking anything away from B-Hop, but it now must be beyond clear that Richardson is some kind of boxing genius and I was a fool to question any strategy in which he was involved. B-Hop and Mosley are bright boxers who deserve credit for their wins, but Richardson now must be acknowledged for having a large, large part in those victories. I’m still not sure what Richardson’s command to Mosley to “swim without getting wet” means, but I know better now than to question him for saying it.
That said, I should’ve listened to my first impulse, which was my thought that Mosley was exactly the kind of guy who could beat Margarito. Margarito’s defense is non-existent, and he’s slow, which I thought a speedster like Mosley could exploit. And exploit it he did. Moreover, he did the two major things against Margarito that I thought Cotto should have, which was to punch to Margarito’s body and tie him up when he got too close. But Mosley showed more than that. He also demonstrated a propensity for defense that he never had before, moving his head beautifully and blocking punches with his gloves. And his jab, never a strong weapon for Mosley despite his reputation as a skillful boxer, was masterful, doing its part in constantly keeping Margarito from initiating offense.
In the 1st round, it looked like Mosley hurt Margarito with a body punch. In the 2nd, his jab controlled everything. By the 3rd, his combinations were doing serious damage, and Margarito looked bewildered and sluggish. In the 4th, he countered Margarito beautifully, and in the 5th, Margarito was bleeding from the mouth, an insult that was compounded by the fact that he wasn’t connecting on anything clean and was doing none of the damage he needed to in order to lay the groundwork for his trademark late charges. In the 6th, Mosley was actually physically pushing Margarito around, forcing his back to the ropes, and Margarito looked tired. The 7th was a little closer as Mosley took the foot off the gas a little and Margarito began to get a little momentum, but he didn’t win the round on my card, nor did he win any at all. Margarito carried a little momentum into the 8th, but near the end, a three-punch Mosley combo started the beginning of the end. Mosley teed off and as a result we bore witness to one of the strangest possible images in boxing, that is, Margarito hitting the deck. The fight maybe should have been stopped, but Margarito wanted to go out again and his corner let him. Mosley immediately tore into him — lest we forget, Mosley is a FINISHER, man. When his oppnent is hurt, it’s almost always over. The ref stepped in to stop it as Mosley was battering Margarito along the ropes and as Margarito’s corner was throwing in the towel.
I was out at a bar when friend-of-the-site B.O.B. had sent me a text about an hour into the broadcast that said, simply, “Sugar!!!!!!!” so I had a hint this might be coming, but I still shouted out (again with the vulgarity), “holy shit!” when Margarito was stopped.
Mosley said afterward that all the distractions he had coming in may have served as additional motivation. HBO reported that divorce papers with his wife-manager were filed a couple weeks ago, which is a bit more than the “marital trouble” that had been reported in the build-up to the fight. But one of the lawsuits in his direction related to the whole steroid scandal Mosley’s sordidly been involved in apparently got some resolution recently, and Mosley’s fired trainer-dad was in the ring, smiling, so it looks like that distraction got resolved, too. (Also in the ring — Ladainian Tomlinson, to go along with a Staples Center audience that included the Governator, Mark Wahlberg, Joe Pesci, and a bunch of other stars of screen and athletics.)
Much as Mosley’s steroid incident has cast a cloud over his career, so too should the “hardening” “plastic shell” (to quote the HBO broadcast team) that Margarito was trying to wrap his hands in before the fight. How long has THAT been going on, I wonder? Cuz that’s cheating of a more contemptible variety than EPO, what with the way similar cheats have done serious damage to the lives of boxers in the past. A boxer recently received a lifetime ban for being busted with a hardening agent, and others have been charged with assault in the past. We need more facts about what happened here, but given the way Margarito wins fights, by beating the living tar out of people rather than knocking them straight out, it looks very, very bad, since that’s the precise fashion in which other hand-hardening cheaters have often done in their foes. I also wonder whether his low weight Friday might have affected his energy, and whether the beating he took en route to beating Cotto took too much out of him and the ring wars have finally caught up to him.
Nonetheless, I promised not to de-fang Margarito if Mosley won, and I’m not going to. This was one of those fights where Mosley won it more than Margarito lost it, and however Margarito did it, he has beaten some excellent fighters in his career. The atmosphere makes me envious of friend-of-the-site Steve for getting to be there. They did intro videos for each fighter, which is a good idea. The crowd was crazy for Margarito and booing Mosley, and while the booing may have been misplaced, it’s always great to see fans passionate for their guy. And then to see them dumbfounded and sad when their guy gets trampled — well, that’s priceless, and I say that having been on both ends of the equation.
I’m as eager as anyone to see a new generation of boxers arrive on the scene, and Margarito made my list and that of others recently as ones to watch out for. Oscar De La Hoya may be out now, but that doesn’t mean we should be correspondingly eager to write off the old guys. Much as 43-year-old B-Hop proved when he stomped another member of that young guard, Kelly Pavlik, Mosley’s win proves that the generation on its way out still breathes yet and has plenty to teach the next.
Next for the loser: You have to wonder whether that Cotto rematch is as much of a go as promoter Bob Arum said it would be even if Margarito lost. Margarito didn’t just lose; this hand wrap issue may tar him in one direction, and the one-sided nature of his loss will do some damage to his reputation as the invincible ultra-man in another direction. I wouldn’t write Margarito off, but I think the questions about him deserve to be a little louder than the ones we heard about Pavlik. If Margarito’s chin has now been permanently dented, what good is he? His chin may be his main weapon. It could just be that the welterweight division is so awesome that anyone can beat anyone else on any given night. It could be that, much as with Manny Pacquiao-Erik Morales II, which was preceded by a one-sided Morales loss to a different opponent, Margarito-Cotto II is just as good as it was before. It could be that one more quality win puts Margarito right back where he was before this fight, as one of the biggest and best names in the sport. But all that talk of Pacquiao-Margarito ought to go out the window, at minimum, until then. And there are deeper questions about his career, before and after Saturday night, that must be asked.
Next for the winner: As good as Margarito-
Cotto was, if I had a choice, we’d get Cotto-Mosley II instead of Margarito-Cotto II. Don’t forget that Cotto-Mosley was a deserving candidate for Fight of the Year in 2007. I scored it a draw. I wouldn’t mind seeing that question answered definitively. Hell, I’d love to see THIS version of Mosley against ANY big name in the sport around his weight, especially top welters like Cotto or an unretired Floyd Mayweather, Jr. I’ll have to figure out where to put him on my pound-for-pound list, and I don’t envy anyone trying to decode the welterweight rankings. But sans affixing numerical value to it, Mosley is a great welterweight, and a great fighter, coming off perhaps his greatest win. That’s plenty to keep his belly full for a while.