NEW YORK, NY—New York’s Puerto Rican community was out en masse to support their man Miguel Cotto during Friday afternoon’s weigh-in held in the Theater at Madison Square Garden, but the biggest news came from the undercard when lightweight Brandon Rios failed to make weight for his title defense against former British and European titlist John Murray.
Rios looked gaunt as he took the scale but still weighed in at 135.6; announcer Michael Buffer informed the crowd he would have one hour to lose the additional weight. Rios took the scale again after an interval of roughly 20 minutes but the reading didn’t change. Between his pale visage, sunken cheeks and nervous demeanor it was hardly surprising that the buzz in the building was that the fight could be cancelled.
After a third attempt that went largely the same way Rios was seen chugging water, clearly having given up. Fight scribes milled around impatiently while Murray’s people decided whether to continue with the fight and on what terms. Rios will be forced to vacate his WBA strap for failing to make weight, but Murray can still earn the belt with a win tomorrow. Rios will reportedly hand over $20,000 of his purse to the Englishman and be forced to weigh in under 146 lbs. tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. or the fight is off.
The rest of the weigh-in was largely uneventful, with a boisterous Puerto Rican crowd taking every opportunity to cheer Cotto and boo Antonio Margarito, who has appeared to relish his role as the heel in this rematch. Boxers are frequently characterized as heroes and villains for promotional purposes, but rarely have the roles been more clearly drawn than in the lead up to Saturday’s rematch on HBO pay-per-view.
A boxing ring is usually the last place one expects to find justice, but that is precisely what Cotto will be seeking at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night, or at least some measure of revenge for the now-tainted defeat he suffered at the Mexican’s hands almost three and a half years ago.
Whether Margarito’s hands were actually loaded during the 11-round bloodbath is still in doubt but the circumstantial evidence is enough to raise serious questions about the legitimacy of the result. Cotto for his part seems to have never truly recovered; the specter of that night and the injuries he sustained have hung like a pall over his subsequent efforts. Whether by dirty trick or simple domination, Margarito forever changed the Puerto Rican’s career trajectory that night at the MGM Grand.
As journalists we strive for objectivity in our coverage but I’m of the view that acknowledging personal leanings is the best way to forestall allegations of bias. So I will admit the boxing fan in me would really enjoy seeing Cotto beat the crap out of Margarito. I’m firmly in the camp that believes Margarito and his trainer should have been banned from the sport for life and charged with attempted assault after the Shane Mosley fight. Altering handwraps in such a fashion is criminal, plain and simple. It has no place in the sport.
But despite my fondest wishes it is difficult to see this fight going much differently that the first. Margarito has already proven he can take Cotto’s punches and keep coming, so even if he doesn’t do the same damage he should be right in the Puerto Rican’s grill the entire evening. The Mexican is a hellacious body-puncher and his constant pressure will make it difficult for Cotto to box and move, which is what he needs to do to win. Despite the beating he sustained from Pacquiao, including a broken orbital bone, Margarito was still standing at the end of their bout. That is more than Cotto can claim.
Cotto is capable of keeping the fight outside and out-boxing his opponent to earn a points decision, but the odds of him taking that tact in front of a screaming, mostly Puerto Rican crowd of 21,000 at MSG are not good. Cotto will go in looking to punish Margarito and will more than likely unload everything he has at some point in the first three rounds. The real trouble will arise if he lands his best punches cleanly and fails to seriously hurt Margarito. That is when I fear the mental beating he took in July 2008 may weigh heavily and force Cotto to question his ability to endure.
Even as I wrote this preview on the train to New York my heart wanted me to pick Cotto to win, but my gut knows the sport is too cruel. The pick is for Margarito to win by stoppage in the 11th round again. Never have I wished more fervently to be proven wrong.
A terrific undercard will be headlined by lightweight titlist Rios against Murray in what would have been the second defense of his now-vacated WBA belt. Rios has taken the boxing world by storm since overwhelming Anthony Peterson last September on his way to a disqualification win, but Murray is no soft touch. The former British and European titlist suffered a shocking loss TKO loss to Kevin Mitchell in July but I originally had him giving Rios with a stern test before getting stopped in the middle rounds.
However, Rios’ appearance at the weigh-in and subsequent troubles have given yours serious pause. Murray will never get a better chance to redeem himself than by taking the title from this seemingly worst-possible version of Rios. What once appeared a solid outing for one of boxing’s rising stars now looms as a serious threat to Rios’ unbeaten record.
New York fight fans will get a second chance to watch one of the leading contenders for Fight of the Year when junior middleweights Pawel Wolak and Delvin Rodriguez take the ring for a 10-round rematch of their July barnburner on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights. The first time around ended in a majority draw and left Wolak with a hematoma the size of a grapefruit surrounding his right eye.
The fight saw Rodriguez use his inside savvy to control Wolak, but Pawel brought constant pressure and showed tremendous courage by soldiering on despite his nasty wound. This one is too close to call; either way the winner should be in line for a big money fight, potentially against the winner of the main event.
Unbeaten Philly welterweight contender Mike Jones steps up again to take on Argentine hardman Sebastian Lujan in an IBF eliminator; the winner would have been the mandatory for Andre Berto after Randall Bailey, but Berto opted to vacate the belt in order to target a rematch with Victor Ortiz (good for him). Jones is a tall, rangy welterweight with good skills and plenty of talent so he should be able to keep the shorter, more limited Lujan at bay if he so chooses.
But Jones has proven himself to be a true Philly fighter that loves to mix it up even when it’s not smart to do so, as proven in his first controversial points win over Jesus Soto-Karass. Jones cleaned up his act in the rematch and could beat Lujan pretty handily doing the same, but the Argentine will do his best to make it a brawl before that happens. The 37-year-old Bailey likely awaits Jones if he wins, with bigger fights against the likes of Berto or Ortiz looming.
The untelevised portion of the card will feature a couple Irish-Americans light heavyweight prospects sure to please the local crowd. Long Island’s Seanie Monaghan, who we’ve seen register a couple impressive stoppages recently including one on the undercard of Nonito Donaire-Omar Narvaez last month, will take on 34-year-old Santos Martinez. Martinez hails from my neck of the woods (Adrian, Mich.) but is probably in for a short evening.
Top Rank’s latest great white hope is Chicago’s Mike Lee, who boasts a finance degree from Notre Dame. Not exactly the typical CV for a professional boxer. Top Rank boss Bob Arum has been high on Lee recently and appears to be turning him into his premier undercard attraction by feeding on the desperation of Notre Dame fans, who haven’t seen an Irish alum that can hit this hard since Justin Tuck left South Bend.