Lying In The Bed You Make: What’s Next For Antonio Margarito?
15.07.07 - By Taj Eubanks: Last night’s HBO offering was stacked from top to bottom with a little bit of everything: a young knock-out artist seeking to repair a tarnished reputation (Kermit “The Killer” Cintron), the legendary veteran seeking to muster one last riveting performance (Arturo “Thunder” Gatti), and the (reputedly) most-feared man in boxing defending his crown against the explosive, undefeated challenger (Antonio “The Tijuana Tornado” Margarito and Paul “The Punisher” Williams). While all the fights were wonderful to watch and satisfied our thirst for action, the final event of the night was the center of the boxing world’s attention.
Article posted on 16.07.2007
For in this fight lay far-reaching implications for the future of the welterweight ranks, boxing’s new (and true) glamour division. Would the rugged, volume-punching Margarito put on a dazzling performance, showing us why (seemingly) no one has wanted to fight him and why some (who shall remain nameless) even turned down eight million dollars to fight him?
Or would the hard-hitting, equally high-volume punching Williams handle Margarito with ease as he purported to do in their now-infamous sparring session from several years back?
These questions were fresh on the public mind during the months leading up to the match. Margarito has been boxing’s equivalent of a leper for quite some time now, no one wanting to be anywhere near him despite his having the longest reign of the welterweight champions (eight defenses going into last night’s match). He seemed a nice enough guy and many could identify with him as the working class everyman who toiled honorably in the shadows of his more esteemed counterparts, not doing any one thing spectacularly but doing many things well enough to become a champion, and apparently a feared one. Margarito’s name never came off of the lips of the “name” fighters in the division when they were asked who was next on their radar of possible opponents. Tired of waiting for the big payday, Margarito chose instead to keep fighting and hope the big opportunity would come his way. And it did.
On the heels of being casually dismissed as a dancing partner (with an eight million dollar dowry, no less) by the world’s best fighter,
it seemed as if The Tornado would never get his day in the sun. Soon after, however, Bob Arum announced a tandem of matches in which the prize fighter in his stable, Miguel Cotto, would face an opponent (as would Margarito) with the two meeting each other should each prove victorious in their precursor matches. The proposed Margarito-Cotto matchup had all the makings of a classic: Mexico vs. Puerto Rico, two prime juggernauts who have never heard of a backwards step, bragging rights as the best (some would argue) in the division, and money, lots of money. The ascendancy of Miguel Cotto to superstar status and the combined buying power of boxing’s most notoriously rabid fans (Mexicans and Puerto Ricans) would have certainly made this bout a blockbuster, even pay-per-view, matchup. This was the big break that Margarito had been waiting for, one that would introduce him to a wider audience and at the same time help secure his financial future. But it was not to be.
Unfortunately for Margarito it was mandatory time again and the challenger was the hungry, freakishly tall (so much so that people had begun to compare him to the legendary Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns) and devastating Paul Williams. If Margarito chose to fight Cotto instead of make his mandatory then he would lose the belt that he fought so hard to get (and keep), but in doing so would garner a life-changing payday. In a move that dumbfounded and perplexed many (Bob Arum included) at the time and has now prompted much Sunday morning quarterbacking, Margarito chose to make his mandatory defense, reasoning that Cotto would still be available after he beat Williams and that the fight would be bigger with the two fighters holding their respective titles. And, of course, there was simply the honor of a champion defending his belt, an endeavor that many of this era’s so-called champions flippantly brush aside. Respectable move indeed, but one that would ultimately have disastrous consequences for the champ.
Last evening’s battle was the proverbial cherry on top of the evening’s “undercard” events. The resounding knockouts of the previous bouts ushered in the main event to the delight of thousands of fans whose blood had been brought to a boil. The anticipation was not in vain as Margarito and Williams started in their characteristic, balls-to-the-wall style. However, as the first round progressed it became apparent that the challenger was fighting with more urgency and aggression. Williams was there to win. Margarito, long known as a slow starter who comes on stronger in the later rounds, stood his ground and gave as good as he got. Despite his efforts, it was immediately apparent that Williams seemed to have the edge in most categories except experience and power, clearly superior in speed, boxing ability (from the outside and the inside), and work rate.
What was predicted to be a relatively even fight turned into a showcase for Williams, who seemed to want the victory more. Though Margarito was never clearly hurt and, in fact, hurt the challenger badly in round eleven, he simply didn’t turn in the effort that many expected. Whether his less-than-stellar showing was due to an inability to solve the puzzle that was Paul Williams or a poor choice of strategy is anyone’s guess, but the result was a unanimous decision loss. An entertaining loss, but a loss nonetheless and one that Margarito (in a rather poor display of sportsmanship) refused to acknowledge, calling the decision a robbery. A robbery it most certainly was not. The question now is, what does the future hold for the former champion?
For starters, yesterday’s proceedings have yielded much speculation as to the wisdom of Margarito’s career choices. What seemed an admirable decision may have proved to be a horrible mistake, as the multi-million dollar payday with Cotto now seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur. Further, now that Margarito has lost the belt (the one bargaining chip that he had to lure potential opponents), who will risk their fighters against him? What was previously a huge downside (a tough-as-hell fighter with little name recognition) with a slight upside (a welterweight belt) has become all downside. Not only would your fighter most likely catch a beatdown but now there is no title to gain for his efforts.
And then there is the issue of a rematch. Will there be one? The signs don’t look good, as Williams (in the post-fight interview) seems to have set his sights on bouts with Miguel Cotto and Floyd Mayweather, Jr., though neither is likely to transpire. Shane Mosley is a logical choice for Cotto and Floyd seems intent on facing Ricky Hatton. Which leaves Margarito with either Kermit Cintron (who also wants Mosley next and whose handlers still probably won’t match him with Margarito right now) or the other contenders in the division. And while Bob Arum is reportedly continues to consider pairing Cotto and Margarito, the lack of star power of Margarito coupled with the fact that he is coming off of a title-losing effort doesn’t bode well for this mega-fight coming to fruition.
So as the welterweight scene heats up, Margarito’s future is filled with uncertainty. But is Margarito himself to blame? By taking an untimely mandatory (counter to the efforts and wishes of his promoter, Top Rank) and then not fighting more aggressively, is the former champion complicit in his own downfall? Certainly these are questions which Antonio Margarito must answer as he finds himself, once again, on the outside looking in.
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