There was a time when Antonio Margarito was one of my favourite fighters. A hard-nosed warrior, Margarito exemplified heart , courage and downright balls in a boxing match.
While those qualities more than remain, my respect for him changed on the night of January 24, 2009.
Hours before going out to meet World Champion Shane Mosely in a Super-Welterweight title fight, Mosely's trainer Nazeem Richardson discovered a "plaster-like" substance in Margarito's handwrapping.
Margarito was forced to re-wrap, the fight went on, and Mosely emerged the victor with a brilliant and dominating ninth-round TKO. Following the fight, Margarito's license was revoked for a year. The guilty finding and Margarito's subsequent suspension now cast a doubt on many of Margarito's wins, most notably, his 11th round knockout of previously unbeaten Miguel Cotto.
To this day Cotto believes that Margarito's hands were "loaded" when they met for the first time almost three years ago. To this day Cotto has never forgiven the "Tijuana Tornado" for the unforgivable sin of "loading" his hands.
This past Saturday night, amidst an atmosphere in which only boxing can provide, Miguel Cotto found redemption. With over 22,000 fans in attendance at Madison Square Garden and millions more watching around the world, Cotto put on a display of boxing brilliance.
Using eloquent footwork, blinding speed and power punching, Cotto boxed circles around the slower, plodding Margarito. For his part, Margarito pressed the action from the opening bell, but was relatively ineffective.
Much slower, Margarito was more than willing to take as many punches as necessary in an attempt to wear down the elusive Cotto, but to no avail. The more Margarito pressed the action, the more leather came flying his way.
By round three Margarito's right eye was nearly swollen shut, by round five it was completely closed. This was the same eye which had been so badly damaged by Manny Pacquiao in their meeting a little over a year ago. This was also the right eye which nearly caused the cancellation of this fight until Margarito was cleared by doctors. This was also the right eye which Margarito kept hidden from everyone by wearing sunglasses all the time, including during the taping of HBO's 24/7 and the weigh-in. This was the right eye which really may never have been "right" at all!
By the seventh round it seemed to be just a matter of time as Cotto was gaining in confidence and Margarito was trying to deal with vision from only one eye. Time and time again, Cotto crashed the left hook into the blindside and Margarito couldn't see it coming.
Although the ninth round was relatively a good one for Margarito, the writing was on the wall.
Upon examination, and on the advice of ringside doctors, referee Steve Smoger refused to let Margarito out for the 10th round.
What followed was pure pandemonium as the tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans in attendance and the thousands and thousands more outside began celebrating a huge victory.
A victory by a hero to his people, but more importantly a victory over someone who the boxing world knows, was a cheat.
And that might be the sweetest victory of all!
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