About a month ago in LA, HBO's Max Kellerman welcomed Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito to a studio, and asked them to sit on either side of him, and talk about their Dec. 3 bout, which will unfold at Madison Square Garden and will be offered on HBO pay-per-view. And then he hoped like hell that they wouldn't tear into each other, or him, then and there.
The result of that intense and compelling meeting ran on Kellerman's "Face Off" program Saturday, and it had to whet the appetite of even the most casual fight fan who stumbled across the offering while channel surfing. Fight fans know that in 2008 Margarito beat Cotto in their first tangle, achieving a stoppage win in round 11, but that the circumstances of the win became murky when the Mexican boxer was found to be trying to use hardened hand pads in his 2009 bout with Shane Mosley. He was banned from boxing for over a year. Kellerman gave NYFightBlog the insider take on the shoot, the origins of "Face Off," which is now on boxing fan's must-see list before big bouts and how likely he thought he was going to get slugged by Cotto or Margarito.
First off, Kellerman wanted to give ample credit to the person he said came up with the "Face Off" concept. HBO creative director David Roffthooft--yes, you agree with me, that is one of the coolest last names you've ever heard--came to Kellerman with the concept fully fleshed. Kellerman loved the description, the darkened room, the steel chairs turned backward, the fighters a few feet away from each other, face to face.
"I get so much credit and this thing does itself and he deserves all the credit," Kellerman said.
The look on his face when Cotto and Margarito come to the table and take a seat is worth you doing a DVR search for when the program airs again. He's like a warden meeting a couple baddies with no guards there in case things go south.
He called the first fight a "classic slugfest," and referenced the "controversy" that came later . Then he asked what it was like getting hit by Margarito, giving an opening for Cotto to say that the punches felt different, felt harder, like they were coming from an ungloved fist. He didn't take the bait and answered in vague terms. Margarito was asked the same and said, " I felt nothing." Kellerman, politely probing, seeking to get to the heart of the matter--Did it feel like Margarito had loaded gloves on?--repeated his questioning. "Harder than other punches?" "No," Cotto said.
Kellerman told me he then called an audible. He went in directly at Cotto, told him that whispered consensus is that Margarito was cheating when they clashed. "Can you address that?" he asked the Puerto Rican hitter.
He did, but chose not to address the question to Margarito directly, to his face, giving Kellerman a dramatic gold rush. The host then asked the Mexican if he wanted to address the cheating question to Cotto himself. No, he said, I won't because I didn't cheat. Then the dynamic shifted...Check back for a look at the last part of the "Face Off."