5 reasons Margarito will beat Cotto
It's a rule of thumb in boxing that personal feelings have no place in the ring, but it will be difficult to keep the bad blood outside the ropes when Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito clash again Saturday (9 p.m. ET) at New York City's Madison Square Garden in what could mark the end of a bitter rivalry.
The ongoing feud escalated recently as the fighters have traded insults and accusations, making this one of the most anticipated grudge matches in recent memory. But in this junior middleweight title bout, there will be much more than a belt at stake. And after their grueling 2008 matchup -- a TKO by Margarito that is still shrouded in doubt because of suspicions that he used illegal hand wraps -- both fighters are fully aware of each other's strengths and flaws. With new trainers in their corners and new strategies on their minds, both fighters figure to have fresh approaches for this long-awaited rematch, and it will be interesting to see how each uses his numerous resources.
Margarito (38-7, 27 KOs) will be the consensus long shot on Saturday after a three-year period during which he logged only one victory, against a journeyman fighter, and suffered two of his most crushing defeats (to Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley). But if he finds a way to pull off the upset, it likely will be due to one or more of the following factors:
Dig, baby, dig
Margarito's digging hook to the body has been one of his most feared weapons throughout his career. His outstanding use of the punch has worn out many of his opponents and made them vulnerable to his feared straight right after they begin concentrating on defending their lower torso. Cotto was as vulnerable to this punch as any opponent Margarito has faced, and the Mexican's chances of success depend heavily on wearing down Cotto while he is making his initial all-out attack in search of an early knockout.
Punching power and accuracy don't necessarily go hand in hand -- just watch any old fight footage of Pipino Cuevas and see for yourself. Margarito is essentially an improved version of Cuevas, the feared Mexican welterweight of the '80s who had problems landing his demolishing punches. Margarito has been accurate enough to put together solid CompuBox stats, but he is losing precision as the years go by. He will need to step up this particular area of his game against Cotto, a fighter who can connect with the right punch at the right moment and who rarely gets hit with combinations of more than two punches at a time.
One of the signs of Margarito's recent decay is his faulty defense, accentuated by the way he lowers his head and looks down while charging forward, in contrast with his upright style of years ago. It was this flaw that put his head within range of Pacquiao's devastation in their fight, with Manny able to connect from all angles despite his pronounced reach disadvantage. If Margarito drops his prominent chin down toward Cotto's hooks and uppercuts, he will be in all kinds of trouble Saturday. He needs to correct his posture and balance in the ring, and quickly.
Keep it long
Cotto is known for leaping forward with his hooks and making use of his great balance to attack opponents, who usually hold some kind of reach advantage against him. Margarito, who will have the edge in reach and height in this fight, needs to use those advantages not only as defensive measures but also as offensive weapons. No matter how sure he is about his own power and how hurt he believes Cotto is, Margarito should refrain from jumping into a scrum and instead be content to throw bombs from medium and long range. If he takes this approach, his chances of damaging Cotto will increase -- and with them, his chances of victory.
Beware of the dog
By now, this point is a foregone conclusion, but here it is: This isn't just any boxing match. For Cotto, this bout represents a chance at revenge for the brutal and humiliating beating he took versus Margarito in '08 -- an opportunity to punish the guy Cotto considers a cheater and "a criminal." For Margarito, it is the best and most poignant chance to redeem himself after his well-documented hand-wrap scandal. Because Cotto suffered most as a result of the situation, he figures to be the more motivated fighter, looking to re-establish his reputation with a dominant performance and, most likely, a brutal, one-sided beating. Margarito may be unpleasantly surprised if he can't muster up the same emotional intensity as Cotto. Margarito must hold on to the reasons he has to resent Cotto (and maybe find a few new ones) in order to match Cotto's motivation to win this fight.
Diego Morilla is a contributor to ESPNdeportes.com.