Margarito: 'People will see I'm clean'

During the buildup to a great fight, talk gets cheaper as the bout draws closer. Still, for a grudge match like Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito II on Saturday (9 p.m. ET) at New York's storied Madison Square Garden, the growing animosity between the fighters has loosened their tongues and made both more talkative than usual -- sometimes causing them to cross lines rarely stepped over even during the heat of a multi-million dollar boxing promotion. But such is the case in the aftermath of Margarito's hand-wrap scandal, and with the subsequent suspicions raised that he might have used similarly nefarious (and illegal) methods in his first fight against Cotto, escalating the rhetoric for this bout beyond even the usual tone of a typical Puerto Rico-Mexico rivalry.

After being at the center of a media storm during a delay in his licensing, which threatened to force a change of venue or even cancel the fight altogether, Margarito remains on the hot seat as a result of the scandal and Cotto's vehement public accusations. Still the Mexican was his usual talkative self during a pause in his preparation for his challenge of Cotto's junior middleweight belt.

How did training go for this fight?
It was really good. I am glad I chose to work at the Otomi Ceremonial Center. I believe this has been the best training camp of my entire career -- and not because I might have had better training, but rather because of the [elevation] of the place. I had been to Big Bear [Calif.] before, but the Otomi Center is much higher. I am in great shape, very well prepared physically and in boxing as well. I trust that, with my preparation, I will be victorious on Saturday.

How is your relationship with trainer Robert Garcia? What have you learned from him so far?
I have an excellent relationship with him. He is a trainer who really knows how to work. He knows what he's doing, and it is a pleasure to have him in my corner. He has given me some great boxing tips, because he was a fighter himself.

How did the licensing delay affect you? Did the trip to New York disrupt your training at all?
Yes, it did disrupt it. I really felt it because I lost an entire day of training. The day when I was in New York was the day I was going to work another 12 rounds of sparring at the Otomi, and that's why I didn't want to break camp. But I talked to Bob [Arum, Margarito's promoter] and I had to come to New York. And from here in New York, I flew back to Tijuana and I worked those rounds in Tijuana. But the truth is that I am well prepared. I lost that day of training, but in any case I worked on Sunday as well, and the truth is that this will not affect me.

How worried are you about your right eye? How much of a factor will it be to defend that flank, and how will it affect your strategy?
My eye is very well already. I want to thank God for being OK with my eyes. The truth is that I am not worried. I have already mentioned this, but I don't know if people think I have been lying about it. I have been training, and I have been boxing normally. I have been doing things normally, and I won't have to worry about anything.

How different a fighter are you now, compared to who you were before the scandal?
I believe I'm still the same aggressive fighter, and just as I have been fighting, I will continue fighting. My aggressiveness will continue as usual. I will continue throwing punches and leaving my heart in the ring. The truth is, I haven't changed as a fighter -- I have always been the same. It's really good that the fight was signed for the [junior middleweight] division. He wanted to fight at 150 first and then at 152, but it was finally signed at 153, and you will see that I will grab this title too. Many people have said I'm not the same Antonio Margarito, but on Saturday I will demonstrate that I have other dreams to fulfill, and the truth is, I feel good about myself.

How different is today's Cotto compared to the Cotto you fought in 2008?
Back when I fought Cotto the first time, he was being catalogued as one of the best pound-for-pound, and no one had defeated him. He was unbeaten. But then he lost to me, he lost to Manny Pacquiao, but he continues to be a good fighter, although I see him a little bit more flat-footed. I am not worried about anything. I know how to fight Cotto, and I will beat him again.

Do you think the fight will be affected by all the emotions surrounding your dispute with Cotto?
I don't think it will be affected. I hope nobody misses this fight, because we are going to prove a lot. And I also believe that he has to show that he can beat me -- but I don't think he can. I know him well, I know his punching power, and if I didn't feel it at welter, then I won't feel it at all at super welter. And I don't think emotions will affect me; quite the contrary. People will see that I am a clean fighter and that I can knock him out again.

How did the word "criminal" sound to you, when Cotto labeled you one in the HBO series "24/7"?
I don't really know why he said I was a criminal. If he thinks I'm a criminal, then he will say next that I'm a murderer after I defeat him again. I don't know why he said I am not a gentleman either. I believe that he is less of a gentleman because, when they asked him to shake hands with me, he refused to do it, and I would shake everyone's hand. And the true criminal here is him because he punched his uncle, his dad's brother, his own blood. So he is the true criminal and not me. I don't know why he would say I am a criminal when he is the real criminal for beating his own family.

At one point, you said you were ready to die in the ring. Does that mean you are ready to kill or badly hurt your opponent also?
The truth is that when you get in the ring, you risk your life. You might risk your life and your opponent's life, and even get to the point of killing him, because there have been cases like that. I leave my heart in the ring. If I don't feel physically well-trained and if they hurt me or injure me -- as was the case with Pacquiao, who busted my eye, but I kept going because I really thought I could catch him with a good punch -- I really risk my life when I get in the ring. ... And just as I risk my life, the other fighter does so too. And the truth is that I have always said I am ready to die in the ring, and to punch my enemy no matter what. He isn't going to feel pity for me, and why should he or [why should] I do so? When you get in the ring, your life is at stake.

Are you worried that a loss in this fight will convince many that you used illegal wraps to win the first fight?
Look, I don't even think about a defeat at the hands of Cotto, and I'm not worried about anything because I am a clean fighter. Many people said many things, a lot of speculation, but none of this worries me because I know I am a clean fighter. Now Cotto is supposedly saying -- and I don't know why -- that I had [illegal wraps in our first fight], but my bandages were analyzed and I can't say anything else. I said it myself, that if I had plaster in my bandages I would have hurt my hands. I don't know why Cotto's clinging on to that, but I'm not worried. I have demonstrated for years that I'm a clean fighter. Otherwise they could say that I have been using those hand wraps since I turned professional, and that is mean-spirited. They think because I am Mexican that they can make lumber out of a fallen tree, but I'm a clean fighter, and I'm not worried about it. And I will demonstrate it again.

Do you feel any pressure of having to deal with this hand-wraps drama in every fight now?
It doesn't affect me. I don't feel any pressure or preoccupation. They can review my wraps whenever they want, and as always, I will never be worried about that.

If there was one thing you could say to put an end to this controversy once and for all, what would it be?
There would be no explanation. I would simply say that there was nothing in the bandages and that I am a clean fighter.

Did your relationship with your fans change at all after the controversy?
No, not at all, and I would like to thank all the people who still believe in me and who continue supporting me. On the contrary, when they heard that Cotto was going to get in the ring just to do his job and that he was unwilling to die up there, many people said what I am saying: that when you climb into the ring, you are risking your life, so they don't know why he is in boxing. The people haven't turned their backs to me -- they have been supporting me.

Would you be open to a third fight with Cotto, or are you already looking ahead?
Right now, I don't want to get ahead of myself. Bob Arum did mention that if I won this fight, I would take on [junior middleweight champion Julio Cesar] Chavez Jr., so it may be too soon to say whether there will be a third fight with Cotto. I have always said that I work for the company, and that I could fight anyone they put in front of me and I am ready to fight.

Is there anything new that we're going to see from you in this fight?
No, I am the same fighter. We're just working a little harder on taking fewer punches, working on defense and all that. But I'm the same aggressive fighter. I'm the same fighter I've always been. When I did the first fight with Cotto, I didn't take too much punishment, and now I expect to get even less punishment.

How do you envision Saturday's fight playing out?
Something similar to the first one, but this time we will end it much earlier.

Diego Morilla is a contributor to ESPNdeportes.com.