Sunday, July 27, 2008
It's time for Margarito to cash in
By Tim Smith Special to ESPN.com
To the winner go the spoils: By beating Cotto, Margarito can now look forward to bigger paydays.
LAS VEGAS -- It was the Green Bay Packers from the 1960s running the sweep around the right end. It was Southern Cal's Student Body Right.
You knew it was coming. You just had to stop it.
Antonio Margarito told anyone who would listen that he would put relentless pressure on Miguel Cotto. He said he would keep coming until Cotto dropped or until the fight was over. He said he would take the welterweight title back to Mexico.
Margarito did exactly what he said and Cotto couldn't stop him.
Margarito pressured and pounded Cotto until he finally broke. Bleeding profusely from the nose and spitting blood, Cotto relented in the 11th round, taking a knee twice to halt the assault before referee Kenny Bayless stopped the fight at 2:05 of the round.
With the victory, Margarito opened more than a few eyes and stepped into boxing's major leagues. He proved that he can be one of boxing's pure power hitters along with middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik.
Bob Arum of Top Rank, the promoter for both Cotto and Margarito, is already trying to set the stage for Margarito to cash in on his newfound acclaim. Arum wants to match Margarito with the winner of the 147-pound clash between Zab Judah and Joshua Clottey in Las Vegas on Saturday.
Arum once labeled Margarito the "most feared welterweight" in boxing after Floyd Mayweather refused to fight him. Arum believes the victory over Cotto has changed the dynamics of Margarito's career.
Even in defeat, Cotto, left, sees his stock rise.
"Boxing is a business," Arum said. "Boxers didn't want to fight Antonio because Antonio is a tough guy to fight. This fight [against Cotto] did tremendous numbers on pay-per-view People who wouldn't be inclined to fight him before will now fight him because the money reward is greater."
Mark Taffet, the chief of HBO PPV, was blown away by the match, which is a strong candidate for "Fight of the Year." He thinks Margarito and Cotto helped themselves in the stardom department.
"Margarito clearly showed himself to be a major force in boxing," Taffet said. "Cotto fought with such courage that every boxing fan would want to see him fight."
This was the kind of career-defining fight that Margarito needed to boost his career. There were still a few lingering doubts about him after his loss to Paul Williams in a WBO welterweight title match in 2007. Margarito looked listless in the fight and allowed Williams to outwork him in the earlier rounds.
Margarito said he learned from that fight that he would have to get started early, keep up the pressure and throw more punches. He overwhelmed Kermit Cintron with that strategy on April 12, 2008 to win the IBF title and set up the match with Cotto.
Hardly any of the boxing pundits expected him to be able to deploy that strategy against Cotto, who had proven to be a consummate boxer and puncher. There was nothing wrong with Cotto's plan, which appeared to be heavy on boxing. Cotto landed his jab effectively and landed several four punch-combinations on the button. But Margarito has a granite chin and withstood everything that Cotto threw at him.
"I always said Cotto was tough," Margarito said. "He hits hard, but he never hurt me."
After Margarito bloodied Cotto's nose in the second round, he turned up the pressure. He began to search Cotto's eyes for signs of resignation. He said he saw it in the sixth round. But Cotto didn't break until the 11th.
"I was very close and I was going to give him [Cotto] every opportunity," Bayless said. "I looked around and I saw his corner climbing the steps with the towel and I stopped it. He was still getting off good shots. But they weren't doing anything. Margarito was just a strong, determined fighter."
This might have been the performance of a lifetime for Margarito. He might not have another fight like this in him. But every boxing fan, including those who were rooting for Cotto, is anxious to find out.
"Here's a guy everybody has ducked for years," Arum said. "Now he's saying, "Here I am. Come and get me."
Tim Smith is the boxing columnist for the New York Daily News.