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Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Updated: December 2, 2:31 AM ET
Experts' picks: Cotto-Margarito II

By staff

It's unlikely we'll ever know the truth about whether Antonio Margarito loaded his hand wraps for a 2008 bout against Miguel Cotto, or whether it facilitated Margarito's win -- but Saturday gives us the next-best thing to hard evidence: a rematch. Although neither Cotto nor Margarito is the same fighter he was even just three years ago, both remain potent forces somewhere near the height of their powers -- and, more importantly, are motivated to deliver action in the form of fierce punishment. A loaded undercard and a fight site at boxing's spiritual home, New York City's Madison Square Garden, give our panel of boxing experts even more to chew on as they make their picks.

Dan Rafael's analysis

Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito: Cotto-Margarito I in 2008 was a classic. But the question later became, Did Margarito fight clean or was he, as many believe, wearing illegal hand wraps that were turning to plaster before his 11th-round knockout? On Saturday there will be unprecedented scrutiny over the wrapping process, much as there was for Margarito's last fight (against Manny Pacquiao) 13 months ago. But how much does either guy have left? Margarito beat Cotto the first time, but took punishment. He was then destroyed by Shane Mosley, served a long suspension and was later brutalized by Pacquiao, including suffering a severe right eye injury. I think after the harsh punishment, a year layoff, the injury and disruptions of his camp for eye exams, Margarito has less left than Cotto, who has also taken punishment in recent years. Cotto is the quicker, better boxer and desperately wants to avenge a loss in a fight he deeply believes Margarito cheated in. Add an overwhelmingly pro-Cotto crowd, which he'll get a lift from, and a referee and commission that will be keeping a close watch on Margarito's bad eye, and I think Cotto gains revenge with a middle-round stoppage after busting up that eye.

Brandon Rios-John Murray: Rios is one of boxing's most exciting fighters. He can box, but he loves to bang and brawl. His constant pressure is something to behold, and is what he used to rally from a terrible start to eventually knock out Miguel Acosta in the 10th round to win a lightweight title in February. England's Murray is a good contender, even though he lost his most recent fight by eighth-round knockout to Kevin Mitchell. He was in the fight most of the way, until Mitchell's aggressiveness and accurate punching did him in, sealing his first defeat. To me, Rios is a much better version of Mitchell. I know Murray will be desperate to win and avoid dropping two straight fights, but this is Rios' fight to lose. He is pumped about fighting in Madison Square Garden and knows a win will move him closer to a major fight with Yuriorkis Gamboa. In the end, I think Rios' good chin and relentless pressure will eventually wear down Murray for a middle-round knockout in a crowd-pleasing fight.

Mike Jones-Sebastian Lujan: I have both Jones (ninth) and Lujan (10th) ranked in the top 10 at welterweight, so this is a legit matchup -- one that will earn the winner a shot at Randall Bailey for a vacant belt. Jones, however, is a far superior athlete in my mind. He's younger (28, compared to the 31-year-old Lujan) and much taller (6-foot, compared to 5-6). He's also a more polished all-around fighter with a longer reach. Although Lujan is a worthy contender with a lot of experience and is on a good run (a 12-fight winning streak), he's fairly one-dimensional. He comes forward and there's nothing fancy. Jones is much more versatile. He can box and punch. Ultimately, I think Jones wins a lopsided decision in a fight that proves to be decent, because Lujan will never stop coming at him.

Kieran Mulvaney's analysis

Cotto-Margarito: Although Margarito is normally a slow starter, expect him to put on the pressure early, looking to remind Cotto of the punishment he took in the first fight. If Cotto can withstand that charge, he'll look to box and move as he did before, but without retreating to the ropes as often. By Round 6 or 7, Margarito will begin to reassert himself, but by then, Cotto's left hook will have done its trick: as soon as the Mexican's right eye cuts or swells, the ref will stop the fight. Cotto gets his revenge on a controversial TKO.

Rios-Murray: Murray's last outing saw him exposed by a quality boxer. Against Rios, he'll be able to stand in the pocket and fight. That's good news for the Englishman -- but even better news for Rios, who eats guys like Murray for breakfast. Murray is a good brawler; Rios is an excellent one. This will be all action while it lasts, but Rios is just too relentless, too strong, just plain too good for Murray, and he'll win by stoppage in the middle to late rounds.

Jones-Lujan: Lujan is tough and rugged, as anyone who saw him fight Margarito with one ear falling off can testify. He'll ask some questions of Jones, perhaps in the manner that Jesus Soto-Karass did the first time he and Jones fought. But Jones will respond in the way he did in the Soto-Karass rematch: Too many tools, too any angles. Expect a close first half and an increasingly dominant second half as Jones wins a clear decision.

Michael Woods' analysis

Cotto-Margarito: Time off can be a good thing for a fighter. After all, the rigors of ring wars can really sap a body. But sometimes a hiatus is a killer. Rust corrodes, and when someone comes back from, say, a forced exile for trying to use hardened hand pads, or from multiple eye surgeries, their timing can be off. They may not have the same snap as they had before their time away. On fight night, they might not have their A-game. This is my gut talking, but I think Margarito has lost something in the past couple years. He beat Cotto in 2008, then got handled by Shane Mosley in 2009, looked so-so against Roberto Garcia after a 14-month forced exile, and got whacked like a piņata by Pacquiao in November 2010. Then came three eye surgeries. Margarito's people say he had the requisite "best training camp ever," but Cotto has been training and fighting more regularly. I expect Cotto's weapons to be functioning at a higher level because they've been rust-free. And I expect to see the fight of the year. We will see these two battlers trade leather at a rapid rate, and Cotto win a UD.

Rios-Murray: Rios is too strong and too aggressive for Murray. The 28-1 Rios is a fan-friendly swarmer who won't give Murray enough room to get off as he'd like. Rios will hold on to his WBA crown, getting a stoppage win over a guy who has a better record (31-1 with 18 KOs) than he does an arsenal of skills. Coming off that TKO8 loss to Mitchell, Murray quite possibly won't have his head screwed on right. This one might not go six.

Jones-Lujan: Nobody is better at matchmaking than Top Rank. The promoter has high expectations for Jones -- higher than him merely beating Lujan. The 25-0 Philly fighter with 19 KOs is arguably in tougher than he has ever been, but the three-years-older Argentine Lujan (38-5-2 with 24 KOs) has slower hands and feet than Jones, and could well be stopped for the third time in his 46-fight career. Jones is on the long list of potential foes for Pacquaio, so the Top Rank folks would like him to retain an unblemished mark. They will get their wish.