Out of the chute

Just TWO years ago,
Kermit Cintron was the next big thing. Then he got manhandled by Antonio Margarito, and sobbed in the ring after a fifth-round TKO. As he pondered quitting, fans quickly crammed Cintron into boxing's garbage disposal. Earlier this year, he got so antsy working his way back in anonymity that he spouted off about jumping into MMA. "I can beat the UFC fighters at their own game," said the former high school wrestler.

Now, though, Cintron (28-1, 26 KOs) once again looks like a welterweight force. What was supposed to be a battle with Walter Matthysse on July 14 turned into a rout, as Cintron put the respected veteran on the canvas once in the first round and twice more in the second before the ref stopped the fight.

So how did Cintron turn things around? Since hiring Emanuel Steward last year, he's 3-0 with three knockouts, grabbing the IBF title in the process.

"He has changed me mentally, physically and technically," Cintron says. "The old Kermit was just about coming forward, trying to take your head off. Now I pick my shots and counter."

Cintron looked so good this past year, flashing the same raw ability that initially drew comparisons to Thomas Hearns, that most welterweights aren't too eager to fight him. He faces journeyman Jesse Feliciano (15-5-3, 9 KOs) on the undercard of the Sept. 8 bout between Fernando Vargas and Ricardo Mayorga. After that, Steward wants Cintron to fight the Miguel Cotto-Shane Mosley winner, or Margarito in a rematch.

"By spring of 2008," Steward predicts, "he'll be at the forefront in the division."

Sure beats the bottom of the dumpster.

Michael Woods is a writer for ESPN The Magazine.