Live From Ringside At The Cotto-Margarito Bout

margaritoBy Taj Eubanks, photo by Naoki Fukuda - July 26, 2008 - “I saw you beat that man like I never saw no man get beat before, and the man kept coming after you. Now we don't need no man like that in our lives.” --- Duke to Apollo Creed from Rocky II

Boxing, despite its alternately glorious and lurid history, has the ability to ignite a fire within fans that I have only seen otherwise in international soccer matches. The nationalistic fervor that engulfed the MGM Grand Arena tonight was spectacular, as the seats were stuffed to the rafters with rabid Boricuas and Mexicans chanting, singing, flag-waving, and engaging in raucous back-and-forths with each other. The atmosphere was, in short, electric. Surrounded on either side by fans from each contingent, it was difficult not to get swept up in the frenzy and act completely insane. Instead, I just took it all in, absorbing every sight and sound like a human sponge. I knew that I was in a special place and moment and wanted to savor every second..

After the last supporting bout, watching the ring entrances was amazing. It’s one thing to see them on TV; it’s another thing altogether to hear the deafening cheers of nations rain down like a hurricane, so loud and piercing that you feel their vibrations shake your core. By the time that Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito climbed into the ring, emotions were at a fever pitch (this author’s included), with every living soul in the arena lurching to their feet to greet their heroes. Immediately apparent was the fact that not only were both combatants supremely conditioned and chiseled to the nth degree, but also that Margarito’s imposing physique seemed much more impressive in person. This bout was pulsing with energy despite reports of sluggish ticket sales and lukewarm buzz, a potential fight of the year, and everyone with eyes and ears knew it.

The fight, it seemed, occurred in two stanzas: the first five rounds and the last six rounds. The hand to hand action seen in the first half of the fight was the most brutal seen in recent times, conjuring images of the Barrera-Morales and Vazquez-Marquez trilogies, as well the granddaddy of them all, Corrales-Castillo I, with one primary difference: both combatants were hurt in those classic matches.

The fight began as expected, Margarito swarming with his trademark pressure as Cotto returned fire with fire with smart flurries and body shots. He gave as good as he got. Thunderous applause and cheers punctuated each round. Neither fighter was hurt in the first half, with Cotto seeming to get the better of the rugged Mexican in the early rounds.

A seismic shift occurred in the sixth round however, with Cotto wobbled by Margarito’s unrelenting assault. While Cotto managed to fire off a flurry, it was clear that the withering attack was beginning to take its toll. The subsequent round would mark a strategic shift by the Boricua, who then decided to box rather than stand and trade. A sound strategy to be sure, yet less than effective as Margarito, like a circling shark, smelled blood.

The Tijuana Tornado, ever the warrior, continued to surge forward with sharp, jarring uppercuts and body shots. Cotto, though backpedaling, continued to unleash a torrent of left hooks and headshots that would have ended the night against any other foe. Unfortunately, Margarito is unlike any other combatant that we have seen in years. Despite the missiles being launched with crippling velocity to both his cranium and corpus, Margarito never, not once, showed any sign of being hurt, the recognition of which was visibly etched onto Cotto’s mug.

The evaporation of a fighter’s spirit is a terrible thing to witness, and for all of Cotto’s valor, it was clear that his will was broken after the seventh. The subsequent rounds saw Cotto in survival mode as Margarito continued to bulldoze his way forward. Cotto, now consistently backed into the ropes, fired off combinations to no avail and seemed ready to go down at any moment. He courageously lasted until the eleventh, a round that saw him twice take a knee before his corner wisely (and mercifully) threw in the towel. The now-frenzied Mexican contingent ecstatically roared in unison, like ancient Romans in the famed Coliseum. Chants of “Me-xi-co! Me-xi-co” reverberated throughout the casino and into the night.

It is worth noting that several things were made abundantly clear tonight.

First, Margarito is a baaaaaad man. Short of clocking the guy with a pair of brass knuckles and a Louisville Slugger, there seems to be nothing that can be done to hurt him, at least in the welterweight division. His world-class chin is rightfully lauded, as he not once took a backward step and took Cotto’s best shots on the chin as if playing with a child. Second, Cotto’s chin, the object of much armchair analysis, is woefully underrated. He took a remarkable amount of punishment from a huge welterweight, punishment that saw other foes bite the dust much sooner, yet he fought on. Third, Margarito cannot be beaten by brute force. He has to be defeated by a volume-punching boxer, a la Paul Williams (a fact that will hopefully serve up a tasty Williams-Margarito rematch in the near future). Finally, perhaps there was a kernel of truth in old Bob Arum’s claims that Margarito was the most feared fighter on the planet.

And of course, there is the specter of a certain former Mr. Pound-for-Pound looming over the whole affair.

There has been a realignment of the stars in the welterweight division, one that many did not anticipate, though its materialization was always a distinct possibility. Margarito was luminescent tonight, becoming the shining star that he always wanted to be. Where this train goes from here no one knows, but we all are, thankfully, along for the ride.

Article posted on 28.07.2008

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