I was rooting for Shane Mosley anyway as he went in an underdog to fight Antonio Margarito, not expecting the scandal Mosley’s trainer would soon reveal. That night commentators made a big enough deal of the situation to get people’s attention and even to suggest that loaded hand wraps could have affected other fights. Personally, I find it impossible to believe that Margarito only tried the trick once and never got away with it. I also find it impossible to believe that Margarito’s trainer is the evil genius behind it all, blinding Tony to the hand wrap ritual that should have been a familiar practice. Margarito saying it never happened before the Mosley fight is the same as him saying he didn’t know the gloves were loaded that night. The hell you didn’t. Deep down, I’m always going to believe that Cotto’s career was severely shortened, his physical integrity severely undermined and his fighting spirit irrevocably changed by the first fight with Margarito. I don’t think the fight would have gone the way it did had Cotto gotten a fair chance. Margarito’s chin might be iron but Cotto boxed better that night than he has in a long time, it just didn’t make sense.
But let’s be fun-loving fight fans again for a moment. What a war. In the first Cotto-Margarito bout both men came out swinging, Margarito pushing his punch output to the limit, throwing a reported 987 punches, 647 of which were power shots. One can only guess how many of those power shots were the destructive uppercuts that finally caused Cotto’s form to collapse. Margarito found good openings; he found the right punch. Cotto boxed very well but couldn’t seem to deter Margarito from coming forward. Though he may have taken the posture in retreat before that night, Margarito’s power punches eventually caused Cotto to assume the notorious crouch that has been his undoing in more than one fight since.
My fight analysis is this: I want Cotto to win, but I’m not in denial. He needs to box even better than he did in his first fight with Margarito. He needs to be a boxer/puncher in this fight, as opposed to a puncher/boxer, as commentators have now applied the term to Saul Alvarez. Cotto needs to utilize his straight punches and stay at a distance where Margarito’s looping hooks and gradual uppercuts won’t be so hard to avoid. Margarito uses his jab, but not very well. Like Paul Williams, he uses it more as a volume puncher’s filler than an effective tool of aggression. To win, Margarito will need to crowd Cotto again and avoid devastating combinations. Even if Cotto simply doesn’t have enough power to push Margarito back (even Pacquaio couldn’t keep the one-eyed man from coming forward) Cotto could conceivably cause dramatic swelling and damage to the eye. The extensive surgery required after Pacquiao’s bludgeoning of Margarito suggests to me that his eye will never be the same even if he is healthy enough to fight. Margarito has to watch how often he’s getting hit on that side or else the referee could stop the fight long before Margarito’s will to fight wanes.
That said, my real feelings about the matchup are negative overall. I used to crave a redemption fight, for Cotto, not Margarito. I wanted to hear people say Margarito was a cheater who beat guys like Cotto and Cintron only because of illegal hand wraps. I wanted to hear people say Cotto was a great fighter again. After seeing Cotto’s recent fights, however, I’m starting to feel like the damage is done. Neither guy looks as good as they did in that first fight. Margarito is obviously willing to subject his body to severe injury just to prove that he can stay up (there was no way he was going to beat Pacquiao). Even Cotto’s chin is too solid for his own good. The end result here, regarding whose record slips and whose record improves, is up for grabs. What a great matchup. The real consequence, though, isn’t up for debate. Both these guys will come out of the fight a little less physically capable (unless the fight is stopped very early) and a little less marketable. Think about it, who is the winner going to fight next? Neither one should be campaigning against the elite in the division, but both have already had long, competitive careers. I guess I’ve found myself hoping for one last well-deserved triumph in Cotto’s career, one last embarrassment in Margarito’s. After the dust has cleared though, I’d like to see both guys hang up the gloves. They were a credit to the sport and they helped build the most exciting and successful division in the past decade. Like most wars, this is a fight that will be much more fun for those pulling the strings than the people fighting for their lives.