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Boxing returns to its ‘Mecca’ with Cotto-Margarito II

by Photo of Max Lom

Much anticipated rematch between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito set for MSG Saturday

Boxing returns to its ‘Mecca’ with Cotto-Margarito II

On Saturday night, Madison Square Garden will be buzzing like it’s 1971. And though the Knicks spent that year attempting to defend their first ever NBA championship, it was the first meeting between boxing legends Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier that will go down as the most memorable spectacle at the Garden that year.

Some forty years later, a similar drama will likely play out inside the building known as ‘the Mecca of Boxing’, when fierce rivals Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito meet inside the ring in a highly anticipated rematch of their explosive first fight. The scene inside the Garden will be reminiscent of some of the legendary past nights in the sport’s grand history.

At stake will be Cotto’s WBA World title at 154-lbs.  But this fight will mean much more to each man than simply winning a belt, as they have developed a sincere loathing for one another since their memorable first clash. The bout will be broadcast live on HBO Pay-Per-View, and if there is one night you tune in to boxing all year, let this be it.

The Fighters

The 31-year-old Cotto (36-2-0) hails from Caguas, Puerto Rico, and is perhaps the most popular fighter in New York. He will likely be greeted with a heavily pro-Cotto crowd on Saturday. This is his seventh fight at Madison Square Garden, and his notable wins in the building over former champions Zab Judah and Shane Mosley propelled him to stardom. Cotto’s base of boxing-obsessed Puerto Rican fans have made the Garden feel like his second home, prompting his promoter Bob Arum to (perhaps boldly) speculate that Cotto has sold more tickets at MSG than any other boxer in the arena’s history.

In the opposite corner, Margarito (38-7-0) will be playing the role of villain, which he has learned to relish in the build-up to this fight. Margarito, a native of Mexico who goes by the nickname “The Tijuana Tornado”, is known for the suffocating pressure he applies to his opponents in the ring. But major controversy has surrounded him in the wake of his epic first match-up with Cotto.

The First Fight

When Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito first met in the ring in July 2008, they were each in the midst of the best stretches of their careers and considered the two best active welterweights in boxing by most observers.

Cotto boasted an undefeated record and Margarito had transformed himself into a must-see boxing attraction. The bout at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas promised to produce the best that boxing had to offer at the time. Though it is rare for a major fight to meet such high expectations, what transpired inside the ring that night actually far exceeded what any fan could have hoped for. The two fighters went back and forth from the opening bell until the fight’s dramatic conclusion in the 11th round.

Early on, Cotto showed superior the boxing skill. He kept Margarito at bay by out-maneuvering him and scoring with accurate counter punches. But as the fight wore on, Margarito’s constant pressure began to take effect, and momentum slowly shifted in his direction.

Seemingly unfazed by the punches he was taking, Margarito threw caution to the wind. He stalked Cotto all over the ring, often willing to absorb three of his opponent’s punches just to land one big shot of his own. The strategy paid off in the 11th round (of a scheduled 12) as his never-ending pressure ultimately broke Cotto down.

With his face bloodied and swollen, Cotto finally succumbed to Margarito’s pressure. Several barrages of punches put Cotto down on the canvas twice before Cotto’s corner mercifully ended the fight. Margarito earned an 11th round TKO victory in the biggest fight of each man’s career.

In the immediate aftermath, HBO commentator Max Kellerman declared the bout, “a modern boxing classic.” Months later the dramatic scenes would come to be seen in a new light when Margarito and his trainer set off a shock wave of controversy before their next fight with Shane Mosley.

"Plaster-gate" Controversy

On the night of the Mosley fight, a plaster-like substance was discovered in Margarito's hand wraps. With the loaded hand-wraps replaced by normal wraps, Margarito was dominated by the 37 year-old Mosley, who scored a 9th round knockout to pull the upset.

Though there was no concrete proof that Margarito had used similarly loaded gloves in past fights, many observers immediately accused him of being a serial cheater. They pointed to the Cotto fight as an instance when Margarito would have used his illegal hand wraps to his advantage in the ring.

Cotto himself believes vehemently that Margarito used the same illegal tactics to defeat him in their first fight, pointing to the deep cuts and unusual swelling he suffered as evidence of foul play. After three years, bad blood is still boiling between the two. Cotto labeled Margarito a “criminal” in Wednesday’s pre-fight press conference, and Margarito continued to deny any wrong-doing.

The Prediction

Though neither man is still fighting at their 2008 level, Saturday night will prove the ultimate stage for both men to end the long-running feud on their own terms. Cotto will have a chance to exact revenge in front of a ravenous crowd of his own supporters, while Margarito has a chance to put the controversy to bed by beating his rival a second time, with his gloves thoroughly inspected this time around.  I say that Cotto will earn a TKO late in the fight.

What it all adds up to is a can’t-miss night of entertainment for hardcore boxing fans and casual observers alike. For a sport that has seen all too many duds in recent years, Saturday night represents a trip back to the golden era of boxing. Madison Square Garden will serve as ‘the Mecca of Boxing’ once more.

There's still time! Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to see Cotto-Margarito at MSG tomorrow night!

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