By Kevin Iole
By the fifth round of his fight against Manny Pacquiao, it was apparent it would take a miracle for Antonio Margarito to win. By the eighth, his right eye looked worse than Rocky Balboa’s ever did in the movies. And by the 12th round of that Nov. 13, 2010, bout in Arlington, Texas, there was a lot of concern among those at ringside about Margarito’s eyesight.
Margarito, though, didn’t give up. He didn’t quit. He never thought about it. Nor did he retreat in an effort to avoid Pacquiao’s lightning fast combinations that were, quite literally, busting up his face.
“I am a fighter and real fighters don’t quit,” Margarito growled. “I was there to give the people what they want to see. They came to see a fight and I was giving it to them.”
Boxing fans can be a bloodthirsty group, booing angrily when a referee stops a bout before their lust for violence has been sated. They’re no different than NASCAR fans who, no matter what they might tell you, go to the track by the hundreds of thousands looking to see a fiery wreck. If all crashes were magically eliminated, attendance at NASCAR races would drop very quickly and there would probably be no talk of new long-term TV deals.
That high-speed violence is why we watch, why we’re captivated by guys like Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and fighters like Margarito and Miguel Cotto. The lust for violence is why Margarito’s bout against Cotto for the World Boxing Association super Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York figures to be a pay-per-view hit. People remember their savage 2008 bout in Las Vegas and know how the rivalry between them has only increased tenfold in the intervening three-and-a-half years.
The dislike between the men is real and deep. Cotto has come to believe that Margarito wore hand wraps filled with plaster when they fought the first time. At the filming of a promotional piece for HBO, Cotto pulled out his iPad to show Margarito and host Max Kellerman a close-up of Margarito’s ungloved hand, which he said was proof that Margarito’s wraps were loaded.
Saturday’s bout should be no less savage than the first, with each promising to inflict an unreal amount of mayhem upon the other.
Cotto makes no bones about the fact that he plans to target Margarito’s right eye. After the Pacquiao fight, Margarito required several surgeries to repair the injuries he suffered. At one point, before he visited ophthalmologist Alan Crandall, Margarito planned to retire because he was essentially blind in the eye.
Margarito had a broken orbital bone and he had new lens implanted. In addition, he developed a cataract and that needed to be removed surgically.
It led to last week’s dog-and-pony show, in which they New York State Athletic Commission made Margarito jump through hoops before issuing him a license to fight.
The question is, when is enough in a fight enough? Boxers often say they would die in the ring in a bid to win, which is no more than bravado. They want to die in a boxing ring about as much as they want to drive their car into a concrete wall at 120 miles per hour.
Margarito, though, holds firmly to the code of the warrior and says he’d never quit. Cotto scoffed at such talk.
“We have personal lives. We have families. We have people who love us and who depend upon us,” Cotto said. “It’s ridiculous [to say you’d die in the ring]. My health is the most important thing in my life. I have kids and they depend upon me. The reason I’m doing this is my kids. It’s stupid to say you would [be willing to die].”
Margarito trainer Robert Garcia sees such comments as a sign that Cotto doesn’t have the fire he once had, when he was one of boxing’s brightest prospects following the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Garcia said the fundamental difference between Margarito and Cotto at this stage of their careers comes down to this: If each boxer was a fireman, Margarito would run into a burning building to save the occupants. Cotto would not.
“Cotto is a warrior, a great fighter,” Garcia said. “But to tell you the truth, when I saw what he said on [HBO’s] ‘Faceoff,’ when he talked about fighting nowhere else [but New York], he’s thinking like a businessman. He’s down to his last few big paydays. He’s thinking of his family, and his kids, and that’s the way a real person thinks. But I’m around fighters 24/7 and they’re different. They all know the risks of the job. They accept the risks as part of it.
“If you are a fireman and there is a burning building with people in it who need to be saved, you don’t stand outside and say, ‘I’m not going in because I have to think of my kids.’ It’s your job. You take the risk and go in, because that’s your job. As a fighter, you go into a dangerous situation, but you do everything possible to win, because that’s your job. You know what the risks are when you become a boxer, but you do it because it’s your job.”
Cuts and bruises and welts will heal over time. Those are, indeed, part of the occupational hazard. Their willingness to accept exceptional amounts of punishment is why each man is going to make several million dollars from Saturday’s fight. They’ll endure the kind of violence most of us could never imagine, let alone take.
But it’s hard not to side with Cotto when he notes that there comes a point where it is no longer wise to fight on. Cotto took a knee in the 11th round of their first fight, clearly realizing he was in a futile battle he would not win.
Cotto will make $5 million plus a percentage of the pay-per-view profits from Saturday’s bout. Margarito will earn $2.5 million as well as a share of the pay-per-view proceeds.
It’s a lot of money and they’ll each take a lot of abuse to earn it. That’s OK. That’s part of what they signed up for in the first place. But when it comes to long-term damage, it’s another matter entirely. In that regard, Cotto has it right.
“I fight as hard as I can, with all of my skill and my condition and my courage,” he said. “And I know what happens when you are in a fight. You receive punishment. It’s part of the job. But to fight [on] when the chance is there that I won’t be able to see my kids, to spend time with my family? No. That’s just crazy talk at that point.”