"I wonder if that referee is an advertisement for the abolition of the very sport that he is a part of."
Those were the famous words of Howard Cosell during the Larry Holmes vs. Tex Cobb affair. And in most circumstances, a fair description of referee Steve Smoger: a man known to allow for unnecessary brutality. Replace the word "referee" with the word "boxing match", and you have to think Cosell's outrage would have been just as applicable for the participants at Madison Square Garden.
I'll review the fight in a bit, but it's a testament to the primal allure of combat sports that the politics surrounding the fight were so easily discarded once it was decided that whatever offense from one man and professional athlete to another, all of it could be forgotten just to see the scrutiny reach a verdict with fists. Deep down, we enjoy a public execution whether underlined by metaphor, or by physical violence.
Nevermind that Margarito's offense, having had calcium and sulphur in his handwraps to create plaster of paris before the Mosley fight and theoretically against other combatants, was a criminal one. Luis Resto, in 1983, famously got caught with a similar offense, having had his gloves tampered with, and it got him banned. He also served 2 and half years in prison. Granted, Margarito never actually used loaded wraps in the ring, but the only reason he didn't is because of an observant trainer. It's difficult, however, to shake the suspicion that he might have in the past.
But Cotto wanted blood, and educated fans, suspecting Margarito only found success as a result of cheating, wanted to see him have it. I wonder how the public perception would have changed if they felt like Cotto didn't stand a good chance of beating Margarito. If Antonio wasn't coming off a brutal loss to Manny Pacquaio. It's a question worth asking, and the answer paints an unflattering picture of human nature. We knew deep down Cotto was the better boxer. We knew Margarito was coming off a loss, and was deteriorated. In short, we had that strong hunch: Cotto was gonna make him pay. In a sick and twisted way, perhaps it's Margarito who came out the winner.
If Antonio was some kind of winner, whatever victory he took certainly didn't come from the ring. The fight would end being stopped after some confusion in round 10 about Margarito's eye. But it was a foregone conclusion. Cotto battered Margarito for nine rounds, getting on his bicycle for most of it, and avoiding the ropes. It was a masterful performance. But what next?
- I don't know what to make of Antonio Margarito looking forward. He's lost a step, and the worst part about it is that his eye will continue to be a real concern in any fight from here on out. Although Cotto landed brutal left hooks to his face, it didn't take too many shots for Margarito's eye to begin swelling.
- There's talk of Cotto vs. Chavez Jr. I'm not sure how I feel about that fight. Cotto looked good, but he looked good because he adapted to avoid Margarito's pressure. It remains to be seen if he can still be as aggressive inside as he once was. Although to be clear, I don't think Chavez Jr. is the one to shake Cotto's confidence. Canelo on the other hand...
- Brandon Rios looked only moderately sluggish at first. He turned it up in the later rounds, and threw brilliantly inside, peppering John Murray with uppercuts and hooks in close. I'm not sure he's ready for a big fight, but he deserves one. Say what you want about his attitude, and how obnoxious he is (all of which is true and then some), but the kid can box.