By Felipe Leon
Photos: Felipe Leon
Nobody can deny that the twenty-eight months since his break through win over Miguel Cotto have been the toughest of Antonio Margarito’s sixteen-year career. Six months after his TKO of the Puerto Rican star in Las Vegas, Margarito found himself on the losing side of a ninth round knockout from Shane Mosley and in the middle of a controversy that would change his life forever. Accused of using illegal hand wraps prior to his championship bout against Mosley in which he lost the WBA welterweight title, Margarito was soon suspended for over a year beginning in February of ‘09. Furiously holding on to his innocence through out his hearing and the subsequent months after, Margarito (38-7, 27KOs) made his comeback to the ring once again last May and won a unanimous decision over Texas’ Robert “Amenaza” Garcia in Aguascalientes, MX.
Soon after, Margarito’s promoter Bob Arum announced that the “Tijuana Tornado” would be taking on the best fighter in the world, Manny Pacquiao in November. The much anticipated mega fight drew overforty thousand boxing fans to Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, TX, to watch Pacquiao win a lopsided decision for the vacant WBC super welterweight crown, his eight title in as many divisions. The never say die Margarito suffered a fractured right orbital bone caused by a punch in the fourth roundwhich impaired his vision until the end of the bout and forced him to visit the hospital soon after.
“The fight changed after the fourth round, he caught me with an uppercut and hurt my eye and after that, I couldn’t see,” Margarito stated as he sat ringside at a fight card in his hometown of Tijuana, MX, in one his first public appearances after the fight. “I was told that I hurt him in that round but I didn’t see it or else I would have finished him right there.”
Soon after the grueling twelve rounds, many fight fans and media complained that Margarito’s trainer, former world champion Robert Garcia, showed his inexperience in the corner, as he did not stop the fight even after Margarito’s face became a mask of swelled flesh. Veteran referee Lawrence Cole also got his fair share of criticism but for Margarito, there was never a question of quitting.
“Like every Mexican, the corner would ask me if I wanted the fight stopped and I said, ‘no, I am good.’ I never thought in stopping the fight,” the thirty-two year old Margarito said. “My corner did mention it to me but I felt fine physically with my conditioning. Yes, I couldn’t see because of my eye but I would tell them that, I wanted to keep going. The referee checked me out and made sure I could continue. I felt fine, I couldn’t see but I wanted to finish the fight.”
One constant in the last two and a half turbulent years for Margarito has been his wife of nearly twelve, Michele. Together for over twenty years, Michele has been at Margarito’s side for his whole career and has experienced the good and the bad alongside him.
“I have never seen Antonio with such serious injury. It was shocking but at the same time sad because I had never seen him like that,” Mrs. Margarito stated as she sat next to her husband. “This is part of boxing as they say and we know that things like these can happen and I am not going to deny that I wasn’t sad or nervous to think that the punchcould have ended Tony’s career. Once the doctor operated on him and told us everything was going to be fine, I began to calm down.”
Just like in his fight against Mosley in January ’09, a discussion erupted in the dressing room of Margarito prior to his fight with Pacquiao. For many, the disruption might of caused them to lose focus or at least feel deja vu but for Margarito, it was just another day at the office, “I was relaxed because I knew they were going to act that way to see if I would get anxious. The truth, I never got nervous. It seems that Roach knew, allegedly, that I was taking a bad substance but he doesn’t know anything. He said I wanted to take some pills. I have taken those pills for years and I have never had a problem in the drug tests. They are only energy pills and they are sold over the counter.”
After they didn’t let me take them, I said ‘ok’ and I asked for a cup of coffee but again they said that I couldn’t have it because I asked for Splenda and they said it wasn’t sugar. I didn’t have to give them any explanations but I think they were just looking over me and trying to get in my head.”
Unfortunately for the former three time welterweight champion, the issues began earlier during fight week when a video was released in which Margarito and stable mate Brandon Rios were portrayed making fun of Freddie Roach’s Parkinson’s disease. Margarito vehemently denied that his intention was to mock Roach in an apology at the under card pressconference held a mere days before the fight.
“I went to apologize not because I had to but because Freddie Roach was offended,” Margarito explained. “I say again, the video exists but it wasn’t like that, that is not how things happened. I would never make fun of anybody and never of somebody like that. In that press conference I explained what happened.”
In that moment in the video, I was told that Freddie Roach said that Pacquiao was going to knock me out in two rounds and I responded with ‘uyy, I’m scared.’ After that, the problems started with people saying that I was making fun of Roach but it is not like me, I would never do that.”
Through it all, Margarito has not waivered in his convictions, from denying any wrong doing in the hand wraps to the media, the California State Athletic Commission and anybody else that would listen to the latest scandal regarding the video, Margarito has stayed head strong and proud. Despite it all, Michele believes that her husband has had to change to protect himself from the assaults coming in from every direction, “I think in a way Tony has changed. I think Tony has had to change to be able to protect himself because sometimes he fees attacked. I think he sometimes feels that people don’t believe him.
I agree when he says that he can only offer the truth and if people don’t believe him, he can’t change their opinions. Sometimes people are very misinformed. For the most part, I see him being the same.”
Like always, Margarito has remained gracious even in defeat as days after the devastating loss at the fists of Manny Pacquiao, he and his team released a statement calling Pacquiao the best pound for pound fighter in the world. A sentiment that Margarito feels holds true.
“Manny Pacquiao has proved it. No other fighter has done what he has done,” Margarito said. “I feel bad for not winning but this is his moment. I keep saying he is a great fighter and nobody has done what he has done.”
Now Margarito only looks towards the future and a pending rematch with Miguel Cotto for the summer of the incoming year as it has been rumored. First, Margarito must deal with the healing of his right eye but he assures that it is only a physical healing and not a psychological one as he is ready to climb in between the ropes and do what he has done for the majority of his life.
“El que es gallo, en cualquier gallinero canta, no? (He who is a rooster, sings in any chicken coop),” Margarito says with a smile when asked if he is afraid to climb into a ring again. “It was a surgery that was done on my eye and it looks that everything came out well. I see the ring as my home and it would be absurd for me to be afraid to go into my own home.”
As of now, it looks like the next time that Margarito visits his twenty-foot square home will be in June in a rematch with the current WBA light middleweight champion in New York City’s Madison Square Garden giving the home court advantage to the Boricua.
“We are going to wait to see what happens with my eye. It looks like that is what they are working towards and we will have to sit down with Top Rank,” Margarito explained regarding the Cotto match up. “I am going to say one thing, if I am going to face Cotto then I will be a world champion again. I have lost titles and regained them and this time will be no different.”
As for the lady that goes by the name etched on the front of Margarito’s trunks in every fight, she is confident that if Margarito faces the tough Puerto Rican, the result will be the same as last time.
“It is true that Tony had a really hard fight against Cotto and thank God that everything came out well in that fight and he won,” Michele said. “There is always doubts and unknowns in this sport, you never know what can happen.
I always have faith in Tony, he prepares himself 110% and I know he is always ready for a fight and we hope that if the rematch with Cotto happens, it will be no different.”