Three years ago, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito faced off in one of the most highly anticipated bouts of the year in front of a packed crowd in Las Vegas.
Finally, after three years of mystery and accusation, the bitter rivals will re-enter the ring in Madison Square Garden this Saturday. This time, it wont simply be talent, birthplace and styles that make this fight another classic. The journey since their first fight has added heaps of emotion, baggage and taunts between the two.
In 2008, Cotto, the rising undefeated star from Puerto Rico, accepted the challenge of facing the most avoided fighter in boxing, Mexican puncher Antonio Margarito. Cotto boxed his way through the early rounds, making Margarito look foolish as his wide hooks consistently missed the mark, and was well on his way to winning a decision and chalking one up for Puerto Rico in boxings fiercest rivalry.
Everything changed when Margarito finally landed an uppercut on Cottos chin in the seventh round.
From there, it was all downhill for Cotto, who was bloodied, bruised and buried by Margaritos onslaught in the 11th round, earning a much heralded victory for the Mexican in a fight that caused HBO analyst Max Kellerman to exclaim immediately following the knockout, That was a modern boxing classic!
The seeds of animosity were planted a few months after Cotto-Margarito I, when Margarito faced "Sugar" Shane Mosley in January 2009. Before the fight, it was discovered that Margarito had ingredients to form plaster of paris in his handwraps and his hands had to be re-wrapped three times before the Nevada boxing commission would approve. Margarito was then taken apart by Mosley in seven one-sided rounds. Many wondered why Margaritos punching power had vanished against Mosley as his previous three bouts had all ended in brutal knockout. Was it possible that Margarito committed boxings greatest sin against Cotto?
Since that discovery, Margarito lost his boxing license for a year and Cotto avoided much discussion of Margarito, rarely even mentioning the boxer's name. He refused a rematch for three years, saying, in essence, he didnt want to give the suspected cheater any money.
But that all changed this summer, as Cotto finally agreed to face his enemy. Now fully convinced his foe used plastered handwraps in their first bout, Cotto says the motivation to nullify his first professional loss has reinvigorated his spirit and passion for boxing. Even better, Cotto has finally started talking about Margarito.
During HBOs fantastic "247" series, the fighters open up and reveal the depth of emotion and hatred of their opponent. Cotto opens the series by calling Margarito a criminal, while Margarito, who has strongly maintained his innocence, responds by asking why Cotto cries so much and wonders if he lacks heart. When Margarito laughs in Cottos face as he brings up the plaster, Cotto responds by asserting his dog Rex is more a man than the Mexican.
The thoughts of Margaritos alleged cheating brings Cottos mother and wife to tears, both fearing for Cottos well-being as the man and leader of the family. Cotto himself is reduced to tears when thinking of his father, and the night they spent in the hospital following his first loss in Margarito. It was one of the last memories they shared together, as Miguel Cotto Sr. passed away soon after.
During HBOs "Face-Off," the two barely looked at each other despite being mere feet away. Cotto directly accuses Margarito of cheating who responds by asking why Cotto took the fight if he is so scared. The tension is palpable throughout the interview.
All of this will be brought into a full house in MSG for one of the most anticipated rematches in recent boxing history. Both fighters out to settle the score of their first fight. Both out to clear their name and reestablish their reputation. The emotion, mystery, passion and skill of these two warriors will be on full display in the greatest place to answer and settle the debate: the center of the ring.
The boxing world eagerly awaits that first blow from Margarito. From there, another classic will be in the making.