Fight of the Year: Antonio Margarito vs. Miguel Cotto
FIGHT OF THE YEAR VOTING RESULTS
Antonio Margarito KO 11 Miguel Cotto: 48 percent
Israel Vazquez SD 12 Rafael Marquez: 43 percent
Joel Casamayor KO 10 Michael Katsidis: 6 percent
Rogers Mtagwa KO 10 Tomas Villa: 3 percent
Today’s poll: Fighter of the Year
To vote, go to Yahoo! Sports’ boxing page
Note: These are not the official RING awards. Those will be announced on Jan. 27 in the magazine.
Some matchups need to no hyping.
Every now and then the sport delivers a fight that even casual boxing fans know is going to be good.
The summer showdown between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito was one of those “can’t-miss” fights.
On July 26, the welterweight titans met in Las Vegas, producing a fight that was so competitive, compelling and dramatic that the most cynical fans and jaded boxing writers were reminded why they love the sport and had to tip their hats to both combatants.
The matchup resulted in the rise of a long overlooked perennial contender and the first setback of an emerging star, but their ring struggle was so memorable that the individual course of the fighters took a back seat to the story of the fight.
Going into the bout, the momentum belonged to Cotto, a former 140-pound standout who had taken the welterweight division by storm by beating future titleholder Carlos Quintana and former champs Zab Judah and Shane Mosley en route to extending his undefeated record to 32-0 (26 knockouts).
The 2000 Puerto Rican Olympian looked like the total package – a technically sound boxer-puncher who could systematically break his opponents down with pressure and body punching or out-box his foes with a crisp jab, counter-punching and lateral movement.
Margarito was among THE RING’s longest-rated welterweight contenders, but the feared Mexican mauler lacked universal respect because of a 2007 decision loss to Paul Williams that put off his eventual meeting with Cotto. However, ‘the Tijuana Tornado’ rebounded with a blowout of Golden Johnson and a repeat stoppage of hard-hitting Kermit Cintron to set up the latest high-profile matchup in boxing’s long-running rivalry between Mexico and Puerto Rico.
The media and hardcore fans were evenly divided on who would win Cotto-Margarito, but everyone agreed that it would be a great fight.
Those who predicted a Cotto victory favored his natural talent, superior technique and versatility, while Margarito’s faithful believed the rangy volume puncher was too big, too strong and too damn tough for Cotto to out-box or out-slug for 12 rounds.
For the first five rounds of the bout, those who picked Cotto were feeling pretty smart as the popular Puerto Rican expertly evaded Margarito’s advances with smooth footwork, making the Mexican miss with head-and-upper movement and then making him pay with accurate jabs and head-twisting three-punch combinations.
However, over the next five rounds, those who picked Margarito looked like geniuses as he walked through Cotto’s best punches before repeatedly cornering and punishing the pound-for-pound entrant with thudding body shots, jarring hooks and fierce face-slicing uppercuts.
It was almost as though two fights took place that night at the MGM Grand – Cotto’s boxing clinic over the first half of the bout and Margarito’s brutally effective pressure fighting down the stretch.
The middle rounds featured the kind of back-and-forth exchanges that the diehard crowd of 10,000 expected and reveled in, but the momentum had clearly swung in favor of Margarito.
The ultra-rugged no-frills fighter answered questions about whether his swarming brand of volume punching could trump the more technically sound boxing and accurate power shots of Cotto.
Going into the late rounds, the questions switched to Cotto. Was his early-rounds success and game give-and-take during the middle rounds enough to give him a points lead down the stretch? Would he be able to survive Margarito’s relentless assault to see the final bell?
Cotto gave everything he had in trying.
Even during the shaky 10th round, he continued to employ his stick-and-move strategy, but his legs had lost their spring, his punches no longer packed power and his face had been beaten into a bloody, lumpy mess.
In the 11th round, the proud Puerto Rican twice took a knee to escape his torture before the fight was mercifully halted.
With the biggest victory of his hard-road 15-year career, Margarito earned the elusive respect of the media and was finally embraced by Mexican fans.
Cotto lost his perfect record, but that’s all. Fans and the press recognized his valiant effort and gave him credit for facing an almost inhumanly tough brawler who most fighters in his position would have avoided.
Cotto would now have to focus on a comeback instead of the multi-million-dollar mega fights with Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather that had been discussed before his loss, while Margarito, who picked up his third welterweight title with the victory, still had unfinished business with Williams.
But none of this was an issue in the euphoric immediate aftermath of their welterweight clash. For once, the focus was where it should be, on the fight. And what a fight it was.
Comeback: Vitali Klitschko
Upset: Manny Pacquiao vs. Oscar De La Hoya
Event: Manny Pacquiao vs. Oscar De La Hoya
Prospect: Victor Ortiz
Round: Israel Vazquez vs. Rafael Marquez III (Rd. 4)
Knockout: Kendall Holt KO 1 Ricardo Torres