Sunday, June 04, 2023  |


Blown away in Margaritoville

Fighters Network

Antonio Margarito (right), here landing a right cross to the face of Kermit Cintron in their rematch last April, often walks through the best punches of the welterweight division's heaviest hitters before grinding them down with his relentless pressure. Photo / Ray

For two rounds, Henry Mitchell was as sweet as sugar.

Sticking and moving with impunity, occasionally planting his feet and getting off with quick body-head combinations in close, Mitchell looked like a top prospect and not an athletic journeyman with an 8-8-1 record.

The man he was sparring with, WBA welterweight titleholder Antonio Margarito, looked rather ordinary as he followed the 140 pounder around the ring and missed with wide looping punches.

Mitchell and other small, but talented sparring partners have done such a good job imitating the fast and fluid boxing style of Margarito’s next opponent, former champ Shane Mosley, some onlookers at the Mexican mauler’s Montebello, Calif. gym have wondered whether the odds that favor him by as much as 5 to 1 are overblown.

At least that’s what the gym rats think during the first two or three rounds of Margarito’s sparring sessions.

Beyond the third of each three-minute period, most of his sparring partners are ready to get out of the ring. Those who go more than three or four rounds with him have no choice but to deal with the non-stop, raw aggression that earned the tough, but technically limited Tijuana fighter 37 victories and gave absolute hell to the five fighters who beat him.

As good as Mitchell looked jabbing, shoulder rolling and switching stances like vintage Mosley during their first two rounds, the young man was gasping for breath by the end of the third. During rounds four and five, Mitchell had to fight as hard as he could just to stay upright as Margarito ruthlessly pounded his body and head with hooks, uppercuts and overhand rights while smothering the young man along the ropes.

After the session, Mitchell took deep breaths and collected himself on the ring apron.

“Shane’s one of my idols,” the Florida native said. “He was so fast and powerful and accurate, I wanted to be just like him. That’s why I box so much like him. But I’m worried about him against Margarito.

“Margarito’s not like any fighter I’ve ever sparred with. He’s not like Mosley. He doesn’t have Shane’s natural talent, but he’s something special.”

That “something special” is an almost uncanny ability to walk through the hardest punches his foes have to offer while applying constant pressure and a non-stop offense that breaks down most opponents, even experienced world-class fighters, over 10 to 12 rounds.

Last July, Margarito was at his relentless best in his signature victory over Miguel Cotto, who was undefeated and considered one of the sport’s elite fighters. The bloody come-from-behind, brutally dramatic 11th-round stoppage did more than give Margarito his third major title; it earned him a Top-10 pound-for-pound ranking by THE RING, Yahoo! Sports, and, and has led to the Jan. 24 showdown with Mosley.

After 15 years of being under the radar, despite an entertaining style and willingness to fight tough opposition, Margarito, who is enjoying unprecedented popularity among Mexican and hardcore fight fans, has finally arrived.

Margarito says he owes his success to three things:

“My work ethic, my lifestyle and my attitude toward the sport,” he said through translator Sergio Diaz, his co-manager. “I train hard, I live clean and I take everyone I fight seriously. I don’t overlook anyone.

“People tell me Mosley is getting old, but I’m not going to underestimate him. In some ways he’s more dangerous than Cotto. He’s bigger than Cotto. He’s faster than Cotto. He can adapt to all styles. But he won’t be able to adapt to me because my physical preparation will be too much for him. My conditioning beats my opponents.

“And when I’m not training, I’m at home with my wife. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I don’t go out to clubs or party. I lead a quiet life. I think this has been a factor in my longevity.”

While a Spartan training regimen and lifestyle will add years to any fighter’s career, it’s not going to enable him to take the kind of bombs Margarito absorbed from Cotto or welterweight puncher Kermit Cintron.

No, there’s more to Margarito’s success than superb conditioning and clean living, and he admits it.

“My chin and my heart,” he said. “Of course, that’s what makes me dangerous. My chin can take their best shots. My heart is my will to win.

“Some fighters have a chin, but no heart. They never get knocked out, but they still lose fights because they allow themselves to get outboxed or outworked. Other fighters have heart, but no chin. They’ll get knocked down from any good punch, and they’ll keep getting up, but they’ll also keep getting knocked down.

“I have both. I have a big heart and a good chin. I’m not afraid of the other guy’s punches, which is why I fight the way I do. But I have the conditioning and the heart to keep moving forward.”

Diaz says the fighter’s iron chin was the first thing he noticed before signing him 12 years ago.

“The first time I saw Tony fight, he lost,” Diaz said. “He fought a big southpaw named Rodney Jones, who was on a win streak and was knocking a lot of guys out. My friends and I knew nothing about Margarito. We went there thinking he was going to get knocked out, but he took the best punches Jones could deliver for 10 rounds. He lost, but he never stopped coming forward and he never stopped trying to win. I was impressed.

“After the fight I approached him and asked him if he was signed to anybody. He wasn’t, so we signed him. In his very next fight, we put him in with Alfred Ankamah, a really tough African fighter who was the last guy to beat Jones, the only guy to have ever knocked Jones out. People told us that’s a bad fight, but I knew Tony could take a punch and I’d seen Ankamah buzzed before. I knew eventually Tony would hurt him and then take him out. Tony wobbled him in the third and took him out in the fourth.”

Margarito was unbeaten over the next eight years, a span that included 22 bouts and his first title win over the more experienced Antonio Diaz in 2002.

That bout, for the vacant WBO title, was a typical Margarito fight. Diaz, who entered the fight with a 39-3 record that included wins over former champ Cory Spinks and veterans Micky Ward and Ivan Robinson, took the early rounds with well-timed right hands that landed flush against Margarito’s jaw every time he let them go.

However, in the middle rounds of the bout, Margarito switched his fight from the outside to close quarters, where his best punch – the left uppercut – did considerable damage to Diaz’s face, particularly his eyes, which swelled shut. Diaz, whose only loss in his previous 30 bouts was a sixth-round stoppage to the prime welterweight version of Mosley, was helpless and overwhelmed by the 10th round.

Even on bad nights, when he’s fighting with injuries, as he was when he narrowly outpointed Joshua Clottey, or over-trained and in against bigger opponents with difficult styles, as he was in his close losses to Daniel Santos and Paul Williams, Margarito comes on like gangbusters in the late rounds of his fights.

Most fans and members of the media believe that Margarito’s size, pressure and usual late-rounds surge will be too much for the 37-year-old version of Mosley. They say the ultra-fast whirlwind that out-pointed Oscar De La Hoya 8¾ years ago in the Staples Center, the site of the Jan. 24 fight, is long gone.

Although Mosley gave Cotto a good fight in a narrow points loss in November of 2007, his critics say the proof that the Southern Californian is showing his age was in his tougher-than-expected battle with high-profile fall guy Ricardo Mayorga last September.

Diaz disagrees and is expecting a good fight.

“The logic of the fans and a lot of the boxing writers when the fight was first being discussed was that Mosley struggled with Mayorga while Tony crushed Cotto, so it wouldn’t be a competitive fight and there wouldn’t even be any interest for it,” Diaz said.

“But I think recent ticket sales say otherwise. Once the fight was actually made, people began talking about it and anticipating it. I’ve been inundated with calls and emails from all over the country.

“I thought it was the right fight for Tony after the Cotto fight because he loves to fight for the people. He loves to put on an exciting show and so does Mosley. Shane has always given the fans 100 percent. He never holds back and he’s never been knocked out. I think that’s why fans are buying tickets for the fight.

“They know Shane is motivated for Margarito. They’ve forgotten about the Mayorga fight because I think real fans understand that styles make fights. Mayorga was wrong for Mosley, but Margarito and Shane will make for a great fight.”

Margarito said he doesn’t understand the criticism Mosley received after his performance against Mayorga.

“He knocked him out, didn’t he?” Margarito said. “People said he looked unsure of himself during the early rounds, but I didn’t notice that. I was focusing on how fast he was and I was impressed with how he came through at the end.”

Mosley reminded Margarito of himself that night. He says he’s always admired Mosley.

“As a pro fighter coming up, I looked up to him,” he said. “In fact, I wasn’t at the Mayorga fight to scout him; I was just there to enjoy the fight.”

There were roughly 3,500 fans in attendance at Mosley-Mayorga, which took place at the Home Depot Center’s outdoor tennis arena in Carson, Calif. At least four times as many fans will pack the Staples Center to watch Margarito-Mosley.

Mitchell, who has met Mosley, says he understands why.

“Margarito is just as nice as Shane is,” he said. “They are both regular guys who are very friendly, but when they step in the ring, it’s time for action. They don’t play no games.”