How will fans and the media react to a Margarito victory?
Few expect Antonio Margarito to beat Manny Pacquiao when they meet on Nov. 13, but what if the Mexican veteran pulls the upset? What would a Margarito victory mean to fans and to the boxing media? Some members of the media who think Margarito is a disgrace to the sport believe that many fans will forgive the former welterweight titleholder. Photo / Chris Cozzone-Fightwireimages.com
Antonio Margarito is a 6¾-to-1 underdog against Manny Pacquiao. And most boxing writers believe those odds, as lopsided as they are, give the former welterweight titleholder the benefit of the doubt.
The prevailing thought on Margarito is that he has virtually no shot at beating a fighter as superbly talented as Pacquiao, especially given the manner in which he was pummeled by an aging Shane Mosley after he was caught with illegal knuckle pads in his gloves.
Many fans and members of the sports media were outraged that Margarito, whose license was revoked by California’s boxing commission, received an opportunity to be in the same ring with the sport’s biggest attraction.
To many, the only silver lining to this dark cloud over the sport is the knowledge that Margarito, a plodding pressure fighter who did not look sharp during a comeback fight in May, will not only be hopelessly outclassed by Pacquiao but brutally beaten into submission.
But what if Margarito’s day of reckoning somehow becomes his day of redemption?
What if Margarito beats Pacquiao? How would the media react to that inconceivable upset? How would fans view it?
“It’s almost unthinkable,” said Martin Rogers, a columnist for Yahoo! Sports who believes Margarito probably knew what was going into his wraps the night of the Mosley fight. “But then we hear reports out of the Philippines about how unfocused Pacquiao has been in camp. We hear that Margarito has been looking strong in camp. Say what you will about Margarito’s level of skill, but the man can fight. I suppose we have to give (an upset) some plausibility.
“Personally, I hope it doesn’t happen. I didn’t think Margarito’s ban from the sport was long enough, and I certainly don’t think he deserved this fight with Pacquiao.”
Rogers isn’t alone in that opinion. Some members of the media will view a Margarito victory as a complete failure of the sport’s ability to govern itself. Sergio Machado, the programming director for Fanaticos.com, the Spanish-language sports section of AOLLatino.com, is among them.
“If Margarito beats Pacquiao, my immediate reaction will be to ask Margarito if he thinks the victory finally erases the handwraps controversy from his image,” Machado told RingTV.com. “My sense is that it doesn’t, but I would like to know his answer. It’s tough to analyze a case in which a guy is being accused of something he says he had no idea about, and there’s no way to prove if he’s innocent or guilty. But the bottom line is that his case is a total mess, and I strongly believe that the lack of authority in boxing and promoters controlling too much in the sport is the main cause of it. Boxers should be responsible at all times for what goes in and around their wraps, and if something is not right they should be punished, harshly. However, there’s nothing written in the sport’s rules to specifically address this with a clearly defined penalty. There’s nothing that states on paper that a boxer should be out of the sport for X amount of time because his team, the team that bears his name on their backs, tried to load his gloves.
“No authority means anarchy, and in Margarito’s case, anarchy and soft punishment will have prevailed if he wins on Nov. 13.”
Bert Sugar views the scenario of a Margarito victory in much simpler terms.
“Boxing would lose if Margarito won because Pacquiao is such a lovable hero, and Margarito is a sullied non-hero with a mark against him,” said the boxing historian and noted author.
However, Sugar doesn’t believe an upset will constitute the “black eye for the sport” that many boxing writers will claim it to be.
“Nobody has more cynicism than the boxing press,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll find something wrong with Pacquiao if he loses. They’ll say he looked past Margarito. They’ll still think Margarito had something in his gloves. They’ll maintain the mental hard-on with the wraps, I guarantee you that, and they’ll say it’s the worst thing the sport has ever had to endure.”
More-controversial figures than Margarito have been the focal point of the sport, according to the 73-year-old journalist, including Sonny Liston and Mike Tyson, both of whom claimed the heavyweight title (or a portion of it) following prison terms for violent crimes.
“I don’t put Margarito into the Liston and Tyson category,” Sugar said. “I’ll put him into the ‘comes-back-from-the-discarded-pile’ category if he somehow wins, because he’s not just coming back from a suspension, he’s coming back from what looked like a career-ending beating from Mosley.”
Rogers believes overcoming those obstacles will likely endear Margarito to many fans.
“One thing I’ve noticed about American culture, especially where sports figures are concerned, is that Americans love a redemption story,” said Rogers, a native of Britain who moved to the U.S. a little over three years ago. “I think Americans are quicker to forgive than Europeans are. When I first moved to the U.S., Michael Vick had just pleaded guilty to his part in running an illegal dog fighting ring. I thought his career was over. If you had asked me then if Vick would ever play in the NFL again after doing his jail time, I would have told you no, unequivocally. But now he’s not only back in the NFL and starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, he seems to have been forgiven by most football fans.
“I think the same thing can happen with Margarito. A lot of people will say ‘Wow, this guy came through a rough patch in his life and beat the best fighter on the planet.’ He will generate some degree of support by beating the odds. It will make for a fascinating story that people will cling to.”
The redemption aspect of a Margarito victory that Rogers speaks of is something that will likely resonate with Mexican boxing fans, according to Machado.
“From what we’ve been reading on our message boards, my sense is that a huge majority in M├®xico supports Antonio Margarito,” Machado said. “Within that majority, probably a strong 70 percent thinks he’s innocent and believes what Antonio has said about the night of the Mosley fight. The other 30 percent probably thinks Margarito already went through the right punishment and should be allowed to fight again.
“From this I gather that, at least to the Mexican and Mexican-American community, an upset by Margarito will be perceived as the final step towards redemption. I think they will celebrate it big and in some weird way forget about the hand-wrap episode.”
However Machado is quick to point out that not all Latino and Latino-American fight fans feel the same way about Margarito.
“Other Latino communities, those not related to Mexico, generally view Margarito as a cheater,” he said. “I see that especially with Puerto Rican fans. The Puerto Rico-Mexico rivalry in boxing probably plays a part in this, but I know many Puerto Ricans are dying to see Margarito get knocked out by Pacquiao. They have a strong reason for this beyond the historic rivalry because most of them think Margarito had loaded gloves against Miguel Cotto.”
But what about the general public, the casual boxing fan who hasn’t followed Margarito’s plight beyond what he or she will watch on HBO’s 24/7 series?
Rogers believes the less an individual knows about the sport the more he or she will be inclined to accept, or even embrace, a Margarito victory.
“The quickest group to forgive him will be the general public, those who don’t really follow boxing except for the one or two big events the sport puts on every year,” Rogers said. “They know who Pacquiao is. They know he’s the man. They don’t really know who Margarito is, but most people like to get behind the underdog. Hardcore fans will have a mixed immediate reaction but will probably follow the casual fans in forgiving Margarito. Even if they view Margarito as a bad guy, I think they’ll be interested in what comes next. Boxing has revolved around its two stars — Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather — for the past 18 months even though they haven’t fought each other. A Margarito victory breaks the logjam.
“All talk of Pacquiao-Mayweather ceases for talk of a Margarito-Pacquiao rematch, and fans might welcome something new.”
Rogers says the last group in boxing to accept a Margarito victory will be that “cynical bunch” that Sugar spoke of.
“I don’t want to speak for all of the media, but I think most of the press will be slower to forgive Margarito, if at all,” said Rogers, who counts himself among that group. “Those who know fighters, especially those who know fighters who have suffered some degree of neurological problems due to punches they’ve taken in the ring, will not forget about what Margarito almost did.
“To those who know how much damage loaded gloves can do to a human being, and this group includes most prize fighters as well as the media, I don’t think a victory over Pacquiao will ever right the wrong that was done.”