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Margarito clearly energized by his second chance

29
Oct

LOS ANGELES – Antonio Margarito viciously pounded a body pad held by his trainer 10, 20, 30 times, making a sickening thud with each punch that echoed in the Fortune Gym and caused everyone gathered around the ring on media day to wince. Obviously they imagined the pad to be the stomach of Manny Pacquiao, his opponent on Nov. 13 at Cowboys Stadium.

Margarito seems to be ready for the most-important fight of his career and his chance at redemption, both mentally and physically.

The congenial Mexican, disgraced and then suspended when he was caught with illegal knuckle pads in his gloves last year, trains with a sense of unusual urgency because he knows how fortunate he is to have this opportunity. The fact he is prepared physically is to be expected; that’s been his modus operandi and a big part of his success.

“I think if the fight were this Saturday, I could make weight,” he said through a translator on Thursday.



The hand-wrap scandal has been well-documented.

Margarito was busted as he was preparing to step into the ring to face Shane Mosley in January of last year and then took a brutal beating. Not a good night. And what followed was worse: California revoked his license in February, which kept him out of boxing for more than 15 months.

The proud warrior, a three-time welterweight titleholder, said he remained optimistic throughout his exile but had to wonder whether he’d ever receive the opportunity to regain what he lost.

Now that he has that chance, he clearly is energized by it. He has almost always trained ridiculously hard, wearing his opponents down as much with his physical conditioning as his relentless punches.

He seems to have ratcheted up a notch for this fight, though. Everything he does, he does with the passion of a young, hungry fighter even though he’s 32 years old and his best years are mostly likely behind him. Clearly, he’s inspired.

“A lot of people never gave up on me,” he said in a soft, but firm voice to about dozen reporters in a small locker room at the gym. “This is for them, all the people who believed in me, the people who had confidence in me and never gave me their back. ÔǪ

“Without a doubt, it’s been tough, really tough. This is a great opportunity for me. And I’m going to take full advantage of it. That’s what I have to do.”

Those who have seen him shirtless during workouts at trainer Robert Garcia’s gym in Oxnard have marveled at his physique. Put simply: The man is ripped, a sign that he has trained diligently.

One knowledgeable observer who has followed most of Margarito’s career said he was stunned when he saw Margarito for the first time, saying wide-eyed at the memory: “I’ve never seen him look like this. He looked SO big. I couldn’t believe it.”

Margarito wasn’t such a physical specimen in his last important fight, the devastating loss to Mosley at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

The fighter and his handlers say he let himself go amid the celebration after his spectacular knockout victory over Miguel Cotto in July of 2008, his last meaningful victory. They say he weighed around 185 pounds (38 pounds over the welterweight limit) six weeks before the Mosley fight.

The entire training camp, they said, was spent in a desperate attempt to make weight. The result was a depleted fighter on fight night, one ripe for such a beating.

Margarito apparently has learned his lesson. Garcia said Margarito weighed around 160 pounds on the first day of this training camp and has maintained that weight – give or take a few pounds – throughout. He is able to eat well and hydrate properly.

The fighters have agreed to fight at a catch weight of 150 pounds.

“Ten pounds is not a problem,” Garcia said 16 days before the fight. “We haven’t even focused on losing weight at all. He’ll have about six pounds to lose the day before the weigh-in. We’ll cut down on water and that’s it.”

Some wonder whether Margarito is working too hard.

Garcia said his prot├®g├® will have sparred for seven weeks (and around 170 rounds) to compensate for any ring rust, a few weeks more than he would normally spar. Margarito has fought only once in 22 months, outpointing journeyman Roberto Garcia in May in his comeback fight.

Margarito seems to love the work. “I have to stop him or he’ll just keep going,” Garcia said with a laugh. And the fighter said his conditioning is more important than the one edge everyone gives him going into this fight: His size and strength.

“I always look at conditioning,” he said. “The preparation makes the difference. You have to be ready to fight. Everything else comes second. That’s why I’m so confident I’m going to win, because I’ve prepared myself.”

Still, the question remains: Will he leave anything in the gym?

“That’s always a concern,” said Sergio Diaz, Margarito’s co-manager for 14 years. “We’re watching him and Robert’s watching him, though. We communicate. ‘How are you feeling? Are you tired?’ If he’s tired, OK, we have a lighter workout. And we make sure he takes breaks.

“He’s working hard, for sure, but we’re watching him. I think things are going perfectly. You won’t hear that he left anything in the gym.”

Indeed, if Margarito loses to Pacquiao, it probably won’t be because he was ill-prepared.

Garcia, a former titleholder himself who will be working his second fight with Margarito, is giddy over what he sees in his fighter. He exudes the same positive energy as his fighter, who is overflowing with it.

The trainer knows this is a monumental challenge, describing Pacquiao as the “best fighter in the world.” He also has a very good feeling.

“I think he’s better than he’s ever been mentally,” Garcia said. “Tony says, ‘I tell you guys, this is the best I’ve ever felt.’ He feels so confident. Not a day goes by that we’re driving together to the gym in the morning that he doesn’t say, ‘Robert, I have no doubt this fight is ours. Everything we’re doing is perfect.’

“He’s enjoying training, enjoying running in the mornings, enjoying every part of training camp more than ever before.”

Second chances will do that.

Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]

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