Antonio Margarito was asked at a contentious news conference recently what it would take to put the infamous hand-wrap incident behind him and he replied through a translator: “I just have to prove myself in the ring. People can say whatever they want. That’s fine with me. But for me, personally, I have to prove it in the ring.”
That process begins Saturday in Aguascalientes, Mexico, on pay-per-view television.
Margarito, 32, will fight tough journeyman Roberto Garcia there 16½ months after he was busted with hardened knuckle pads in his wraps before his fight with Shane Mosley –- a knockout loss -– and subsequently lost his boxing license in California for at least a year.
The ire of those who refuse to believe Margarito didn’t know then-trainer Javier Capetillo inserted the pads did bother him. The assumption by some that he used loaded gloves in other big fights diminished his accomplishments, which was painful for him.
However, the layoff is what has hurt the most.
“It’s been hard because I haven’t been able to fight,” he said. “This is what I do. I’ve been in the gym, though. I kept going to the gym as much as I could to stay in shape.”
New trainer Robert Garcia (no relation to Margarito’s opponent) would attest to his fighter’s work ethic, which had become legendary over the years. He was the type of fighter, it seemed, who would’ve been at home in the 15-round era. He never got tired.
Garcia has worked with Margarito for about 2½ months, mostly in Oxnard, Calif, and is astonished at how hard he works. He is asked to run five miles, he runs seven. He is instructed to spar 10 rounds, he wants to do 12.
Garcia said Margarito has changed the culture of his Oxnard gym.
“It’s unbelievable the way he trains, the way he runs,” he said. “… I was a fighter. I remember Fernando Vargas’ workouts, I’ve seen (Oscar) De La Hoya work out. I’ve seen my dad (Eduardo) train a couple of world champions. He trains like nobody else I’ve seen before.
“… I’m trying to get my other fighters to think that way. It takes hard work to be great. And I think they see that.”
Margarito (37-6, 27 knockouts) might’ve had to work too hard before the Mosley fight. He gave Mosley credit, saying it just wasn’t his night, but also said that his energy was sapped because he had an extremely difficult time making the 147-pound weight limit.
He said that, more than any distraction from the hand-wrap incident, contributed to his poor performance in Mosley’s spectacular ninth-round knockout victory.
“Normally I don’t have to lose that much weight going into a fight. I did this time and I suffered for it,” he said.
Garcia is encouraging Margarito to attack his training as fiercely as ever but is trying to approach it more intelligently. For example, with Capetillo, he sparred as many as six days a week. With Garcia, it’s only three days. That will cut back on wear and tear and leave him with more energy on fight night.
And Garcia said he has Margarito on a robust, but strict diet. He’s eating more sensibly. The combination of that and the hard training has made it a breeze to make the 154-pound limit for Saturday.
“Someone in camp had a birthday the other day and Antonio ate a piece of cake,” Garcia said.
“That’s why I have no doubt he can make 147 and still be strong if he trains the way he has in Oxnard and stays on his diet.”
Margarito could have some big fights awaiting him at 147 if he can get past his opponent on Saturday and get licensed in the United States, which is no slam dunk. He was scheduled to fight on the Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey undercard on March 13 but pulled out because it was unclear whether he’d be licensed.
The most-grandiose possibility is a date with Pacquiao at welterweight if a Pacquiao-Mayweather extravaganza can’t be made. Bob Arum, the promoter of both Pacquiao and Margarito, thinks he can fill the new Cowboys Stadium for that showdown and make both fighters a lot of money.
And, if that doesn’t materialize, there are other lucrative possibilities.
“(Promoter) Gary Shaw is calling Antonio out to fight Alfredo Angulo,” Garcia said. “(Promoter) Lou DiBella is calling him out to fight Sergio Martinez. They’re all interested in bringing him back. I know some people say he doesn’t deserve his license back but real boxing people want him back. It’s like they need him back.
“He got suspended for a year. He already did the year without fighting. That’s enough.”
More than enough, as far as Margarito is concerned. The man apparently can’t wait to get back to doing what he does best, throwing a hundred punches a round and breaking down his overmatched opponents. Garcia said, “It’s like he’s fighting for a title for the first time.”
“I have been working in the gym for over one year,” Margarito said, “but it is not the same as getting into the ring and fighting before a crowd, and without headgear. Saturday night can't come soon enough for me.”