LOS ANGELES — Miguel Cotto believes he’s a better fighter than Antonio Margarito and the junior middleweight titleholder says he will prove it in a fair fight, which their rematch on Dec. 3 will undoubtedly be.
Margarito, who won their first fight with a stirring-but-questionable 11th-round stoppage in July of 2008, just wants to prove that he can still fight.
The two veterans recently stated their case before the media at the Wilshire Grand Hotel, the final stop of the press tour for their anticipated HBO Pay-Per-View event from Madison Square Garden.
The first fight is clearly a sore spot for Cotto, who rebounded from that loss and a 12th-round TKO to Manny Pacquiao to win the WBA 154-pound title from Yuri Foreman last June. He defended the belt, his third major title in as many weight classes, against Ricardo Mayorga in March.
However, the 30-year-old Puerto Rican star stops short of accusing Margarito, who was caught attempting to load his hand wraps prior to fighting Shane Mosley in 2009, of cheating in their fight.
“A lot of things are in the air with the first fight. People are asking a lot of questions about the wraps and I want to clear that up,” Cotto told RingTV.com when asked why the rematch is important to him.
Cotto (36-2, 29 knockouts) believes his team is at least partially to blame for the questionable nature of the first fight, which took place in Las Vegas, where Nevada State Athletic Commission inspectors cleared Margarito’s wraps without the presence of one of Cotto’s representatives.
“We committed a huge mistake in 2008, we didn’t send anybody to his locker room to watch the hand-wrap process,” Cotto said. “That won’t happen this time. This time we’ll make sure everything is legal with the wraps. This time it will be different.”
Emanuel Steward, who trained Cotto for the back-to-back stoppages of Foreman (TKO 9) and Mayorga (TKO 12), is expected to help make that difference once the bell rings for the rematch. The hall-of-fame trainer has tweaked Cotto’s style and technique in a way that has led to two of the fighter’s better performances in recent years.
Cotto’s was successful with his uncle and longtime trainer, Evangelista Cotto, who trained him up until the Margarito fight, but their relationship often volatile. He got along well with Joe Santiago, who trained him for Joshua Clottey and Pacquiao, but his former nutritionist and conditioning coach lacked the experience to teach him anything.
With Steward, Cotto says he has a world-class teacher who he also vibes with.
“Everybody has seen the (improvements) in my last two fights,” Cotto said. “Emanuel brings something good (to camp), all the emotion, all the good feelings about boxing, he brought them back to me.
“And as we saw with my last two fights, I boxed better, I looked better, and I won both fights. That’s going to be the difference in this fight.”
Margarito (38-7, 27 KOs), who hired respected young trainer Robert Garcia after the Mosley debacle, may have a different coach for the rematch, but his approach to fighting Cotto hasn’t changed.
He’s just going to take it to the Puerto Rican with relentless pressure and lots of punches. The 33-year-old Tijuana resident will hold his camp in the 14,000-foot elevation of the Otomi Mountains outside of Mexico City to ensure that he has the stamina to carry out his punishing intentions.
“Antonio knows what he has to do beat Cotto again,” Margarito’s co-manager Sergio Diaz told RingTV.com. “He says he wants to break his own punch-stat record that he set against Clottey in this fight.”
Margarito should have more on his mind than punch stats going into this high-profile rematch. The Mexican mauler could have a shot at redeeming his soiled name if he can beat Cotto again. He may even be able to jump start his career, which has been mostly downhill since he beat his Puerto Rican rival.
Mosley, a 3-to-1 underdog, knocked him out in the ninth round of a one-sided fight. His boxing license was revoked a few weeks later. He was viewed as a pariah during the year and half he was barred from fighting in the U.S. And then he was brutally beat down by Pacquiao, who badly fractured the orbital bone to his right eye en route to a dominant decision.
The eye injury almost cost Margarito his career. He still couldn’t see well out of his right eye months after an operation removed optical nerves and muscle from the fracture before sealing it up.
It was later discovered that he suffered from severe cataracts. Margarito began to contemplate retirement when he was told that any surgery on the eye would spell the end of his fighting days. However, Margarito’s promoter Bob Arum, referred the fighter to the same eye specialist that he uses. This doctor not only eliminated Margarito’s cataracts with artificial lens replacement surgery, but also said he would be able to fight by the end of the year.
The surgery and near retirement has Margarito thinking that every fight could be his last.
“It’s only one fight at a time from now on,” he told RingTV.com through Diaz. “I can’t think about what people say about me or my hand wraps. I can’t take that kind of talk into my fight camp. I know I’m a clean fighter. I don’t have to prove it with this fight.
“My incentive for this fight is the title that Cotto holds and to prove myself that I can continue fighting.”
Cotto doesn’t believe Margarito isn’t thinking about his hand wrap scandal going into their rematch.
“That’s the biggest reason he took this fight,” Cotto said. “He thinks he can clear his name, but he has no chance against me this time.”
Photos / Chris Farina-Top Rank
Doug Fischer can be emailed at email@example.com