NEW YORK –Top Rank Inc. CEO Bob Arum admitted that his public support of ex-titleholder Antonio Margarito against allegations that the fighter knowingly used illegal handwraps in the past had tested his relationship with WBA junior middleweight beltholder Miguel Cotto, Margarito’s opponent in Saturday’s HBO Pay Per View-televised rematch at Madison Square Garden.
An illegal plaster-like substance was discovered in the hand wrappings of Margarito and removed prior to his ninth-round knockout loss to Shane Mosley in January of 2009.
That was six months after a then-unbeaten Cotto (36-2, 29 knockouts), of Caguas, Puerto Rico, was dethroned as WBA welterweight beltholder following a bloody, 11th-round knockout loss to Margarito (38-7, 27 KOs), of Tijuana, Mexico, in July of 2008.
Calling his opponent “a criminal,” Cotto is sure that Margarito was dirty when they fought, and believes Margarito knew about the hand wraps applied to his fists by former trainer Javier Capetillo.
Margarito has denied knowledge, and Arum believes him.
“Margarito believes, as I do, that he is innocent of everything,” said Arum. “I really believe that and I have believed it from the beginning.”
Asked if his support of Margarito upset Cotto, Arum said, “of course it has, and it’s affected a lot of things that the press and the media writes about me.”
“But I’m a man. F__k it, I’m going to stand up for what I believe is right,” said Arum, who turns 80 on Dec. 8. “Maybe if I was 30 years younger, maybe I wouldn’t do that. But at my age, I’m going to stand up for what I believe is right.”
COTTO TAKES THE FIGHT AS MONEY TALKS
So disgusted with Margarito was Cotto that he nearly did not take the fight, having vowed, after their initial bout, not to allow Margrito to profit from his name.
But Arum sweetened the deal.
“It took me quite an effort to convince Cotto and his people to do the fight. He has this hate for Margarito, and he didn’t want Margarito to make a penny in the ring with him,” said Arum.
“That’s what he said. I convinced them. I gave them a great deal. And he’s going to make a lot of money. Ultimately, money talks. I couldn’t have made this fight on normal terms. Just money. That’s enough.”
ARUM GETS A KNICKS’ JERSEY
Arum, whose 80th birthday is on Dec. 8, was given a New York Knicks’ jersey with that number on it by Midison Square Garden’s Executive Vice President Joel Fisher during the press conference.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR JULIO CESAR CHAVEZ JR.?
Arum said Saturday night’s Cotto-Margarito II winner could be in line to face WBC middleweight beltholder Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (44-0-1, 31 KOs), who will be at ringside for the fight.
“Chavez will be here. Cotto and Margarito have both expressed the desire to fight Chavez,” said Arum. “Chavez wants to fight the winner of the fight. So maybe that’s the fight that I make.”
Citing potential issues over a catchweight, Arum all-but ruled out an all-Mexican matchup between Chavez Jr. and WBC 154-pound titleholder Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (39-0-1, 29 KOs).
“I’m not optimistic that I can make the Alvarez fight with Chavez because of the weight issue. You know, Chavez is a big kid, and I can’t tell him to go down to 156. That’s bad for his health. That doesn’t make any sense. Maybe 158, but that’s even tough,” said Arum.
“But if he fights a Miguel or a Margarito, it would be at 160 or something. I don’t think that Margarito would have a problem with 160, but Miguel might ask for 158. I don’t know. But 158, [Chavez’s] strength trainer, [Alex] Ariza tells me is doable.”
Another potential opponent for Chavez could be come-backing promotional stablemate and former undisputed middleweight titleholder Kelly Pavlik (37-2, 32 KOs), who has moved up to super middleweight.
IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?
Margarito was not cleared by the New York State Athletic Commision to fight Cotto until Nov. 23, this, as a result of an injury to his right eye which occurred during a November unanimous decision loss to Manny Pacquiao, against whom Margarito suffered a fractured right orbital bone that required surgery to repair.
In May, Margarito had an artificial lens placed into the eye by Dr. Alan S. Crandall of the John Moran Eye Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, who also removed a cataract during the surgery.
Arum said that Crandall will be at ringside on Saturday night.
“We’re having him flown in. To doctors, he’s like what Michael Jordan used to be to basketball players. He lectures around the world. This is not an ordinary doctor,” said Arum.
“This is a superstar doctor. The reson I sent Antonio to him was not to get him ready for a fight, but because Antonio was having blurring in his eye. So I sent him to the best guy.”
Why is Arum sure Crandall is “the best guy?”
“Because he operated on me,” said Arum, who had a cataract removed. “He operated on my wife. He operated on [Arum’s step daughter] Dena [duBoef.] So I know how good he is.”
STEVE SMOGER GETS THE NOD
Concerns about a premature stoppage based on the pre-existing conditions surrounding Margarito’s eye have been quelled quite a bit thanks to the selection of referee Steve Smoger to work Cotto-Margarito.
Smoger officiated the July Fight of The Year-caliber majority draw between junior middleweights Delvin Rodriguez (25-5-3, 14 KOs) and Pawel Wolak (29-1-1, 19 KOs), the latter of whom fought the entire second half of the fight while peering through severely cut and swollen eyes with the right side of his face and eye being marred by the large hematoma.
Wolak and Rodriguez will be on the Cotto-Margarito undercard.
“People want to see a fight and they want to see a fight go as long as possible. And Smoger’s credentials are that he refereed the first Wolak-Rodriguez fight,” said Arum.
“And with Wolak’s eye really swollen, he let the fight continue to the end. So Smoger is a gutty guy. He has balls. He’s a balsy referee, and I think that that’s what people want to see.”
MIKE LEE’S BUSY DAY
Light heavyweight prospect Mike Lee (7-0, 4 KOs), a 24-year-old who graduated with a 3.8 grade point average and a degree in finance from Notre Dame, will face Allen Medina (9-19-1, 1 KO) on the Cotto-Margarito undercard.
Lee trained in Mexico City with Ronnie Shields, and is on the cover of the most recent Sports Business Journal.
On Wednesday, Lee had an 11 a.m. meeting on at the Wall Street Journal headquarters followed by one at 2 p.m. at Sports Illustrated’s head quarters. His day ended with a 3 p.m. live streamed open workout at New York’s Kingsway Gym.
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com