I'm back home after a great five-day sojourn in New York covering last weekend’s rematch between
Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito at the famed Madison Square
Garden. It was the grudge match of the year and the year’s most highly
anticipated boxing event in the United States. It was also a promotion that was
nearly booted out of the Big Apple as
there were licensing issues surrounding the surgically-repaired right eye of
Margarito. But after all was said and done, this fight card took place exactly
where it belonged.
was a memorable night. The type that let you know that on certain nights,
boxing, for all its supposed ills and impending demise, when done correctly by
top promoters, is still very much a major league sport.
had a great time in New York. Unlike fights taking place in Las Vegas (where I usually
stay on the host hotel grounds), I did a fair share of walking around and
enjoying the surroundings. Yes, I made my usual jaunt to Jimmy's Corner (three
times, in fact), saw MetLife Stadium (where I saw the powerhouse that is Don Bosco Prep win another New Jersey
state football title) and
finally had slices of pizza (at Ray's Pizza, a short walk from the Sheraton
Hotel) that lived up to New York's rep for having the best pie in the land. Get
this: I even took the subway! (I got an MTA Metro Card to prove it.)
guys asked for one of my timeline/diary pieces; well, here it is: fight day in
11:01 AM: Yeah, I got in late last
night from Jimmy's Corner, where I met some fans and a group that came in from Dallas to root for Margarito (yeah, they were
Mexican). We had a great time. I even broke into a “Running Man” and “Cabbage Patch”-
uh, yeah, I had some Goose and sodas in me by that time- but everyone was
impressed with my moves- even an African-American couple in the back (which, to
me, is the ultimate approval). Folks, if you want a slice of the true boxing
experience in this city, go to this small place. It's great and absolutely one
of the customs I adhere to every few years I'm here. And the owner, Jimmy Glenn,
is a gem. He's a great guy who has been around the fight game for years as a
trainer and cutman and has some great stories. The walls of this place are
lined with boxing-related photos and posters and it's a regular destination for
members of the boxing fraternity.
I wake up and my feet are killing me from all the walking I've done. As I
gingerly walk to the restroom, Ernest Gabion of Everlast asks me, “What's
wrong?” As I tell him about my ailment, he says, “Ha, you're getting old.”
11:55 AM: Despite my foot pain, I
decide to get in a workout on the treadmill at the downstairs fitness area. My
Nikes I work out with always seem to ease my feet back into normalcy. I think
it's the arch support. My old black dress shoes sometimes leave my dogs sore as
can be but I go 40 minutes on the Life Fitness elliptical. These newer models
have small TV screens, so I turn it to the Houston-Southern Mississippi game.
The Cougars have a BCS bid on the line and they start off by blowing some
chances early to take the lead. I think to myself, “It's OK; they'll get
started and win this game.” They end up getting blown out.
2:24 PM: By this time, I'm
downstairs and I'm supposed to meet Brandon Rios' manager, Cameron Dunkin, for
lunch but he gets a few calls and is delayed. I end up at the front area of the
Sheraton which is a coffee shop/internet cafe where boxing folks congregated
for most of the week. I end up in a discussion with my cohorts Lem Satterfield
of RingTV.com and Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports. Later
on, trainer Robert Garcia joins the fray and we start discussing, of course,
Margarito's hand-wrap scandal and whether he still hits hard. Garcia said to
us, “Yeah, I mean, he's a big, strong guy. It's not one-punch power but when he
hits me with the body pad on, you can still feel it.”
Dunkin comes down and we grab a sandwich. Cameron is still mortified by what
took place with Rios, who did not make the 135-pound weight limit the
day before and was stripped of his WBA lightweight belt. I saw Rios on Wednesday
night as we got in and he was
with a group that went to the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting. During that
stretch, Margarito's manager, Sergio Diaz, asked me, “What do you think of
fighters who don't drink water for a week before the fight?” I answered that it's
the worst thing you can do to your body and incredibly dumb. “That's what
Brandon's been doing,” Diaz replied. Rios was about 15 feet from me and I
hadn't noticed anything before since we hadn't really spoken but when I asked
him a question, I couldn't believe how badly he was slurring his words. I go
back over to Sergio and say, “Oh, geez, he sounds awful." Sergio just grimaced
and shook his head.
don't know if Rios should've fought.
to Friday, as it became clear that Rios wasn't going to make weight and admitted
to Dunkin he was taking just a few drops of water throughout the day, Dunkin
immediately ordered Rios upstairs to lay down. I've never seen Cameron so
worried and flustered before. It was at that point he called one Victor Conte
for help, who prescribed Celtic Sea Salt (to take with water), Epsom Salt (to
bathe in) and bananas (for the potassium) with strict instructions on how and
when to execute each procedure. Rios' team then went on a quick hunt with their
shopping list before the weigh-in.
was at that time rumors spread that Rios would be pulling out of the fight.
Somehow, someway, he fought on but only after losing his title, paying a
$20,000 fine, agreeing to not weigh over 146 pounds at 9 AM on
Saturday. Dunkin promised that changes would be made and that Rios would
no longer be fighting at 135 pounds. Honestly, this was a systemic breakdown. Everyone
involved shoulders some of the blame. How was this allowed to happen? Much of
this falls on Garcia, who is the one person to have day-to-day contact with the
fighter. And this isn't the first time this has occurred with “Bam Bam.”
but the days of chewing gum and spitting all day to make weight are long gone (or
4:02 PM: The first shuttle to MSG
takes off and as we hit Times Square and
I see the mass of humanity, I am amazed by the amount of people milling about
and how crowded it is. I'm a suburban guy- and proud of it- and I couldn't do
this city on a regular basis. I mean, it makes Los Angeles look like Topeka, Kansas.
During the Christmas season, the crowds swell.
4:24 PM: We get to the arena and I
pick up my credential for the fight. It's a typically chilly night in New York but honestly, after being in frigid Pontiac earlier this year, this is
relatively warm. Wearing my Under Armour thermal leggings and my suit keeps me
pretty warm all night.
4:40 PM: I'm not at Brother Jimmy's
BBQ, which is right next to the Garden on 8th Street. It's funny but
it has an ACC theme to it, so paraphernalia of Miami, Duke,
UNC and the like is all over the place. I go there with a James Rochford,
who has emailed me for several years and wanted to meet up. He's there with Austin,
a friend of his. They both came in from the Boston area that day via train and still
haven't decided if they are going to buy scalped tickets to the fight or just
watch it at a bar. I've always found Rochford to be among the most intelligent
readers that I correspond with. He was dying to know what my day with Emanuel
Steward was like in Detroit. I'm more than glad to tell him as I love doing
my Steward impersonation.
sit down to watch LSU play Georgia in
the SEC title game. Soon, “I Wear My Sunglasses at Night” from one-hit wonder
Cory Hart comes on and I sing right along as I sip my Goose and soda (Yeah, I
love that song; so what?!) UGA actually breaks out to a 10-0 lead but when
Tyrann Mathieu- aka “The Honey Badger”- houses a punt to make it 10-7, we all
sense that the Tiger avalanche was soon forthcoming.
order the brisket and soon, I see Brian Swider, the younger brother of Matt
Swider, who's been mentioned more than once in my articles. They have both come
in for this fight card like many other fans from across the country and foreign
lands. This place is packed and they don't get seated for a looooong while and
end up at the bar. At our corner table, we are later joined by photographer
David Drebin and a friend. Drebin is a renowned photographer who recently
completed a full photo book on Manny Pacquiao. He is relatively new to boxing
but he is immediately hooked on this sport, finding this whole spectacle
fascinating. Alec Kohut of Maxboxing soon joins us and despite the din of the
establishment, his voice could be heard throughout. Kohut speaks loudly and
carries a laptop.
6:07 PM: We later go downstairs to
the bar area and watch the third quarter of the LSU game and by this time, they
are rolling. They remind me of a vintage Julio Cesar Chavez. Yeah, you might win
the first couple of heats but by the championship rounds, he is punishing you
into submission. As I see this place get filled to the brim, it's clear this
fight is good for business everywhere.
7:06 PM: By now, I'm ringside (Row
5, Seat 09). I look around and say to myself, “What a night this is going to
be.” I've said it before and I'll say it again; I think at least once a year, a
big card should take place at Madison Square Garden- just for the branding of the
sport in the world's largest media market. But renting out this arena is not
cheap and dealing with the union makes that difficult. It's events like this,
not ill-conceived cards in Pontiac, Michigan in
decrepit barns like the Silverdome, that are “important” for boxing. This was a
very good card put together by Top Rank but it fit like a glove in New York for
so many reasons. It just wouldn't have been the same in Denver or Mississippi.
8:45 PM: As the untelevised stuff
goes on, I take a stroll around the newly renovated Garden with Ray Alcorta,
who works in the fight game and helps out Margarito's team. I have to say, the
facelift given to “The World's Most Famous Arena” around the concourse is
impressive. It looks like a new building and you can see new eateries that will
open up later this month as well as other spruced-up amenities. This renovation
is actually a three-tier process and so far, I like what I see. Based on the
success of this event (where every ticket was sold), I hope that there are many
more boxing cards here in the future. For decades, MSG and boxing were
synonymous. There is a famous story of the Pope being told about MSG and him shaking
his head in kind and saying, “Boxing.”
this time, a large percentage of folks are in their seats, ready to watch the
pay-per-view portion of the show. It’s very much unlike a casino venue, where
most of the spectators don't show up till about 15 minutes before the main
9:15 PM: The bout between Mike Jones
and Sebastian Lujan is underway. The winner faces Randall Bailey for the vacant
IBF belt in 2012. A few minutes later, a chorus of boos come raining down as
Margarito is shown arriving at the arena. Yeah, this is definitely a road game
for him. Less than ten minutes later, Cotto is shown going to his dressing quarters.
Now, I never knew this before but these are not live shots as I saw this taking
place much earlier while taking a run to the restroom.
9:39 PM: On my Twitter timeline, I
see that Naazim Richardson was brought in by Cotto to check the Margarito’s
hand wraps, in what is another head game played in a promotion full of them. I
find this pretty funny. I can't lie; I like this stuff as a writer. But
honestly, Richardson makes himself look like a bit of a clown for even
participating in all this. Seriously, could you imagine Eddie Futch doing
something of this ilk? It's bad enough Richardson's never developed his own
fighter and uses pool noodles while working with boxers but to be used as a prop
by another boxer isn't a good look.
9:54 PM: Jones wins an easy 12-round
decision against Lujan but honestly, he fails to impress. He seems to have all
the tools but something is missing there. Soon, I hit the restroom again and
referee Steve Smoger is hitting the pisser. I say hello to him and he asks me,
“You getting used to this East Coast time?”
I respond that it's easy to do so when you don't have to wake up early (which I
really haven't all week here). Soon, the rematch between Delvin Rodriguez and
Pawel Wolak is set to begin.
10:43 PM: For much of this contest,
the crowd is rather subdued, as they are for most of this undercard. My theory
is that the Puerto Rican partisans, who make up the overwhelming majority of
this audience, are so invested in the main event, they can't focus on anything
else. However, they erupt in the 10th and final round as Rodriguez
emphatically stamps his victory by opening up on Wolak, nearly stopping him.
Unlike their initial meeting, Rodriguez easily controlled the action and won by
the scores of 98-91, 98-92 and 100-90.
10:48 PM: With the first two cards
going the distance, Rios and his
opponent, John Murray, are rushed into the ring. That's the thing about these
East Coast fights; you really do go late into the evening and it does change
the way you do things. Early on, Rios is bothered by a few shots downstairs by
Murray and it looks like he could be in some trouble but by the mid-rounds,
Rios has taken physical control of the fight and with effective use of left hooks
to the body and uppercuts from both hands, he stuns Murray more than once,
steadily grinding him down.
tweet in the late rounds that perhaps it was time for Murray’s corner to pull
him outta there. Even from my ringside seat, I noticed the visible bruising and
swelling underneath both eyes. If you saw photos of him afterwards, it would
look a bit like the famous shot of Billy Collins after his bout with Luis
Resto. That said, Murray is never saved from himself, perhaps because his team
took a gamble that the emaciated Rios would fade down the stretch.
Unfortunately, that never happened.
11:36 PM: Rios halts Murray in the 11th.
It's an incredibly brave performance by the Briton and you can't do anything
but applaud him for his valor and courage. But geez, did he really need those
last few rounds? Rios exults in the ring and, for the most part, is jeered.
Yeah, I guess he's the victim of guilt by association. Honestly, I think Rios
dodged a bullet here.
it's time for what we all came for and the tension, electricity and atmosphere
is all too palpable. A tribute to Joe Frazier (who passed away last
month) begins with Michael Buffer shushing the crowd. Yeah, I had never
seen that before but hey, it's “Smokin’ Joe.” Let’s all pay attention. Then the national anthems of Mexico (booed
loudly by the Ricans- again, guilt by association), Puerto Rico and the US of A are belted out. Even
for guys like me who have been lucky to do this for awhile, this is exciting.
Moments like this are why we love our gigs. As the Harbaughs are fond of
saying, “Who's got it better than us? Noooooo-body!”
can just feel the hatred as Margarito, who has played the role of heel in a
manner Roddy Piper would be envious of, enters the ring. Soon, the roof nearly
comes off as Miguel Cotto follows. No, he will never engender the unconditional
love and passion of Felix “Tito” Trinidad but
his quest to gain revenge on a man thought to have cheated him has galvanized
is great stuff. No other way to put it.
12:06 AM: In the early minutes of December 4,
Cotto and Margarito meet in the center of the ring. And away we go...
12:44 AM: The fight is halted seconds
after the tenth kicked off after what seemed a long deliberation over
Margarito's right eye (which had, by that point, swelled considerably). Honestly,
this didn't surprise me. You just knew this could come up. In the impending
controversy over his eye leading up to the fight, the NYSAC simply wasn't going
to be held liable for anything that could hinder Margarito’s eyesight over the
was in the minority but I actually thought Margarito, while losing, was
fighting fairly well. In comparing his state to Murray’s earlier and his
willingness to fight on, I didn't completely agree with the edict to stop the
fight. Honestly, I felt Margarito was pressuring well for most of the fight and
was able to affect Cotto more than once with his body attack and he needed
those late rounds. I didn't see Margarito stopping Cotto late in the fight like
their first meeting but in my mind, he should've been given the same leeway any
other fighter was entitled. Perhaps that's unrealistic, given how political
this promotion became. The reality is that Margarito knew what he was
getting into and he was more than a willing participant in this savagery we are
so entertained by.
had Cotto up 87-84, which angered some folks on Twitter for some reason. And
honestly, if you can't be adult enough to not overreact over my opinion, well,
you need to be blocked (which I was doing like Mutombo for a few minutes). Hey,
it's why I don't follow all that many people. The lesson here is: be an adult
and remember, there's a reason why I don't follow you. Besides, I find
“blocking” fun, actually. I wish it was that convenient in real life. If I was
ever affected by someone else's opinion like some are on Twitter, I think I'd
jump off a roof.
gained his revenge. The narrative was now complete; Cotto got his pound of
flesh from the man who used illicit means to defeat him the first time. As for
Margarito, many are now convinced that his whole career was a charade and a
mirage. It is what it is.
1:15 AM: The post-fight press
conference takes place at the Theater, where the weigh-in was staged on Friday.
It seems to drag on forever as both Cotto and Margarito took awhile to arrive.
Both boxers said what was expected of them and after this whole ordeal of just
getting this show to stay in New York and
the whole build-up, everyone just seemed a bit fatigued. Of course, it being
well past midnight locally probably had a lot to do with that. The question
that bugged me was, “How am I getting back to the hotel?”
2:24 AM: I decide to go to the local
Affinia Hotel, a short walk from the Garden with young boxing scribe Mike
Coppinger. I had gotten a text from my guy, Bakari Lee, that he was over at
their bar, as were other boxing folks like Lou DiBella. Honestly, at this
point, I could use a meal before a drink. I'm starving like Rios on Thursday.
As we get to the Affinia, I see Jolene Mizzone of Main Events on the sidewalk
taking a cigarette break. She is stunned to see me- and in a suit and tie. She
says, “Hey, your girl’s in there.” I respond, “Huh?” She says, “Kathy,” meaning
Kathy Duva, CEO of Main Events. I go in there, finally finding Duva at the far
end of the bar. She is there with some friends and her daughter- who judging by
her keen interest in the sport, might be joining the family business- and we
talk for a good 45 minutes about her new deal with NBC Sports and other boxing
related business. She is always a fountain of information and one of the
classiest individuals in this sport. During our chat, native New Yorker Paulie
Malignaggi drops by. Kathy had wanted to make a fight involving him for one of
those dates but it turns out he might be fighting welterweight beltholder
Vyacheslav Senchenko, perhaps in Russia.
really hope Duva's deal works out, not only for Main Events but for the whole
sport of boxing. I firmly believe that the business of boxing would not be the
same without Main Events’ involvement. In an era overrun with TV packagers,
there are still bona fide promoters around- and they are needed now more than
and I decide to get a bite to eat and take a cab back to the Sheraton. During
our cab ride there, we talk of his distaste for one Adrien Broner. Yeah,
brother Bakari isn't a fan of “The Problem,” ever since his theatrics on the
undercard of Shane Mosley-Margarito, which he flew all the way from Newark to attend. I'm actually amused by this
guy. Honestly, I think he's harmless in the big picture. Usually, Mr. Lee and I
debate the merits of Corey Booker. I can't lie; I'm a fan of the mayor of Brick City but Bakari’s disgust of Broner makes me chuckle.
3:25 AM: As we get to the Sheraton,
I'm met by Ray Alcorta's daughter, a sophomore at Penn State, who attended the
fights with a few of her classmates. And I bust a few very tasteless Jerry Sandusky jokes (yeah, I know…a grown man doing
that. I should know better but I can't help it. I'm still bitter over the ‘87 Fiesta Bowl.
Jaz can't believe I'm in a suit either. C'mon, you guys think all I do is wear
shorts and sandals?! Well, if you think about it...). Her friends were on the
lookout for beer and I tell them they better hurry because at four, that window
will slam shut (even in New York). The family and friends of Diaz are all near
the internet cafe and they have a spare piece of pizza from Ray's, which I
gobbled up. Bakari and his friend have sworn off the swine and this piece has
sausage and pepperoni. We end up making plans for tomorrow to meet up with
another reader I've met a few times, Guy, who is soon relocating to Bangkok. We
plan to have brunch somewhere in the city where we can watch the NFL
the Nittany Lions are on their way (to study, of course) and I start talking to
Sergio, who's on the computer making some last-minute travel arrangements for
Margarito and his crew. Turns out Antonio will stay in the city for a few days.
Diaz has a way of telling stories that are very humorous and he tells me of
what was going on in the corner in that last round and the rather harsh
treatment he received from one commissioner prior in the dressing room prior to
the fight and the situation with Richardson, as he tried to watch them wrap.
Diaz is not devastated in the least. He just wishes his guy was given the last
three rounds to change their fate but he knew the lay of the land.
ask him, “Serge, this should be it, right? You guys had a good run, made money.
This should be it.” He answered, “Yeah, I mean, why let him be used up?” They
will talk later this week about their future. I would hope for Margarito’s sake,
this is it for him. No matter what anyone thinks of him, he got a lot out of his
limited ability and has more than enough money to live comfortably in Mexico-
but this is boxing. You know how most of these stories end.
can't lie; I've had fun covering this guy’s career and interacting with Diaz
throughout the years. If you are really covering the sport of boxing, you
develop relationships in the business. In truth, it's what makes it fun. I know
I'm in the minority but I still like Antonio and I find the venom shown toward
him by certain members of the media (who seem more outraged than Cotto himself)
rather amusing. To them, I suppose, Margarito's biggest crime was not giving them
the contrition they deemed appropriate. I respect that he stuck to his guns; I
really do, although not necessarily agreeing with everything he stated. I do
find it interesting that members of the morale brigade, for some reason, don't treat
those who use illegal performance-enhancing drugs with the same intense hatred
when the intent is exactly the same. And yeah, I really do believe that
Margarito had no knowledge of what was going into his wraps. That might upset
some people but hey, that's just my two cents.
4:06 AM: Back up in the room, Ernie
is already laid out. Our flight doesn't take off till nine in the evening but we're
both ready to get back to Los Angeles. It's been a fun trip and the night of
fights delivered. My year covering this sport began in depressing fashion in Pontiac,
Michigan and will be
bookended by a glorious night in New York. It was the worst and best of what the modern
boxing business has to offer. I've maintained for a long while, you gotta be
out on the scene and present, whether it's in the gyms or at the fights
themselves to really cover the sport thoroughly.
me, it's the greatest gig in the world.