Is Margarito Your World Welterweight Champion?
By Coyote Duran, (July 30, 2008) Doghouse Boxing (Photo © German Villasenor)  
“To be, or not to be, that is the Question:
Whether 'tis Nobler in the minde to suffer
The Slings and Arrowes of outragious Fortune,
Or to take Armes against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them.”
– Prince Hamlet

Some question, huh?

In the context of new WBA welterweight titlist Antonio Margarito, the aforementioned Shakespearean soliloquy applies minimally. Various interpretations have made out the famous opening question sound as if kicking back and taking the heat for being loaded (not drunk, mind you) and prosperous is the way to go; hence the “To be” and that taking risks and going to war is suicidal; referencing the “Not to be”. In Margarito’s case, it seems more the inverse.

And that’s funny because I wasn’t even thinking about the timeless lead-in in that sense but it’s a groovy extra. In my own, or perhaps Margarito’s soliloquy, “To be or not be…” begs one to listen to the man asking and ask one’s self in turn: “Is this my champion or not?”

After Saturday night’s gripping war of attrition and consequence, the question also applies to how we now view Margarito in the aftermath of his big win over the formerly undefeated Miguel Cotto. Will he be recognized as the true, legitimate World Welterweight Champion?

The answer is simple: No and yes.

The first answer is my gut (and no, that’s not my breakfast talking) giving its opinion. When it comes to World Championships, I always think 'The Ring' Magazine first and blow off all others. Sort of like a solid, faithful marriage. But there was no 'Ring' belt on the line Saturday night. Since Floyd Mayweather Jr. retired, he rightfully vacated his 'Ring' World Welterweight Championship along with the WBC belt (now held by Andre Berto) he concurrently held.

You'd think one of the most anticipated welterweight clashes in the past few years would merit such an honor but prior to the fight, Margarito wasn't even rated as a 'Ring' top three contender in the division. Per 'The Ring's' rules, when filling a vacancy, the number one and three contenders can compete for the belt under special circumstances if the number one and two contenders can't meet. As of right before the fight, Margarito was ranked number four; disqualifying him as a candidate to fight for the vacant championship.

Regardless of what many 'Ring' devotees might want, the magazine simply can't or won't backpedal to retroactively sate them. If it did, the magazine would undo everything it stood for and the lapse in integrity would serve as fodder for fans and media, the usual critics, alike.

With or without 'The Ring', a great many of these same fans and members of the media are more than willing to support the 'yes' answer.

It's just a guess but I'd be willing to wager that, in the wake of Mayweather's departure, seven or eight out of 10 fans will consider Margarito as the rightful and actual champion. You know what? I might disagree but I truly see where they're coming from. And the welterweight division certainly isn't a singular anomaly.

As of now, there are eight out of 17 weight classes with 'Ring' Champions; one represented by two champions. The remaining nine divisions have a plethora of titlists that are up-for-grabs in the 'Consensus Champion' Olympics. And this isn't to say that even 'The Ring's' Champions are unanimously accepted by one and all. But for now, here's the list of the magazine's current bosses:

Joe Calzaghe, World Light Heavyweight/Super Middleweight Champion

Kelly Pavlik, World Middleweight Champion

Ricky Hatton, World Junior Welterweight Champion

Joel Casamayor, World Lightweight Champion

Manny Pacquiao, World Junior Lightweight Champion

Israel Vazquez, World Junior Featherweight Champion

Ivan Calderon, World Junior Flyweight Champion

Save for Casamayor and, perhaps, Calzaghe to a lesser extent, the aforementioned champions are pretty much accepted as the main men in divisions other than lightweight. Casamayor's controversial split decision win over Jose Armando Santa Cruz gained him little more than a critical beatdown served with a side of fan-induced dilution of his championship credentials. Those seven or eight out of ten I referred to earlier won't hesitate to tell you that their 135-pound champion is WBA/IBF/WBO titleholder Nate Campbell. Few arguments in favor of Campbell are unreasonable, to be honest.

Since defeating Jeff Lacy for the vacant 'Ring' World Super Middleweight Championship, Calzaghe's reign has been accepted unconditionally, pretty much. It's the Welsh-Italian's World Light Heavyweight Championship gig that's ignored by others since some pundits believe Hungarian titlist Zsolt Erdei is the linear king at 175. While only currently holding the WBO strap, Erdei is revered as champion due to his win over Julio Gonzalez who defeated Dariusz Michalczewski; the man Roy Jones Jr. DIDN'T beat to be considered the Undisputed Champion. Calzaghe's distinction comes from beating Bernard Hopkins who beat Antonio Tarver who beat Glen Johnson who beat Tarver who beat Jones.


The remaining divisions that are 'Ring' Champ-less have upper-tier titlists who, to a multitude of fans, aren't heirs, but kings. Have a look at these (subject to debate, understandably):

HEAVYWEIGHT: Most viable titlists/contenders: Wladimir Klitschko (IBF), Samuel Peter (WBC)

CRUISERWEIGHT: Most viable titlists/contenders: Steve Cunningham (IBF)

JR. MIDDLEWEIGHT: Most viable titlists/contenders: Verno Phillips (IBF)

WELTERWEIGHT: Most viable titlists/contenders: Antonio Margarito (WBA), Paul Williams (WBO)

FEATHERWEIGHT: Most viable titlists/contenders: Chris John (WBA)

BANTAMWEIGHT: Most viable titlists/contenders: Gerry Penalosa (WBO)

JUNIOR BANTAMWEIGHT: Most viable titlists/contenders: Cristian Mijares (WBC)

FLYWEIGHT: Most viable titlists/contenders: Nonito Donaire (IBF), Daisuke Naito (WBC)

STRAWWEIGHT: Most viable titlists/contenders: Yukata Niida (WBA)

But this is Margarito we're talking about; who reigns in a division with no shortage of talent, challengers, prospects or even other titlists. Margarito now probably (and in some ways, rightfully) sees himself as the man to beat to be called champion. Maybe even more than when he held the WBO belt he eventually lost to Paul Williams. At the least, 'The Tijuana Tornado' bases his claim on his competition being comparatively better than his fellow top five contenders.

And this might not even be enough for the fan who's had it with anything resembling a colorful belt; magazine or sanctioning body. That fan might just be alone in his or her opinion on who the real champion is. That's the tough thing. Don't all of our opinions fuel our allegiances? I know mine does. I just believe in a different source of structure.

It's to my understanding that those who care about a sanctioning body belt only do so because of what the belt brings to the fighter in terms of status and financial reward. It doesn't always work that, unfortunately. More often than not, the alphabet groups become enabled and stronger because of fan and fighter approval. Almost parasitic, really.

And you can be fairly sure it's frustrating for a fighter like Margarito to be told he's not a 'real' world champion despite the sweat, punishment (relative to Cotto) and criticisms he's had to wade through to get that belt (and distinction) in his damaging-yet-all-too-human hands. And to hear from a writer who doesn't even grace a ring? It's no wonder there are fighters out there that think we suck.

It doesn't help anyone involved that there's no single distinction that one and all can be happy with. It especially doesn't help any one of the fighters at 147; the division we're most excited about, that there's not one man at the top we can all agree with. It has to come down to being lucky enough to be rated in 'The Ring's' top three or beating all other titlists to get it done.

What's ironic is that the last man to be called World Welterweight Champion was Floyd Mayweather Jr.; a fighter who, during his entire reign, hadn't faced a genuine, deserving welterweight contender since besting Carlos Baldomir. Enabled by his most faithful, 'Money May' opted to make a whole lotta dough by walking a tightrope firmly tied up over the borderline between mainstream darling and pay-per-view vacuum.

If that doesn't adhere to the shared interpretations of "To be...", then I don't know what does.

And if that's the case, Antonio Margarito's the absolute "Not to be..." It's a good fit and it sounds good when expanded to "Not to be confused with a fighter who didn't give it his all."

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