Margarito Walks Through Hell and Cotto to Take Welterweight Crown
By Gabriel Montoya at ringside MGM Grand Casino and Resort, Doghouse Boxing (July 27, 2008) (Photo © German Villasenor)  
Preceding the much anticipated showdown between Miguel Cotto 32-1 (26) and Antonio Margarito 37-5 (27), the chants of “ME-XI-CO” and “VIVA PUERTO RICO” roared, the beer flowed, and the predictions poured, until it was time to get in the ring and let national pride take us to new fistic heights. It seemed to be a mostly Mexican fan base on hand to cheer on ‘The Tijuana Tornado’ as he looked for the type of signature win over a bonafide star in Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto.

The crowd was electric as both men entered to pounding beats amid a roar of approval from both sides. The talk (which had been respectful) was over. Now it was time to settle this latest chapter of storied national rivalry.

The crowd was so geeked for this one that they chanted ‘Welterweight Championship of the World’ along with announcer Michael Buffer and nearly blew out my eardrums as the roared after his signature ‘Let’s get Ready to Rumble’ battle cry. You could barely hear the introductions it was so raucous. I thought the Hatton and Pacquiao fans were loud. They didn’t compare this night.

Both men bouncing in the corner beforehand as the crowd erupted at the opening bell. The action started center ring with both men looking to get off the jab. Cotto circling left and jabbing smart. Working up and downstairs. Left uppercut from Margarito. Jab and a right hand from Cotto who was keeping Margarito at bay and catching him coming in. A beltline low blow warning for Cotto. Right hand from Cotto and Margarito comes back with a jab and a right of his own.

What came into the week hot was reaching a boiling point right out the gate.

Round two saw Cotto continuing to smartly outbox Margarito with slick counters and defensive head movement. But Margarito pressed forward and kept trying to trap Cotto on the ropes but to no avail. In fact, he was getting countered for his trouble. A hard right for Margarito got through. Then he opened up and Cotto went defensive. Finally, Margarito trapped Cotto successfully and opened with lefts, rights, hooks, and uppercuts. Cotto, however, seemed to be able to take Margarito’s power. At least at the moment.

In the third, Margarito kept chipping away at Cotto, who kept retreating to the ropes. A left to the body unleashed a combination from Cotto who continued to back off and attempt to counter. Cotto kept looking to counter but would explode with offense as he walked and turned Margarito around the ring. This was going to be a classic catch and mouse fight and who could apply and withstand the pressure would win out. As they traded down the stretch, it was readily apparent that a fight had broken out.

Once again, they met at center to start the fourth. Cotto seemed to be guarding the previously effective uppercut of Margarito who still kept coming with it in an attempt to break through Cotto’s guard.

By the fifth, Margarito’s right eye was very swollen and Cotto seemed very much in control as he out-boxed and out-slicked (ducking 5 punches ala’ Sweet Pea Whitaker to punctuate the 5th) the Tornado beautifully. But a funny thing happened on the way to the 7th: Margarito dug deep and he dug into Cotto, willing himself to get through the defense and the offense of Cotto. The slowly rising drumbeat of Margarito’s volume punching began to take over the rhythm of the fight.

Over the course of the next three rounds, Margarito’s will overtook Cotto’s skill to pull the fight even. Uppercuts, left hooks, right hooks, wide looping shots that crashed into every part of Cotto he could find, wore down the Puerto Rican fighter. Coming into the 9th, it was an even fight and the war of attrition had begun to set in.

Cotto came out hard in the 10th, jabbing and moving, flurrying and strategically retreating. Margarito, his face all swollen, kept trudging forward, trapping Cotto and wailing away. As Cotto danced left and right, stuck and moved, it was clear a race against time was on for the undefeated fighter. And time was fast on his heels as Margarito punctuated a very close round with a hellacious left that rocked Cotto before the bell mercifully rung.

Margarito mirrored Cotto in the 11th by coming out behind his jab. Both warriors’ faces were worse for wear. Margarito pressed forward on stiff, tired legs, and did what he did best: wail away at whatever was available. Every time Margarito seemed to take control, Cotto would roar back with an explosion, which would then be quelled by Margarito. Margarito was doling tremendous punishment as suddenly Cotto began to wilt and then dropped to a knee under an onslaught from the Tornado. Rising and gathering him self, Cotto would press forward in an attempt to stem the tide but it was no good. Margarito was simply too much for him as he steamrolled forward and unleashed on Cotto a brutal uppercut and bodywork. Cotto retreated to the corner and fell on the seat of his pants as his corner threw in the towel.

Pure bedlam at ringside as even the strict rule of ‘No Cheering on Press Row’ could not be followed. The whole arena, veteran reporter to security guard to the large Mexican contingent went absolutely crazy for the underdog who once went by the moniker ‘The Most Feared Man in the Welterweight Division’. Now it would seem, he has gone from ‘Most Feared’ to a well-deserved ‘Most Respected’.

In my four years as ringside reporter, never have I seen a crowd of fans cheer for so long after a fight. It was a celebration of the long road to validation Margarito has successfully traveled. It was a true honor and humbling experience to witness the courage and the heart both men displayed this night. There are a lot of happy Mexicans in Vegas tonight. None happier than the always-smiling Margarito following this courageous, well deserved victory that will go down in history as one of many great fights in the pantheon of great Mexico vs. Puerto Rico fights.

Gabriel at: .

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