Sunday, February 11, 2007


There's a Bruce Springsteen song called "Atlantic City" that goes a little something like this:

Down on the boardwalk they're gettin' ready for a fight,
Gonna' see what them racket boys can do...
Gonna' be a rumble out on the promenade,
And the gamblin' commission's hangin' on by the skin of its teeth...
So put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City."

For those of you that haven't yet met Antonio Margarito, WBO welterweight champion of the world, be sure to meet him on December 2nd in Atlantic City. He might just be the best welterweight to hit the Jersey shore in over a decade, yet he plies his trade in near anonymity in what the great English boxing scribe Hugh McIlvanney calls "the hardest game".

When you first see Antonio Margarito, nothing tells you that he is the WBO welterweight champion of the world. There are no fancy gold chains, no limousines and no entourage full of yes man sycophants. Antonio Margarito is quiet, respectful and unassuming. He waits in the same long lines as everybody else, as I found out the morning after Oscar De La Hoya smashed Ricardo Mayorga like a pinata.

Leaving Las Vegas the morning after a big fight is a hectic affair, and if you're like everybody else your sole motivation in life becomes consumed with garnering a ride to McCarran International Airport so you can just go home.

I hit the streets early that Sunday morning and the lines had already began to form in front of the MGM Grand for the taxi ride to the airport. I happened to glance behind me and there was Antonio Margarito waiting along with the rest of us. So, in this day and age of high-paid, coddled athletes it was surprising that the generally regarded second best fighter in the world at 147-pounds was stuck in line with all the rest of the ham and eggers.

For Antonio Margarito, holder of the WBO Welterweight title for four and a half years, nothing has ever come easy. The respect of many in the boxing community has eluded him. The big fights have never come his way because he has always been perceived as a little too good for his own good. Boxing has always been (and continues to be) a risk vs. reward scenario and for a big fight to happen "it has to make dollars to make sense" as Floyd Mayweather, Jr. might say. For Antonio Margarito the big fights have never come his way primarily because they don't make dollars.

And so, Antonio Margarito finds himself preparing for another opponent in another town well underneath the radar. On December 2nd on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City he faces the unheralded Joshua "The Hitter" Clottey fromGhana, Africa. It will be Margarito's eighth successful defense if he manages to comes out the winner. Not since Felix Trinidad left the wasteland that became the welterweights in 1999, has anybody defended a welterweight title belt more times than Margarito will have.

A blind man could see that Margarito is one of the best in the world, but for a variety of reasons, whether they be economic or political or just plain stupid he has never gotten the recognition he sorely deserves. In boxing, just because you may be the best fighter does not mean you will make the most money or receive the accolades of fickle network executives, fans and boxing writers. A variety of factors go into making a fighter a star and in the astrological world of boxing the planets have never quite been in the proper alignment for Margarito.

As a result, Antonio Margarito does what he does and he soldiers on. The last time he was in Atlantic City the viciousness of his punches nearly tore the ear off "Iron" Sebastian Lujan's head. After that, Margarito blew away highly regarded prospect and current IBF welterweight titlist Kermit "The Killer" Cintron in five brutal rounds in Las Vegas. After that fight it was thought that Margarito was on his way to the big fights, but then Floyd Mayweather turned down promoter Bob Arum's eight million dollars to face Margarito. Meanwhile, in his only other fight this year, Margarito felled Manuel "Shotgun" Gomez in only 74 seconds.

As he was preparing to face Clottey he sprained his ankle in training and it was feared the fight with Clottey would have to be postponed. Margarito was crestfallen that an opportunity to showcase himself might again be out the proverbial window. "When I twisted the ankle, my first reaction was, Oh, no! My fight is gone. But I stayed off it for three straight days. It was pretty swollen that first day, but after icing it for three days the swelling went way down. Now, you can hardly tell that I had hurt it all."

Bob Arum has done what he can to get Margarito where he needs to be and to sell him the public. Margarito's previous five fights have been broadcast on HBO, ESPN, and pay-per-view. The Clottey fight will be broadcast on Showtime so Margarito has the rare ability to say that he has appeared on both premium cable networks as well as ESPN and pay-per-view within the last few years.

The epitome of determination and perseverance, Margarito had this to say about facing Clottey, "I'm looking forward to defending my title on Showtime. Clottey is tough and comes right at you. I am giving him the opportunity of a lifetime so you know it is going to be a great fight - for as long as it lasts. My weight is perfect. I will be more than 100 percent ready to go. There is no way I will look past Clottey. It is frustrating when you cannot get the kinds of fights you want. But I am done worrying about it. The fights will come."

In a strange twist of fate that day in Las Vegas, Antonio Margarito and I were in the same airport terminal waiting for the same plane to take us home. Margarito spent his time quietly reading through a boxing magazine. I wondered what was going through his mind as he sat there with the rest of us. He was the only one in the room who was a boxing champion, but he was as anonymous as a name in a phone book. Nobody asked for his picture or even an autograph.

So do Antonio Margarito this one favor - meet him in Atlantic City because he's going to rumble out on the promenade.

November 2006

No comments: