By Lyle Fitzsimmons
So, to all those insistent Antonio Margarito fans out there… how y’all feeling today?
Headaches gone away? Vision still a little blurry? Able to eat any solid food yet?
I’ll type slowly, in case you’re still a little woozy from Saturday night.
And if you get the sense that I’m feeling no sympathy, you’re right.
Bet you’re looking back between the Tylenols to the glory days when your man was blowing out the grimy underbelly of the welterweight division, prompting the breathless to sing his praises as the pedestrian WBO title defenses – Lujan, Cintron, Gomez, Clottey – piled up like cord wood.
I remember it reached a noisy crescendo the night he bludgeoned Miguel Cotto into surrender in 2008, and I can still recall sitting in my in-laws’ house in Tennessee – listening to the broadcast crew infer that somehow this was the guy striking fear into the heart of a then-sabbaticaled Floyd Mayweather Jr.
We all know I’m a Floyd guy. And I make no apologies for it.
But even the objective journalist type in me that night was thinking: “This dude? Really?”
I’ll bet it feels like about a thousand years ago now, huh?
A subsequent match with Shane Mosley looked like a win-win cakewalk six months after Cotto, designed to give gruff but lovable “Tony” a chance to spike the resume with a big name whose last significant win in the division was by then already more than eight years past tense.
But a funny thing happened on the way to locking up the welterweight penthouse.
Somewhere along the way, A-Marg became A-Rod.
You remember A-Rod, right? The teen-age shortstop phenom who only a decade-and-a-half ago looked like he’d own the major-league home run record by age 35.
His smile lit up a room. His biceps made the women wobbly. And his all-around excellence actually turned Seattle for a time into the world’s most unlikely professional sports destination.
Somehow, though… it wasn’t good enough.
Call it peer pressure. Call it insecurity. Call it plain old stupidity.
But somewhere along the way, A-Rod decided he needed a little help.
Rather than taking his checkbook-bursting talents to Arlington and naturally continuing the record-book assault with the Texas Rangers, our man chose instead to dabble in locker-room pharmaceuticals in an effort to keep up with the burgeoning “chicks love the long ball” crowd.
And while the back-side needling kept the dingers coming, the toll taken on the reputation has been immeasurable – rendering the one-time Cooperstown-bound hero a modern-day punch line whose milestones from here on out will be served only with a side of cynicism.
Twenty years from now in ring history, it may be the same story for Margarito.
Rather than using his “most feared fighter in the world” acumen to grind a shopworn Mosley into near-40s dust, it seems ol’ Tony decided he needed a shortcut… or, for the conspiracy theorists, needed it again.
A little calcium here. A little sulfur there.
Add a little moisture and, presto… the boxing version of PEDs.
Punch-enhancing drugs, if you will.
At some point, whether his idea or someone else’s, it probably seemed like a good path. A little extra oomph on the punches. A little late-round security to dissuade rallying opponents. And in a perfect world, a little insurance to ensure that the title-belt parade would last forever.
But just as with A-Rod, all good things come to an end.
Instead of carrying the weapons into the ring for the first, fifth or 15th time to use on an unsuspecting Mosley, the curtain was pulled back courtesy of an eagle-eyed Naazim Richardson at Staples Center and has never been fully replaced as the post-discovery Margarito has foundered.
Sort of makes you the emperor had no clothes to begin with, huh?
Coincidentally, the monster who’d terrorized foes before Los Angeles has won just once in four fights since, beating a hand-picked Roberto Garcia while taking fearsome beatings from Mosley, Manny Pacquiao, and, in Saturday’s evidence that justice actually might exist in boxing after all… Miguel Cotto.
Three years ago in Vegas, Margarito’s sweeping punches had enough on them to render the Puerto Rican incapable of escape in the championship rounds. But in the midtown Manhattan rematch, the only question as the fight lingered was how many shots Cotto could land before his foe’s face caved in.
The answer: 210. Before the “Tornado” was rescued by Steve Smoger, that is.
The brutal stoppage didn’t keep the lumpy loser from claiming his conqueror “hits like a girl” and insisting he “only needed two more rounds,” still, it was quite likely enough to keep Bob Arum from propping his phony menace up for anything other than stand-in roles from here forward.
It’s not perfect and it won’t save the Cintrons and Lujans… but all’s well that ends well.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF junior welterweight/WBA super lightweight titles - Washington, D.C.
Amir Khan (champion) vs. Lamont Peterson (No. 1 WBA contender)
Khan (26-1, 18 KO): Sixth WBA title defense; Fourth fight in United States (3-0, 2 KO)
Peterson (29-1-1, 15 KO): Second title fight; Two wins in last four fights (2-1-1, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Title-defense swan song at 140 for world-traveling champ.” Khan by decision
IBF junior lightweight title – Los Mochis, Mexico
Juan Carlos Salgado (champion) vs. Miguel Beltran Jr. (No. 14 contender)
Salgado (24-1-1, 16 KO): First title defense; Former WBA champion (2009-10, zero defenses)
Beltran (26-1, 17 KO): First title fight; Three scheduled 10-round fights (2-1, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Two-time belt-holder extends second title reign.” Salgado in 10
WBO flyweight title – Pasig City, Philippines
Brian Viloria (champion) vs. Giovani Segura (No. 1 contender)
Viloria (29-3, 16 KO): First title defense; Former IBF/WBC champion at 108 (two defenses)
Segura (28-1-1, 24 KO): Sixth title fight (5-0, 5 KO); Former WBA/WBO champion at 108 (four defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Power-punching little man moves up for second weight-class title.” Segura by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Last week's picks: 6-1
Overall picks record: 273-89 (75.4 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz. Tags: Antonio Margarito