By Cliff Rold
Slightly more than one week from now, on January 24th, Mexico’s WBA Welterweight title holder Antonio Margarito (37-5, 27 KO), the “Tijuana Tornado,” will attempt an encore of the biggest win of his career, the still vivid memory of defeating Miguel Cotto sure to play in his mind.
Standing across the ring from him will be an aging warrior seeking yet another validation of his long tenure and, in the wake of increased public evidence of performance enhancing substance usage, a chance at some redemption for “Sugar” Shane Mosley (45-5, 38 KO).
In the sports wonkier press and pundit circles, one debate at play for this fight boils down to a simple question: what role should this bout play in filling the lineal Welterweight crown left vacant on June 6, 2008 by Floyd Mayweather Jr.?
Ring Magazine has decided no direct role at all.
There’s another way to look at it.
The bulk of the Boxing world views Margarito as the best at 147 lbs. He is rated number one by Ring Magazine, Boxing Digest, ESPN, and British-based outlets SecondsOut.com and Boxing Monthly. Mosley is seen as no less than fifth by four of those five outlets. Three fighters consistently come up in the gap between Margarito and Mosley ratings wise: Paul Williams (36-1, 27 KO), IBF titlist Joshua Clottey (35-2, 20 KO), and Cotto (32-1, 26 KO).
BoxingScene, which compiles quarterly divisional ratings using a BCS-style comparative analysis of both independent ratings as well the views of sanctioning bodies, also features WBC titlist Andre Berto (23-0, 19 KO) in its top five.
Around December 12, 2008, Ring’s 35-member ratings advisory panel (with which the author here is involved) received an e-mail from Ring Magazine editor Nigel Collins. Attached was a letter requesting input on the upcoming Welterweight showdown. The letter stated:
As you know, The Ring welterweight championship is currently vacant, and as Margarito is The Ring’s number-one contender he has to be involved in any match to fill the vacancy. Miguel Cotto is number two and Mosley is number three.
While we certainly prefer a bout between number one and number two to fill a vacancy, in certain circumstances The Ring will recognize the winner of a match between number one and number three.
As Margarito has already beaten Cotto, a strong argument can be made for recognizing the Margarito-Mosley fight as being for the vacant title. The fly in the ointment is the fact that Cotto beat Mosley prior to losing to Margarito, which makes it a borderline case.
Therefore, I’m polling The Ring Ratings Advisory Panel to ask you all whether or not you think The Ring should recognize the winner of Margarito-Cotto as the new world champion.
The results of the panel choice were made public by Ring’s Michael Rosenthal on December 22nd. Of 25 responding panelists, “Roughly 55 percent indicated they didn’t want Margarito-Mosley to be for the world championship.” Collins was quoted, adding that a deciding factor for many “was the fact that No. 2 contender Miguel Cotto holds a decision victory over Mosley.”
On December 29th, Ring’s Doug Fischer added in his bi-weekly mailbag:
I was among those on THE RING’s Ratings Panel that voted against the magazine’s world 147-pound title being up for grabs Jan. 24th, and the history between Paul Williams and Margarito, was my chief reason for doing so.
Here’s why: Williams didn’t leave the 147-pound division because couldn’t make the weight or because he felt he’d accomplished all he cared to in that division. Williams ventured to middleweight and junior middleweight this year because he could not secure worthy opponents at welterweight – namely Margarito, but also other top-10 contenders. Williams and his promoter, Dan Goossen, have repeatedly stated that he is willing to return to the 147-pound division for a meaningful fight, namely a rematch with Margarito, but also bouts versus the likes of Mosley, Cotto, Kermit Cintron or Andre Berto.
Also, you know as well as I do that if Margarito were to beat Mosley and win the vacant RING world title, there would be a considerable backlash from fans and some media because of the Tijuana Tornado’s decision loss to Williams in 2007.
Ring’s has not been a universally hailed conclusion.
ESPN’s Dan Rafael, on January 9, 2009, posted to his blog:
For the record, I strongly disagree with Ring magazine's decision not to allow the Margarito-Mosley fight to be for its vacant welterweight championship. The magazine's championship policy states that title vacancies can be filled by the winner of a fight between a division's No. 1-ranked fighter and the No. 2 fighter, or, in certain instances, a box-off between No. 1 and No. 3. Margarito-Mosley fits the "certain instance" criteria to a tee. Margarito is ranked No. 1 by Ring (and ESPN.com) and Mosley is ranked No. 3 (also by ESPN.com). No. 2 (by both) is Cotto, whom Margarito knocked out in the 11th round in July. Although Mosley lost a tight decision to Cotto in 2007, he bounced back and knocked out Mayorga in spectacular fashion in September. Margarito also holds a victory over No. 4 Clottey. Why not allow Margarito-Mosley to be for the title when No. 2 was just knocked out? It baffles me. When Ring editorialized about why it wouldn't approve the bout for its title, there was some gibberish in the story about Paul Williams and what if he dropped back down to welterweight? I guess he would be in line for a title shot, but he's not a welterweight anymore. He can say he wants to shuttle between divisions all he wants, but facts are facts. Williams, who defeated Margarito in 2007, gave up his sanctioning organization belt and has fought his last two fights at middleweight and junior middleweight, with his next bout scheduled for middleweight. So if Williams decides to come back 147 pounds, fine. He can challenge the winner of Margarito-Mosley, which should be for the title but isn't for some bizarre reason.
Regardless of dispute, Ring won’t recognize the Margarito-Mosley winner as its new Welterweight champion. That much is certain.
It still doesn’t provide a solid answer to the simple question at the heart of this analysis: what role should this bout play in filling the lineal Welterweight crown left vacant on June 6, 2008 by Floyd Mayweather Jr.? After all, Ring’s recognition, and recognition of lineal championships, does not always coincide.
No voice from Ring has ever really disputed that, though they haven’t seem eager correct those who might confuse the ideas. Ring’s choice at the inception of their current title policy to ignore established lineages like the one currently held by Daisuke Naito at Flyweight would give them little leg to stand on if they did. They might make reference to their initial logic about titles being too split over time to make retroactive recognitions, but the same problem is inherent to their policy now as evidenced in arguments about whether Juan Manuel Marquez or Nate Campbell is the true Lightweight champion of the world.
There shouldn’t be any arguments about the Welterweight lineage on Sunday the 25th…if Margarito wins clean.
That’s the rub on Margarito-Mosley. As a lone fight, maybe it’s not proof enough because only one man is a factor. Mosley defeating Margarito would enforce notions of parity and the bromide ‘styles make fights.’ He’d be able to say he beat Margarito every bit as much as Cotto would be able to say he beat Mosley and neither would have an answer for Clottey. A Mosley win makes a new reigning titlist but not a champion.
If the underdog Mosley succumbs, what case is there to make against Margarito? He won the right fights in the wrong order? If so, time has provided precedence for not needing a single fight at a perfect moment to clarify the lineage of a division.
In 1949, the European Boxing Union (EBU), British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC) and New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) agreed to recognize a bout between Lee Savold and Bruce Woodcock as filling the vacancy for the World Heavyweight title left vacant by the first retirement of Joe Louis. When delays struck Savold-Woodcock, the NYSAC joined the National Boxing Association (later the WBA) in instead crowning the winner of the first Jersey Joe Walcott-Ezzard Charles in the same year. Savold captured EBU and BBBC recognition when he finally faced Woodcock in June 1950.
Savold and Charles never settled their issue in the ring.
Instead, Charles upended a returning Joe Louis in September 1950 to capture lineal acclaim which became universal on both sides on the Atlantic in June 1951. Louis posted a win against Savold that month and the EBU and BBBC both transferred recognition to Charles right away.
In 1978, Muhammad Ali captured his third WBA and lineal World Heavyweight title in a rematch with Leon Spinks. Between those two fights, the WBC had stripped Spinks for failing to face Ken Norton a fourth time and recognized Norton as their titlist. Norton would lose right away to Larry Holmes in the summer of ’78. When Ali retired after the Spinks win, the WBA belt began a carousel ride which would last the better part of the next eight years.
Holmes just kept posting wins and found himself regarded as the best in the world. Most historians regard Holmes as lineal champion beginning with his defeat of Ali in 1980. However, had Ali not returned to the ring Holmes would still have had clear claim. On separate cards on March 31, 1980, Holmes posted his sixth successful WBC title defense against undefeated Leroy Jones while Mike Weaver summoned a miracle punch in the final round to get by John Tate for the WBA belt. The second Tate was counted out the WBA belt became irrelevant in terms of the issue of the true Heavyweight champion.
Because less a year before, on June 22, 1979, Weaver had challenged Holmes for his belt and come away knocked out in twelve rounds.
Margarito’s situation is not exactly the same, but makes the point that sometimes the real state of things does not unfold in clean fashion. One of the messy spots for Margarito is Paul Williams.
The opposing points noted previously by Fischer and Rafael about Williams, the last man to defeat Margarito and the only Welterweight to do so this decade, both merit consideration. Fischer is right that Team Margarito’s decision to go somewhere other than Williams, for reportedly less money than Mosley by approximately half, influenced the current scale jumping Williams is involved in. However, Rafael is correct to cite that Williams’ choices to vacate his WBO belt at Welterweight, his last two fights above 147, and future plans above the division, indicate a fighter who is not actively a Welterweight whether he’s willing to return or not.
If he’s not in class, he really isn’t a factor in determining the Welterweight crown. With Williams gone, there are probably even some who question why Margarito isn’t automatically recognized as Welterweight champion now. The Mosley fight provides a reason worth waiting for which will be returned to shortly.
Of the remaining human factors, Berto is the least deserving of consideration at this point. He looks to be developing into a solid championship level talent, but one would be hard pressed to conclude that even a WBC belt gives him much case. His bout with Luis Collazo this weekend will mark, arguably, the first real top ten Welterweight contender he’s faced (and arguable only if one really wants to make a case for David Estrada or Cosme Rivera). Even a commanding victory would do little more than put him on the precipice of serious contention for the top.
Cotto and Clottey? Both have the same problem. Any claims they’d have run into the obstacle of their own win-loss columns. Cotto is the more immediate recall, beaten down in eleven rounds last July. Clottey got off to a good start against Margarito in December 2006 but couldn’t sustain and ended up on the defeated side of unanimous scoring. It’s worth noting Clottey’s IBF title rests around his waist largely because Margarito gave it up to make the Cotto fight only months after drubbing Kermit Cintron a second time to capture it.
Consider also these numbers. Since losing a decision to Rodney Jones in 1996, Margarito has:
1. Posted a mark of 28-1 at Welterweight with one no contest and 22 Knockouts;
Captured 3 different alphabelts with the most notable reign taking place from 2002-2007 as WBO titlist with 7 successful defenses; Mosley will be his first attempted WBA defense;
2. Since 2001, gone 9-1 with one no contest and six knockouts against fighters rated at fight time by Ring Magazine amongst its top ten Welterweights (Daniel Santos, Antonio Diaz, Danny Perez, Andrew Lewis, Sebastian Lujan, Cintron, Clottey, Williams, Cintron again and Cotto);
3. Faced this decade more current, former, or future major alphabelt (WBO, WBA, WBC, IBF) holders than any other Welterweight, 6, with the next closest being Zab Judah at five. Notably none of the six were amongst the coterie of lineal Welterweight champions (Mosley, Vernon Forrest, Ricardo Mayorga, Cory Spinks, Judah, Carlos Baldomir and Mayweather) who reigned during the same time period.
4. Defeat Mosley on the 24th and he will have some more notable numbers: 3-0 against the men regarded currently as the next three highest regarded contenders at Welterweight. Phrased differently, a Mosley win gives Margarito a veritable clean-out of the current Welterweight scene.
It’s what makes waiting for coronation worthwhile.
Despite some striking numbers, Margarito’s inability to get in the ring with one of the men recognized as ‘The Man’ at Welterweight over the years gives just enough pause to merit waiting for him to finish what would become a sweep of the world’s current best.
In providing a response to Ring’s early December request, this author leaned slightly towards recognizing Margarito-Mosley outright but provided the caveat that the better solution sometimes is to ignore rules. The real answer is ‘new champ’ or ‘no new champ’ depending on who wins. Sure, it’s messy, and yes, Ring has laid out how they go about filling a vacancy, but sometimes strict adherence to rules and guidelines gets in the way of the obvious and logical.
If Margarito defeats Mosley, without controversy, then the logic of wins, losses, and divisional presence leads to an obvious conclusion and an undisputable new king in what might be the sports best and most storied weight class.
The lineage would reside in Tijuana.
Ring can catch up as rules allow.
The Weekly Ledger
The 2008 Year in Review Pt. 1: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17699
The 2008 Year in Review Pt. 2: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17707
2009 1st Quarter Divisional Ratings: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17762
Gamboa and the Cubans: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17811
Picks of the Week: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17839
Finally getting a chance to read Four Kings and look forward to sharing my thoughts. So far, it’s as fun as one would assume…How is 50% versus Ricky Hatton not the highest payday possible for anyone not named Oscar or Floyd?...I don’t think Carl Froch versus Mike Marley would sell any tickets, but if Froch ever makes his way towards Mikkel Kessler, one can already assume some spirited pressers…24 is back and I’m confused…Lineal Light Heavy king Zsolt Erdei went ahead and won when Yuri Barashian couldn’t make weight last week. His top five in the WBO ratings are Bernard Hopkins, Aleksy Kuziemski, Glenn Johnson, Vyacheslav Uzelkov and Roy Jones. Kuziemski and Erdei share promoter Klaus Peter Kohl. Show of hands on who folks think Erdei fights in the near future…It’s too bad Fernando Montiel looks to be leaving 115 lbs. before he can settle a claim to the top of class but a fight with Eric Morel at 118 could be a sleeper worth looking forward to.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org