by David P. Greisman, live from ringside
NEW YORK CITY — For three-and-a-half years, Miguel Cotto sought revenge — for the first loss he had ever taken, for the brutal beating he had received at the hands of Antonio Margarito, for the belief that Margarito’s hand wraps had been tampered with, amplifying the extent of that beating.
For nine rounds, Cotto exacted that revenge, working to guard the weaknesses that Margarito had taken advantage of in 2008 — and taking advantage of Margarito’s own weakness, one that dated back to a year ago and had been a topic of both conversation and concern in the weeks leading up this rematch.
Margarito’s right eye — where an orbital bone had been broken by Manny Pacquiao in November 2010, where vision had been blurred, a cataract removed, a lens replaced — swelled up due to the targeted punching of Cotto. Though expert physicians had ruled that Margarito’s surgically repaired eye left him fit to step in the ring, the ringside physicians have a stricter criteria when it comes to being fit to stay in the ring.
His eye was shut, the doctors saw. His vision was impaired, the doctors ruled. The fight was over, the doctors decided.
Cotto had his revenge, and an announced 21,239 in attendance — nearly all of Puerto Rican heritage, but some with Mexican blood — were there to see it.
Cotto had come out boxing in their first fight, only to be broken down under Margarito’s pressure. Margarito had dug hard uppercuts down into Cotto’s body and brought them up into Cotto’s face. Bloodied, his face misshapen, Cotto eventually wilted after 11 rounds, taking a knee and taking the loss.
That was July 2008. Six months later, Margarito was discovered with tampered hand wraps prior to his welterweight title fight with Shane Mosley. Speculation ran rampant after Mosley knocked Margarito out. Had Margarito used tampered hand wraps in previous fights? Had tampered hand wraps made his punches hurt more? Had Cotto lost to someone who had cheated?
Cotto believed so and said so. Margarito denied it and said he would beat Cotto the same. Their dispute over what had happened in 2008 would never be settled. But their continued rivalry could be decided.
Cotto decided not just to think about what might or might not have been in Margarito’s gloves, but to put his fate in his own hands.
Cotto’s first true punch of consequence on Saturday was a blocked left hook, but otherwise he came out as expected, boxing for the duration the first round. He jabbed and moved to his left, occasionally switching his movement and going forward with left hooks and right crosses. Every clean shot received an approving roar from the Puerto Rican faithful — and a smile and a shake of the head from the man they’d decided was a Mexican villain.
Once again against a mobile opponent, Margarito went to the body, throwing hooks underneath Cotto’s hooks and to his ribs. Cotto moved early to avoid a repeat of the first fight — he pulled away from clinches, bounced away from the ropes, wrestled Margarito away when he tried to keep Cotto in place.
Margarito had always had a reputation of taking many in order to land his own. He would take what Cotto threw and exact a tariff on him, body shots placed within Cotto’s flurries. After three rounds, he was hitting Cotto’s body with increasing success — but his right eye was already beginning to swell.
Try as he might, Cotto could not put in a flawless performance. He would be forced to the ropes by Margarito’s pressure. He would stand in close with Margarito in the middle of the ring. He would be hit with hard body shots and uppercuts.
He would not be hit with as many. He would not stay on the ropes or in tight quarters. And he would not let Margarito get him without Margarito then getting it back even worse.
After Margarito had more success in the fourth, Cotto fought with more control and at more distance in the fifth, not getting suckered into a firefight and not making the same mistakes.
Margarito tried to trap Cotto back in the sixth, landing several hard body shots and uppercuts. Cotto again seized firm control in the seventh, making Margarito miss, ducking his punches and moving away. When caught on the ropes, he would grab Margarito and spin him, their positions switching.
This rematch was not following the pattern of Cotto’s first fight with Margarito. Rather, it was closer to Margarito’s bout with Pacquiao. By the end of the seventh, Margarito’s right eye looked shut.
Now when Cotto was moving to his left — Margarito’s right — he wasn’t so much moving toward Margarito’s power hand as he was moving toward Margarito’s bad eye.
His jabs and left hooks were heading in the same direction, just as he had promised.
Ringside physicians checked Margarito’s eye before the start of the ninth round. The crowd stood, thinking the fight was over, that revenge was there — and theirs — and now.
They would have to wait.
Cotto went back to the jabs, more than one at a time, and followed them with hooks and crosses. With Cotto staying in one place longer, Margarito was able to land more body shots.
He could not stop Cotto’s momentum. He could not stop his eye from swelling. He could not stop the fight from ending.
Two physicians stood in front of Margarito before the 10th round could begin. Margarito and his corner pleaded for one more round, argued that the fight should not be stopped.
Margarito’s fate did not rest in his hands, but in those of the doctors and the referee, who waved off the bout.
The judges all had Cotto firmly in control. Julie Lederman had given Cotto the first eight rounds and Margarito the ninth, scoring it 89-82. John Poturaj had only given Margarito the seventh and had the same score. That tally also was on the scorecard of Steve Weisfeld, who only gave Margarito the fourth.
This fight — and this night — belonged to Cotto. All Margarito would see was Miguel Cotto raising his gloves in the air and turning to the cheering crowd.
Their hero was triumphant. The villain had been vanquished.
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter at twitter.com/fightingwords2 or on Facebook at facebook.com/fightingwordsboxing, or send questions and comments to [email protected]