LOS ANGELES (AP) — Antonio Margarito became a welterweight champion by refusing to back down in the ring. He apparently sees no reason to start now, even when it might benefit his tarnished career.
Margarito defiantly claimed both innocence and ignorance when he finally spoke at length Tuesday about the glove-loading scandal early last year that led to the revocation of his California boxing license and a 16-month ring absence, which will end next month in Mexico.
Speaking vigorously in rapid-fire Spanish, Margarito said he sees no reason to apologize for the illegal hand wraps that led to his yearlong suspension because he never knew his former trainer, Javier Capetillo, was breaking any rules by using forbidden substances in the wraps.
"All these people that say things about me don't know me, don't know my history," Margarito said through a translator at the downtown Millennium Biltmore Hotel. "The way I box has always been clean. Nobody has a clear idea what happened that night, and now I'm going to show who I am."
Margarito repeatedly claimed he knew nothing about any irregular gauze pads inserted into his hand wraps for his fight against Sugar Shane Mosley in January 2009, and his camp has debated the very illegality of the substances. When Mosley's trainer objected to Capetillo's wraps, officials discovered the pads, which apparently were loaded with a substance resembling plaster.
Margarito's license subsequently was revoked for at least one year by the California State Athletic Commission, preventing him from fighting anywhere in the U.S.
If Margarito was simply acting in the famed downtown hotel where the Academy Awards were held for much of the 1930s and early 1940s, he gave a convincing performance.
"I didn't know what was on my hands," Margarito said. "I never had to deal with any of these things before, and now you're telling me I have to deal with it every time?"
Yet Margarito also said he didn't believe Capetillo intended to put illegal substances on his hands. The fighter's camp has suggested Capetillo accidentally used an old gauze pad that previously had been used in training.
Margarito has been roundly criticized by fans and fighters alike, with former opponents Miguel Cotto and Kermit Cintron both saying they wouldn't be surprised if Margarito had used loaded gloves when he beat them. Oscar De La Hoya also said Margarito shouldn't be allowed to return so quickly, a stance that prompted Margarito to suggest, "If (De La Hoya) wants to prove something to me, let's get in the ring and prove something."
"Every opponent can say that now," Margarito added. "Maybe even the fighters I fought in the amateurs are going to come up and say it."
Margarito is known for a heedless, headfirst fighting style in which he doesn't mind taking a punch to land two. His toughness led to wins over Cotto, Cintron and Joshua Clottey while establishing him as a fan favorite in Mexico, where the California-born fighter has lived in Tijuana since his infancy.
Margarito (37-6, 27 KOs) will fight Roberto Garcia (28-2, 21 KOs) in Aguascalientes, Mexico, on May 8. Within the following 48 hours, he plans to apply for a license in the state of his next fight, likely Texas.
"The biggest thing fighting in Mexico is for my father to see me fight for the first time as a professional," Margarito said of his father, who lives in Tijuana.
Promoter Bob Arum also is interested in matching Margarito against Manny Pacquiao if the pound-for-pound champion can't make a deal with Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Mosley, who will meet May 1 in Las Vegas. Top Rank filed an application in Texas to put Margarito on the undercard of Pacquiao's victory over Joshua Clottey in Cowboys Stadium last month, but Arum said he ran out of time to massage its approval.
"I don't think he has lost any fans," Arum said of Margarito. "I've been trained at the best law school in the country ... and one of the principles I've learned is you don't deprive a man of his livelihood without a shred of evidence. That is just wrong, and that is something I'll fight against as long as I'm able."
If Mosley beats Mayweather next month, he might not be able to fight Pacquiao immediately if Mayweather exercises a rematch clause, perhaps opening an opportunity for Pacquiao-Margarito.
Margarito eventually acknowledged the last-minute brouhaha might have affected his performance at Staples Center against Mosley, who stopped Margarito in the ninth round to claim the WBA title.
"I just worried about the time," Margarito said. "All I wanted was to get ready to fight. I never got a chance to really settle in and get ready for the fight. I had a bad night. I was not at my best. It happens in boxing."