Cotto-Margarito II: Settling the Score

Boxing thrives on spectacle and storylines. We have become accustomed to seeing promoters and networks build up paper-thin narratives in efforts to convince cable subscribers to buy a fight.

No dramatic fabrication or elaboration will be necessary heading into Saturday’s fight between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito at Madison Square Garden.

The two will meet in the ring for the first time since Margarito’s controversial upset of Cotto in 2008. Margarito won by technical knockout after the referee stopped the bout in the 11th round.

Cotto headed to the hospital. Margarito basked in the spotlight.

Six months later, Margarito was caught with what turned out to be a plaster of Paris-like substance in his hand wraps before a title fight with Shane Mosley. Cotto – along with many fans and members of the boxing community – believe Margarito used plastered wraps in the two fighters’ first meeting as well.

Margarito was suspended for more than two years for the infraction during the Mosley fight, yet the 33-year-old continues to proclaim his innocence. To those who have doubts about his claims, tampered wraps would explain how the underdog upset Cotto, ending the Puerto Rican fighter’s perfect professional record at 32-0.

They would explain the brutal and bloody pounding Margarito leveled upon a fighter many believed to be his superior. They would explain some of questions that arise from studying photos of Margarito’s wraps following that match.

Barring an admission from Margarito, we will never definitely know whether the wraps were illegal and, if they were not, if Margarito was aware.

This rematch will not answer questions about what happened in the ring more than three years ago. It should settle the debate about who is the better fighter. Still, what makes this bout so appealing is that it’s not just about determining an eventual victor. It’s personal.

For Cotto, 31, it’s about redemption. It’s about revenge. He will never be able to erase the loss on his record, but in a sport where an athlete is only as good as his last fight, Cotto has his chance to come out on top.

The loss to Margarito may not have completely derailed Cotto’s career, but something changed in that fight. Boxing history is rife with those who never fully recovered from a defining defeat, be it physically or psychologically. Since the Margarito fight, Cotto has gone 4-1 (his only other loss coming to Manny Pacquiao).

The Puerto Rican fighter has proven that he is incredibly good, but he has not been able to elevate himself to great. A win over Margarito could go a long way for Cotto, who is at a crossroads in his career.

Margarito is past the crossroads and nearing the end of his professional fighting days. He suffered an eye injury in his fight with Pacquiao a year ago, and despite receiving medical clearance for the Cotto fight, questions remain.

Margarito has had just three professional fights since his first fight with Cotto, losing to Pacquaio and Mosley in that span. No matter how much he lobbies to clear his name, Margarito’s reputation is shot. There aren’t many unforgivable sins in the sport, but cheating is chief among them. He will always be shadowed by his suspension.

Margarito has embraced his role as villain. He still maintains he knew nothing of the illegal hand wraps. In the lead-up to his bout with Pacquiao, the Mexican fighter repeatedly proclaimed innocence.

This time around, Margarito has laughed off Cotto’s accusations that he’s a criminal and a cheater. Margarito has largely responded with a smirk and a variation of “I beat you before, I’ll do it again.”

The legitimacy of that win will always be in question. The outcome of Saturday’s match should not be.

Cotto and Margarito – despite their status in the boxing world – are not the kind of marquee names that will draw pay-per-view ratings the way Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather Jr. can.

However, to those who follow the sport, this much-anticipated rematch certainly won’t be lacking for drama.

Maria Burns Ortiz is a freelance sports journalist, chair of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Sports Task Force, and a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow her on Twitter: @BurnsOrtiz

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