Manny Pacquiao will fight Antonio Margarito on November 13 in Cowboys Stadium. The event’s promoters hope 70,000 people will attend the fight, which would make it the largest crowd in modern boxing history. The bout features the dynamic Pacquiao, a seven-time title winner in as many weight divisions who will be going for an unprecedented eighth title (WBC light middleweight). Both fighters are known to be hyperly-aggressive and good ring technicians. But a potentially great bout is sure to be overshadowed by the recent demise of the Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. negotiations and because Pacquiao will be fighting the much-chastised Margarito, who was caught with lethal illegal handwraps.
The Pacquiao-Mayweather fight would have been the most lucrative in boxing history and the most talked about match of the last thirty years–there is worldwide appeal for the fight because of the animosity between the two pugilists, considered the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world and who both have a lot of star power. (The PacMan didn’t want to talk about Mayweather when I chatted with him before Tuesday’s press conference except to say, “‘I don’t need him, he needs me. Compare my achievements in boxing to his achievements.” His upcoming fight against Margarito is definitely a letdown, and he seemed more interested in talking about his own political work–on his agenda is passing a tougher human trafficking law–as a Congressman in the Philippines.)
Margarito isn’t the easiest person to sell to casual boxing fans. He was denied a boxing license in Nevada and California because of issues over illegal handwraps. At the kickoff presser today at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Bob Arum, the CEO of Top Rank, belittled the media’s criticism of Margarito: “The one thing I can’t tolerate is injustice, particularly in this country,” roared Arum. He went onto say that Margarito wasn’t aware of the illegal wraps. “It was bullshit. Antonio Margarito did not know those hand wraps were illegal. There wasn’t one shred of evidence!” (Arum would get on a plane right after the press conference–he went to Seattle to be close to the search for his missing son, the oldest of his three children.) Not surprisingly, Margarito wanted to move beyond the issue: “Everything that has happened is in the past, we are in the present.” But when pressed, Pacquiao scoffed at the notion that Margarito didn’t know that his trainer was putting a plaster-like substance in his gloves prior to a 2009 fight against Shane Mosley. “He is just making some alibi,” Pacquiao said. “He is the one who wraps his hands and he doesn’t know what is in there?” Pacquiao asked rhetorically. “Of course he knows. What do you think? My belief is he knows that.” Boxing’s pound-for-pound champion says he wants somebody watching Margarito’s hands getting wrapped before they meet in Texas. “My concern is that we have somebody in the dressing room, someone else watching him,” Pacquiao said.
After the demise of the Mayweather negotiations, Arum asked Pacquiao to give Margarito another chance (both men are under contract to Arum’s company, Top Rank.) “He is human he made a mistake,” said Pacquiao. “People are worried about me fighting this guy. We are going to give him a chance.”
While some bookies are making him a 5-1 favorite, it might not be easy for Pacquiao. Alex Ariza, the PacMan’s conditioning coach, looked at the taller Margarito and joked, “They keep getting bigger.” Pacquiao has gone from 105 to 154, and became the boxer of the decade by vanquishing his ever bigger opponents, including superstars Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton. His last eleven victories were either against reigning or former world champions, and just three of them—Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar Larios, and Erik Morales—lasted the distance. And yet his continuous climb up the weight divisions is certainly a continuous challenge, especially against someone of Margarito’s skill.
Pacquiao said he will probably weigh 151 pounds at fight time and he is still in his prime while Margarito seems like a more tired fighter. There is a signficant physical difference–when the two men stood side-by-side Pacquiao, 5′ 6″, craned his neck to look up at the Tijuana Tornado, 5′ 11″.