July 26, 2008 was the night of the last Mexico – Puerto Rico bout on the big stage. Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito were two welterweights in their prime who were both known for their excitement and punching power. Cotto was the former Olympian who was picked up by Top Rank at an early stage of his career, while Margarito was the fighter who was constantly looking for recognition while he played the background. Looking at Cotto’s career as a whole there isn’t one fighter that he ducked until he moved up to middleweight and grabbed the WBC title. Cotto was brought up under the great matchmaking of Top Rank while Margarito had no choice to take tough fights even when he wasn’t ready. Margarito’s learning process or pseudo amateur experience took place in the professional ranks.
Miguel Cotto after making six defenses of his WBO 140 pound championship decided by the end of 2006 that he would move up in weight to welterweight. Cotto faced Carlos Quintana in December of that year and stopped him after the fifth round to win the WBA title at 147. Cotto would then have a mandatory defense against Oktay Urkal in March 2007 before facing off against Zab Judah in his first headlining PPV at Madison Square Garden. Judah was coming off a yearlong lay off due to the near riot caused at his fight with Floyd Mayweather the year before. The fans packed into the Garden and set at the time an attendance record for any sporting event at MSG. Cotto stopped Judah after 11 brutal rounds and showed that not only could he be entertaining inside the ring, but also be a box office success.
Cotto then faced his biggest challenge of his career in Shane Mosley. Mosley was past his prime, but had shown in a recent move back down in weight to 147 some flashes of greatness still in him. In some fights such as his bout against Luis Collazo he showed more than flashes as he dominated Collazo through twelve rounds. The bout took place in November 2007 at Madison Square Garden. Once again a packed house and in a bout where statistically it couldn’t have been closer according to Compubox, Cotto pulled out a unanimous decision victory. Cotto withstood and held his own as Mosley surged in the later rounds. It was at this point that Cotto was at his most confident and going forward felt he could defeat any man who stepped in the ring with him.
Margarito had a tough road leading to July 26,2008. Before he got his first title shot he had suffered three defeats by decision and wasn’t on anyone’s radar as the next great Mexican champion. Along the way he was able to stop a young Sergio Martinez in February 2000 in the seventh round. A win that would look better with time, still Margarito waited another year for his first shot at a title in July 2001 against Daniel Santos. In anti-climatic fashion the bout was stopped in the first round due to a clash of heads causing a bad cut over Margarito’s right eye.
Margarito in his fight in March 2002 got his title shot for the now vacant WBO welterweight title against Antonio Diaz. Margarito was able to stop Diaz in the tenth round. Finally Margarito was a world champion, but it would not prove to be his road to getting the other champions in the division to face him. After three defenses of his title, Margarito was unable to secure any fights at welterweight with other titleholders so he decided to take a chance at 154. He faced off again with Puerto Rican nemesis Daniel Santos. The fight lasted longer than their first encounter and made it to the tenth round. It was stopped again after ten rounds due to an accident headbutt. Margarito lost by controversial split decision to once again set him back. Margarito moved back down to 147 where he still owned the WBO title. He faced Sebastian Lujan on Friday Night Fights in a fight where Lujan’s ear was almost ripped off his head. One of the more gruesome injuries that there has been in boxing. After the Lujan bout Margarito caught a break. He would be headlining ESPN’s first boxing PPV against undefeated Puerto Rican knock out artist Kermit Cintron. This was Margarito’s first chance to show the public on the biggest stage he had been on to this point that he was the best welterweight. Shockingly ESPN decided to go with Margarito and leave Shane Mosley on the under-card.
It turned out that Margarito was ready for the stage. Kermit Cintron was a different story. What is likely one of the more embarrassing chapters in the Mexico-Puerto Rivarly, Margarito not only broke down Cintron physically, but emotionally as well. Margarito stopped Cintron in five rounds. Cintron was left in tears at the end of the bout and fans were left in shock by what they had just witnessed.
Margarito then turned his attention and efforts into getting Floyd Mayweather into the ring. Mayweather at the time had other priorities and was focused on getting Oscar De La Hoya into the ring. Margarito had no chance of seeing Mayweather in the ring. Margarito turned his attention elsewhere and continued to face other avoided contenders in the welterweight division. Margarito’s next opponent was longtime welterweight conteder Joshua Clottey. After a rough first four rounds where Clottey was able to outbox Margarito, Clottey broke his left hand and was unable to keep up with Margarito’s pace. Margarito set a welterweight record on this night by throwing the most punches in a welterweight bout in Compubox history.
Without many options or big names willing to step in the ring with him, Margarito faced another avoided welterweight in Paul Williams. There was some heat between the two fighters before the bout over a disagreement about what took place in their sparring sessions. They met at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California in July 2007. Williams got off to a fast start winning the first six rounds of the bout. Williams was high volume like Margarito, but also had the ability to move around the ring. Although Margarito had a huge comeback where he swept most of the rounds after the sixth, Williams pulled out the victory with a huge twelfth round where he held off Margarito.
Afterwards Margarito felt that he let the Williams fight slip by him. At the time Margarito was being promoted by Top Rank who needed an opponent for Miguel Cotto. Top Rank began putting Margarito on the undercard of Cotto’s fights. Margarito got another shot at a world title in April 2008. Once again he faced off against Kermit Cintron. Since losing to Margarito the first time, Cintron was able to regroup and form a partnership with Emmanuel Steward. This however did not change the results of the bout. Margarito again proved too much for Cintron and was stopped with a body shot in the sixth round. Immediately after the stoppage, Margarito ran up to promoter Bob Arum begging for the Cotto fight. After Cotto stopped Alfonso Gomez that night in an equally dominating performance, Margarito got his wish.
The stage was set for July 26, 2008 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada. An anticipated bout by both fans and pundits that put the two most exciting welterweights against each other.
The first half of the bout belonged to Cotto who moved and landed hard combinations all over the face of Margarito. Margarito kept coming forwards and was never once dazed and rocked by any of Cotto’s punches. The fight changed in momentum in the seventh round as Cotto began to gas. Cotto may have employed too much movement into his strategy and would have been better served to smother Margarito’s punches. Cotto could have held Margarito at times when they were on the inside and having Kenny Bayless as the referee it most likely could have done so without any warnings. Margarito took advantage of Cotto being tired and kept pressing the attack. Margarito ate Cotto’s punches without reaction and finally in the eleventh round forced Cotto’s corner to stop the bout after Cotto took two knees’s to halt Margarito’s attack.
It was lauded as “A modern boxing classic” by HBO’s Max Kellerman after the bout was stopped. Cotto boxed a beautiful fight through the first six rounds and showed a variety of skill as he unleashed his full arsenal. What was missing however was Cotto’s vaunted body attack. Margarito on the other hand displayed his granite chin and his determination to keep coming forward. For the next few months after the bout Margarito was treated as the king of the division. He had now achieved what he longed for in boxing in beating a superstar on the biggest stage. Boxing however is a sport that can change in one night.
On the night of January 24, 2009 Antonio Margarito faced off against Shane Mosley at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. What took place on this night forever changed Margarito’s career and put a whole new perspective on what took place on July 26, 2008.