by Kieran Mulvaney
A little more than 24 hours from now, two fighters will stand in opposite corners of a ring, the focus of attention of at least 60,000 people watching them in person and likely a million or more viewing them on televisions around the country. For one, victory will be yet another step toward boxing immortality, a further climb up the ladder toward the most stratospheric heights of the sport's history.
For the other, victory will in many ways be about so much less and yet also so much more.
For Antonio Margarito, Saturday night's contest against Manny Pacquiao means far more than the opportunity to secure his 39th victory. It is about more than setting up his future career. It is about validating the career that he has had to this point, a career whose achievements were thrown into question following the discovery of doctored wraps on his hands prior to his January 2009 contest with Shane Mosley. That question became even more pronounced following the Mexican's subsequent annihilation by Mosley in that fight, and his unconvincing comeback win against journeyman Roberto Garcia earlier this year.
There are those fans who can not overcome the moral outrage they feel over such an opportunity being offered to a man who was on the verge of committing boxing's cardinal sin. There are others who protest that Margarito has paid the price, served out the sanction that was visited upon him.
Whatever the veracity of Margarito's guilt, or the degree to which he does or does not deserve to be in the ring with boxing's biggest star, the reality is that the fight is happening. And despite the heavy odds in Pacquiao's favor, it's a very real and potentially very close contest.
It is hard to escape the image of Joshua Clottey, a man Margarito's size, seeming to hurt the Filipino with almost every punch he threw when the two men shared the same Cowboys Stadium ring in March. Clottey, of course, threw so few of those punches that Pacquiao won easily; Margarito is almost certain to prove an entirely different proposition, likely to barrel forward relentlessly, arms churning as he seeks to land punch after punch.
Conversely, during the first half of the Mexican's bout with Miguel Cotto in 2008, the Puerto Rican – a fine boxer, but possessing nothing like the befuddling speed of Pacquiao – outboxed him with ease, the slower Margarito barely able to land a glove on him until eventually he caught up with and knocked out his foe.
It is a sign of how competitive and unpredictable a fight this is that it is possible to imagine any one of a number of scenarios: Margarito's power overwhelming Pacquiao early, Pacquiao's speed blowing Margarito out the water, or each man taking turns to impose his strengths until one or another emerges victorious after absorbing plenty of punishment along the way.
Pacquiao remains the big favorite, but Margarito has the look of a man who knows he has the upset in the bag.
A little more than 24 hours from now, the truth will become clear enough.