By Michael Gluckstadt
"Here comes the criminal."
It was the first phrase out of Antonio Margarito’s mouth when he stepped up to the microphone at the Theater at Madison Square Garden during the final press conference before his fight against Miguel Cotto this Saturday. Margarito seems to delight in playing the heel, smiling mischievously as he wondered aloud, "They say I'm not a good person. That I'm not a gentleman. I don't know why they say that."
Margarito, along with everyone else who follows the sport, knows exactly why Cotto has accused him of being dirty. "If you look up criminal in the dictionary," Cotto said to Margarito in their native Spanish, "It's someone who uses a weapon." Ever since plaster was discovered in Margarito's gloves before his fight against Shane Mosley, Cotto has maintained that Margarito used the loaded gloves against him—a boxing crime that has yielded jail time in the past.
Margarito, mirroring his fighting style, wasn't content just defending himself at the podium. He took the moment to land a handful of verbal blows. "I don't know why he calls me a criminal," he said again. "I'm not a man who beats up on his own family"—a reference to a reported brawl between Cotto and his uncle and then-trainer Evangelista Cotto in 2009. Margarito continued his assault, "He says he's not going to have mercy on my eye? He can hit my eye as many times as he wants. He hits like a little girl. A super flyweight hits harder."
The rivals will have their moment to definitively show who is the better fighter, if not the better man, this Saturday night, in front of what's likely to be a sell-out crowd at Madison Square Garden. It's a venue that, according to promoter Bob Arum, Cotto has attracted more fans to than any other boxer in its history. Arum was visibly relieved to have the fight in New York with the recently-bestowed blessing of the New York State Athletic Commission, so much so that he half-jokingly suggested opening the presser with a recitation of the "shehecheyanu," a Jewish blessing of thanks. Still, he wasn't willing to push his luck too far, opting against having the fighters stand in the traditional "face off" pose, probably out of fear that they might start the brawl right there on the spot.
Press conference fights aren't unheard of in boxing, and have on occasion been known to build interest in an otherwise boring event. But this fight needs no added punch. Better to let the tensions simmer for a few more days, until Saturday night, when all questions will finally be answered in the ring.