'The Fight Game' Goes Live, Pays Tribute to Retired Fighters

By Kieran Mulvaney


When episode two of 'The Fight Game with Jim Lampley' airs immediately after Saturday's World Championship Boxing broadcast from El Paso, Texas, it will air live from on-site—a departure from the opening gambit of the series last month, which followed a "taped-in-New York" format.

"When the schedule showed up and I realized I had the Fight Game scheduled immediately following a live fight, I went to my production team and eventually to management and said, 'We can't do a live fight and then put a news show on afterward that doesn't say anything about the live fight,'" Lampley told InsideHBOBoxing last week at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. "So the lead story in this show has to be what just happened between Julio Cesar Chavez and Andy Lee, because it's a tremendously significant fight. It may or may not set up a unification fight we've all been waiting for with Sergio Martinez, so the first segment of the show will play directly off what happened in that fight."

Of course, subsequent to that conversation at the MGM, there was a reasonably high profile bout that generated fair amount of controversy and that must also be reviewed, but after Lampley and guests have dissected the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley brouhaha and then examined the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport, there will remain one important matter to address, in five different ways.

Since the premiere episode of the show aired on May 12, five prominent professional prizefighters have left the sport – and in one case, this mortal realm – in very different circumstances. Shane Mosley, Winky Wright and Antonio Margarito have all retired , making the ultimate concessions to age and, in Margarito's case, the right eye injury that resulted from his 12-round battering by Pacquiao in November 2010. All will receive acknowledgment on the show, as will of course Johnny Tapia, the hugely popular former three-weight champion, who was finally consumed on May 27 by the lifelong demons that only truly dissipated during the times he was in the ring.

It was, Lampley concedes with emotion in his voice, an event that many people had been uncomfortably anticipating. "Something I'm almost certain to say in the script is that there's only one thing that could have kept Johnny Tapia alive, amid all his depredations, and he retired from boxing last year," he said. "And when I read he was 45 years old, it filled me with joy that Johnny had somehow made it to 45."

Then there is Paul Williams, who, on the same day Tapia died, was severely injured in a motorcycle accident that badly damaged his spinal cord. Williams' boxing career is assuredly over, but the news that the cord is damaged and not broken gives at least some hope that he may win the most important fight of his life so far, and one day walk again.

His public determination to do just that is testament that he will apply to that battle the same spirit that he showed over 43 professional contests, a spirit to which Lampley will pay tribute on Saturday.

"There will be 11 fighters on the Gatti list," he said, referring to his episodic guide to the ten most exciting current pugilists in the sport. "Paul Williams will gain an honorary mention because he was that kind of fighter."

He still is.

Career Highlights of Two World-Class Fighters

By Kieran Mulvaney

Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto bring a combined record of 79 wins and 2 losses to the ring on Saturday night. In advance of their HBO PPV clash from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, we look back on three key fights from the career of each boxer.

 

Floyd Mayweather

 

Diego Corrales (Las Vegas, January 20, 2001)

Diego Corrales - Photo Credit: Will Hart

Mayweather and Corrales were rival, undefeated 130-pound titlists when they clashed in Las Vegas, and there was no shortage of pundits who felt the lanky Corrales would prove too powerful. But in what arguably remains his greatest performance, Mayweather took Corrales apart, firing off fast combinations while exhibiting stellar defense. Corrales was unable to touch Mayweather, who floored him five times before Corrales’ corner stopped the contest in the tenth round.

 

Jose Luis Castillo (Las Vegas, April 20, 2002)

Jose Luis Castillo - Photo Credit: Will Hart

In the eyes of many observers, this was Mayweather’s toughest fight and the closest he came to defeat. Castillo applied constant pressure to Mayweather, frequently pinning him against the ropes and forcing the American on the defensive. At the bout’s end, many felt the Castillo had done enough to win, but all three judges saw the bout for Mayweather, who also won a unanimous decision in a rematch seven and a half months later. Several subsequent opponents have cited Castillo as setting the blueprint for how to beat Mayweather, but as the erstwhile Pretty Boy frequently points out, they may have all tried, but they have all failed.

 

Oscar De La Hoya (Las Vegas, May 5 2007)

Oscar De La Hoya - Photo Credit: Will Hart

This was the event that transformed Mayweather into a genuine superstar. The only previous occasion on which he fought at 154 lbs., Mayweather overcame some early resistance and a stiff De La Hoya jab to take over the fight in the second half and win a split decision victory. The 2.4 million pay-per-view buys remains a boxing record.

 

 

 

 

 Miguel Cotto

 

Ricardo Torres (Atlantic City, September 24, 2005)

Ricardo Torres - Photo Credit: Will Hart

Cotto was gaining a reputation as a hard-hitting, technically skilled but largely methodical body-puncher when he ran into Colombia’s Torres. Cotto dropped Torres in the first but was then battered and knocked down himself in the second, struggling to contend with Torres’ fast hands and hard punches. He sent Torres back to the canvas in the fourth, was hurt again in the fifth, put Torres down again in the sixth, and finally finished him in the seventh. It was the first occasion Cotto showed he could fight his way out of trouble and bring the crowd to its feet , that he could be exciting as well as effective.

 

Shane Mosley (New York, November 10, 2007)

Shane Mosley - Photo Credit: Will Hart

Cotto displayed his boxing ability against dangerous and skilled veteran Mosley, punishing the former champion with a stiff left jab and overhand rights as Mosley stayed at a distance to avoid Cotto’s punishing body attack. The American rallied down the stretch, closing the gap and hurting Cotto on several occasions, but Cotto stuck to the game plan and won a unanimous decision. Afterward, Mosley dubbed his opponent “a young lion on his way to greatness.”

 

Antonio Margarito (New York, December 3, 2011)

Antonio Margarito - Photo Credit: Will Hart

The march to greatness Mosley had prophesied was interrupted when Cotto ran into the fists of Antonio Margarito in July 2008. But when, before a fight with Mosley, Margarito was found to have tainted handwraps, the cloud of suspicion swirled around his bout with Cotto. Did he cheat during that fight? Were his wraps loaded? Cotto admitted he struggled with his confidence after that loss, but he finally exorcised his demons with a dominant display against his former tormentor, closing his right eye and stopping him after 9 rounds. With revenge secured, Cotto says he has returned to his best, in time for the clash with Mayweather.

 

Last We Saw Mayweather and Cotto ...

By Eric Raskin

Most of the time when a boxer is launching his fists at another man’s head, it’s strictly business, nothing personal. But there are some occasions when it’s very, very personal. Sometimes we witness the release of personal emotion built up over the course of years. Other times it’s an intense feeling that’s only been brewing for a few seconds.

In their most recent fights, Miguel Cotto and Floyd Mayweather each rode this emotion into a moment of personal revenge, albeit under dramatically different circumstances.

 


 

Cotto’s December 3, 2011, victory over Antonio Margarito was the conclusion of a three-year, four-month odyssey for the Puerto Rican warrior. Back in 2008, he’d suffered his first defeat, via 11th-round stoppage, at the hands of Margarito. But from the moment Margarito’s hand-wraps scandal began unraveling a few months later, Cotto suspected he’d been defeated unfairly. The rematch was about redemption. It was about Cotto proving he could take Margarito’s punch if he knew for sure there were no foreign objects behind it. It was a chance for Cotto to add a win and, to a certain extent, erase a loss.

Over 10 fiercely competitive rounds at Madison Square Garden, Cotto did precisely that. Like their first fight, the action was furious and every punch carried drama. In front of 21,239 screaming fans, Cotto and Margarito added a fitting second—and presumably final—chapter to their rivalry.

 

On September 17, 2011, Mayweather secured a measure of justice of his own. But his revenge was for an act perpetrated only 30 seconds earlier. In the heat of battle, Victor Ortiz lost his composure and launched his head at Mayweather’s, a flagrant foul that cost Ortiz a point. Ortiz apologized. Then he apologized again. Then referee Joe Cortez ordered the fighters to box, Ortiz insisted upon apologizing a third time, and Mayweather, his lip bloodied by the foul, made the emotional (but 100-percent legal) decision to throw punches at a man who had dropped his guard. A left hook buzzed Ortiz. A straight right hand flattened him. Fourth-round knockout.

It was an ending that got the sports world buzzing. For some, it was further evidence of Mayweather’s greatness. For others, it was further reason to hate him. Either way, the explosive conclusion solidified this as one of the most memorable rumbles that Mayweather has ever been in.

 

PunchStat Report: Cotto KO 9 Margarito

By CompuBox

Cotto, in retreat most of the fight, landed 51% of his power shots.  Cotto had a 148-131 edge in power shots landed, closing the already damaged right eye of Margarito.

In a Bloody Storybook Tale, Cotto Gets His Happy Ending

By Hamilton Nolan

Photo by Will Hart

After all of the good guy, bad guy buildup, the "wronged man seeking redemption" storyline that had been carefully cultivated for months played out just perfectly tonight, as Miguel Cotto (37-2) avenged his 2008 loss to Antonio Margarito (38-8) with a TKO victory after nine dominating rounds.

CompuBox Analysis: Miguel Cotto vs Antonio Margarito

By CompuBox

For world-class boxers  three-and-a-half years can be a lifetime, and such has been the case for Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito. On July 26, 2008, Cotto lost his WBA welterweight title, his perfect record and several portions of his prime while Margarito gained a belt, a signature victory and hero status, especially among Mexicans and hard-core fans who relish an up-by-the-bootstraps success story.

The intervening years have seen Cotto add two belts -- he'll be defending the WBA junior middleweight title Saturday -- while the "Tijuana Tornado" not only lost two of his last three fights but also his reputation and boxing license when tainted hand wraps were discovered minutes before he fought Shane Mosley. Cotto, and many others, believe Margarito's hands were loaded during their fight, thus creating the rationale for this rematch.

Can Margarito, a 9-5 ‘dog in the rematch, beat Cotto "clean," or will "Junito" set the record straight? Their CompuBox track records offer these hints:

> Read more CompuBox analysis of Miguel Cotto vs Antonio Margarito on HBO.com

In the Final Presser, Margarito Plays the Villain

By Michael Gluckstadt

Photo Credit: Chris Farina"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.

On Cotto, Margarito and Private Hate in Public Arenas

By Kieran Mulvaney

Photo Credits: Hoganphotos.com, Will HartOn most occasions, a professional prizefight is not a resolution to a personal dispute; the confrontation is professional, fueled not by hatred but the desire for greatness, titles and money.

Chris Byrd, the former heavyweight belt-holder, once expressed to me that his approach to boxing was that, on one level, it was little different from tennis. When they were on court, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi wanted only to annihilate each other, he explained. But once the match was over, there was no reason for them not to be friends. Similarly, he offered, boxing was not violence but sport, albeit with gloved fists rather than racket and ball.

Occasionally, however, the personal intrudes on the professional, and when it does, it only whets our appetites even more. Emile Griffith may have entered the ring in 1962 consumed with rage over an epithet directed at him by Benny ‘Kid’ Paret, a rage that would ultimately have tragic consequences. More recently, the epic three-fight series between Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera was fueled by genuine mutual hatred, and Fernando Vargas never even attempted to disguise his loathing of Oscar De La Hoya.

All of those, however, pale in comparison to the antipathy between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito.

There are those who question whether this Saturday’s contest should be taking place, whether Margarito should ever have been allowed back into the ring after the discovery of tampered wraps on his hands prior to his January 2009 bout with Shane Mosley; and whether, even if accepting that he has served a sentence of sorts for that most despised of boxing sins, he should be licensed to fight after surgery to his eye and orbital bone following the brutal pounding he suffered last year at the fists of Manny Pacquiao.

Were anyone entitled to object on the first count, it would be Cotto, who is now convinced that his brutal 2008 stoppage loss to Margarito was the result of the Mexican carrying plaster in his gloves. For more than two years, the man from Caguas seemed firm in his stance that he would do nothing – given his growing belief that he had been grievously wronged and as a consequence nearly severely harmed by Margarito’s actions that night – to help his foe earn another cent in the ring. But that conviction has wavered in the face of a $5 million payday and an apparent sense that the damage to Margarito’s eye (which required removal of a cataract and insertion of an artificial lens, and that gave the New York State Athletic commission pause before relenting and agreeing to sanction the fight) gives him a golden opportunity at redemption and revenge.

“My dog is more of a person than him,” he says calmly. “I don’t feel any respect for him. I’m going to take advantage of his eye, like he took advantage of the plaster.”

“F*** Cotto,” spits Margarito in return. “If he thinks I had plaster, it will hurt like I was using a plaster.”
In the real world, it’s the kind of talk that prompts adults to seek a way to calm things down before somebody gets hurt. But this is boxing, and it’s too late for that. Hurt – perhaps serious hurt – is a given. And because this is boxing, on Saturday night, in front of a packed crowd in New York and an eager audience around the world, two men will fight a very personal and very real battle on a very public stage.

Cotto-Margarito: Under the Lights

See a breakdown of lessons learned from the first Cotto-Margarito fight in a pause-and-play video infographic:

Undercard Overview: Intense Brawling Guaranteed

By Eric Raskin

It was sportswriter Pierce Egan who first dubbed boxing “the sweet science” in the early 1800s. Two hundred years later, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, and their undercard cohorts are poised to present an action-packed night of pugilism with nothing sweet and nothing scientific about it. Some fans appreciate a brilliant technical display; every fan loves a brutality-filled brawl. The December 3 pay-per-view card at Madison Square Garden features no less than four fights that just might fit that latter description. Here’s a closer look at who’s leading up to the Cotto-Margarito grudge match:

Brandon Rios (28-0-1, 21 KOs) vs. John Murray (31-1, 18 KOs), 12 Rounds, Lightweights

Photo Credit: Will HartThere isn’t a more polarizing young fighter in the game right now than the 25-year-old Rios. His fighting style is highly offensive, and the things that come out of his mouth are, well, highly offensive. He’s emerged in the past year or so as true must-see TV, whether you’re rooting for him or against him. It almost doesn’t matter who “Bam Bam’s” opponent is—but for what it’s worth in this case, he’s taking on a respected former British and European regional champ in the 26-year-old Murray.

Murray will be highly motivated, as his lone defeat came in his most recent fight, an eighth-round TKO against Kevin Mitchell. He needs to get back on the winning track, and he’ll have the backing of hundreds of British fans flying across the Atlantic to pack the Garden. Still, Rios is the big betting favorite here. He’s riding high off of two thrilling wins so far in 2011, a come-from-behind knockout of Miguel Acosta to claim his first title and a three-round decimation of Urbano Antillon in his first defense. Margarito’s foul-mouthed stablemate is expected to secure successful defense number two on Saturday night, and however long the fight with Murray lasts, it won’t be boring.

Pawel Wolak (29-1-1, 19 KOs) vs. Delvin Rodriguez (25-5-3, 14 KOs), 10 Rounds, Junior Middleweights

This fight requires no selling—at least not via words. Just sit someone down in front of the 10 glorious rounds of warfare that Rodriguez and Wolak gave us at New York’s Roseland Ballroom in July, and they’ll be instantly sold. In that bout, Wolak battled through a hideously swollen eye to gut out a controversial draw, the fourth time in Rodriguez’s hard-luck career that the Connecticut veteran was left flummoxed by the judges.

Wolak is 30, Rodriguez is 31, and they’re each at a crucial juncture in their careers. Both are peaking in popularity on the heels of their July brawl, but only one can make the leap to that next level after this fight. Unless, that is, they give us another Fight of the Year candidate. Then, somewhat like Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward nearly a decade ago, they can rise to new heights together.

Mike Jones (25-0, 19 KOs) vs. Sebastian Lujan (38-5-2, 24 KOs), 12 Rounds, Welterweights

Photo Credit: Will HartIs Jones a future opponent for Manny Pacquiao? For Andre Berto? For the Cotto-Margarito winner? For the past year or so, the unbeaten Philadelphia welterweight’s name has been tossed around in that elite company, but he has to get by merciless Argentine Lujan before any of those breakout fights can come into focus.

Lujan is best known as the poor guy who nearly got his ear literally punched off his head by Margarito back in ’05. The 31-year-old tough guy is now riding a 12-fight winning streak and represents arguably the stiffest test Jones has ever faced. At 28, Jones has emerged as a legitimate top-10 contender in the star-packed welterweight division. With his long jab and all-around skills, Jones appears to have the tools to pass this test. But we won’t go so far as to predict that he’ll box Lujan’s ears off.