Beware the boxing doubleheader

BY Robert Cassidy Jr. ON November 30, 2006
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In a perfect world, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito will score thrilling victories on Saturday night. It will be a rating’s boon for Showtime and all anyone will be able to talk about is when Bob Arum is going to put Cotto and Margarito in the same ring, at the same time.

But it’s not a perfect world. Ask Don Larsen, the imperfect man who pitched a perfect game.

Or, better yet, ask Zab Judah and Carlos Baldomir.

With the best of intentions and all eyes on grander paydays, Antonio Margarito defends his WBO welterweight title against Joshua Clottey and then Miguel Cotto fights fellow Puerto Rican Carlos Quintana for the vacant WBA welterweight title. It takes place at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City and Showtime will deliver it to your living room if you can’t make it to the shore.

A welterweight unification match between Cotto and Margarito sounds nice for Madison Square Garden on June 9, which is the night before the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City. But let’s just pencil in that date for now. Why? Well, can you really trust an unbeaten southpaw? That would be Carlos Quintana. He has scored 18 knockouts in 23 wins and is tired of fighting in Cotto’s lengthy shadow.

“I am undefeated and on Dec. 2 I will still be undefeated and everybody in the world will know who I am,” said Quintana.

There are a bunch of people in Bob Arum’s suite right now hoping you are wrong.

Picking fights is a tricky business, for bookmakers or matchmakers. In this case, they both like the favorites, but for entirely different reasons. Well, not really, it all comes down to money. But the Benjamins can’t help you inside the ring -- unless you are channeling Benny Leonard.

Inside the ring, it comes down to talent and desire. Here’s what to think about if you were a betting man, or simply a man who’d like to visit Madison Square Garden on June 9.

Cotto vs. Quintana. Quintana, a southpaw, has slight advantages in height and reach and has been a welterweight his entire career. Both fighters have extensive amateur backgrounds. Cotto represented Puerto Rico in the 2000 Olympics and Quintana made the 1996 team, but an arm injury prevented him from competing in Atlanta. These guys have been fighting since they were kids, so nothing will surprise them when the bell rings.

Quintana is quick and relies on a busy right jab. He’s fluid and, like a lot of southpaws these days, has good lateral movement. Remember, it was southpaw DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley, who gave Cotto a hard time before relenting under the pressure.

Quintana’s power numbers are impressive until you ask the question, who has he fought? This fight represents a huge step up in competition for Quintana, it’s a far greater leap than Cotto’s seven-pound journey into the welterweight division. But when you knock out 18 of 23 opponents, you can hurt people. And Cotto’s chin, always under scrutiny, will be tested this time against a true 147-pounder.

Wait a minute. Weight. It can be overrated, especially for a guy who walks around at 170 pounds between fights. The transition to welterweight is natural for Cotto. He now has seven extra pounds that he did not have to weaken himself by sweating them off. By all accounts, he’ll be stronger, fresher and better at 147.

“Sometimes when you work so hard to make the weight, you do not feel like you are going to have as much left for a fight, and you do have to fight in spurts,” said Cotto. “You have to rest a little, pick and choose when you want to fight. At 147, I will not need to do that. I feel good working at this weight and think it is really going to help me.”

Cotto’s power numbers are the real thing. He’s a Julio Cesar Chavez-type banger with an impressive left hook to the body. It’s clearly his fight to lose. Cotto says he’s been dreaming of this moment. But few people heard of Ricardo Torres and that almost turned into a nightmare.

Margarito vs. Clottey. Margarito is the welterweight no one seemingly wants to fight. Why? He’s got power, he’s got stamina, he’s a finisher and he’s got a chip on his shoulder.  Margarito has long been the man many people wanted to see in the ring with Floyd Mayweather Jr. The bout hasn’t happened for a variety of reasons and with Pretty Boy now talking retirement, it may never happen. But remember this, the next exciting, competitive fight you see Mayweather in will be the first. Not so for Margarito. He doesn’t know how to make a bad fight.

Nor does Clottey. This tidbit was buried in a press release: "Clottey is a member of the Ga tribe, a tribe of Ghanian warriors that includes Azumah Nelson, Ike Quartey and Ben Tackie." Clottey is hoping to establish his own identity at Margarito's expense.

Interestingly, Margarito’s Achilles heel is speed and boxing ability, everything Mayweather possesses, but not necessarily Clottey’s biggest assets. In Clottey, Margarito will see a mirror image of himself. Both are physically strong and like to move forward. It’s going to be the kind of fight people will remember. Until they see Margarito against Cotto.

Much has been made of Margarito’s sprained ankle. Forget it. These two will be fighting in a phone booth. Apply crazy glue to the soles of their boxing shoes, plant them in the center of the ring and they’ll be fine.

“He is expecting a war,” said Margarito, of Clottey. “I will give him a war so he should be ready.”

Countered Clottey: “I am not going into this fight to lose, I am going to do everything to win. I want Margarito to stand and fight so we can show everyone who is the best.”

In this game, words count for very little. Unless, of course, you are A.J. Liebling, who word-for-word, if not, pound-for-pound, was the best to cover the sport. This is a night of boxing that would certainly whet Liebling’s appetite. Lest we forget, Liebling was also a food critic and had a healthy appetite.

The question is, has Cotto, Margarito or Arum bitten off more than they can chew? It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened in boxing. From Jim Braddock to Buster Douglas, the next big upset is always just a punch away.

In sports, sometimes you get the two best teams playing on the final day of the season. Then, sometimes you get the Cardinals and the Tigers and a pitcher using pine tar.

The feeling in this corner is that, come June 9, in New York City, we’ll get Cotto against Margarito. That’s the way it should be.

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