MONTEBELLO, CA.-A decade has passed since Antonio Margarito first arrived in Southern California as an unknown lanky boxer out of the rough streets of Tijuana.
Now the WBA welterweight titleholder trains in the lower middle class area of Montebello, California in a gym that was formerly a warehouse and now has been converted to a fulltime boxing gym. Margarito tears through sparring partners like it’s a challenge to his manhood.
He means business.
It’s all business now for Margarito (37-5, 27 KOs) who prepares to face legendary Southern California prizefighter Sugar Shane Mosley (45-5, 38 KOs) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Jan. 24. A sold out crowd is expected at the venue that houses the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers.
Gone are the days he would sit around clowning with guys like Alejandro “Cobrita” Gonzalez, Chino Garcia, Hector Lopez and Astro Boy in the dark second story boxing gym behind the Olympic Auditorium. One is retired, one is incarcerated, another reportedly expired and Garcia is on the last lap as a prizefighter.
Margarito is the man now.
The crowds gather around the Montebello gym hoping to get a glimpse of the boxer known as the “Tijuana Tornado.” They take turns peering through the window to see Margarito run through his daily regimen.
Just a year ago the crowds were much smaller. But a year ago Margarito hadn’t decisively beaten Puerto Rico’s undefeated Pound for Pound fighter Miguel Cotto. That win catapulted him to mega star status from every point in the country of Mexico, not just Tijuana.
“You should have seen the crowds for him,” said Sergio Diaz, who co-manages Margarito and accompanied him to Mexico City to receive his belt and recognition. “It was crazy.”
Even sparring sessions bring dozens of onlookers eager to see Mexico’s new favorite son. It’s all new to Margarito.
Though fans are kept out of the boxing gym, the number of journalists and other boxers and their entourages packs the spacious gym that also serves as a Police Athletic League boxing facility for youths. One of the boxers who emerged from the area is Sergio Mora, the former WBC junior middleweight titleholder.
Margarito could close off the gym. Most of the elite boxers don’t allow journalists. It’s one of the reasons that professional boxing is dying out. Elitism has no place for a sport that needs publicity.
Before the days of pay-per-view fights, most major newspapers had a beat reporter that would generally live in the gym looking for a story or talent. Some gyms even had offices for the boxing reporters and photographers.
Those days are gone now. Today the elite boxers make millions of dollars and lose touch with reality.
Not Margarito. He knows most of the boxing writers by face whether they write for a rag tag quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 500, obscure web sites that pop up almost weekly, and the major newspapers from Mexico to England. It’s just the way he is.
The Tijuana fighter has that gutter to glory machismo that drives him every day to the gyms for a hard days work. Early in the mornings he runs more than most fighters run.
“I ran with him one time and almost died,” said one fighter who is a world titleholder. “He’s an animal.”
Margarito has that look of prizefighters from the 1950s minus the cauliflower ears and re-arranged noses. Though the lanky Tijuana boxer has absorbed massive blows from opponents throughout his career, it’s the other guy who’s taken more punishment. Remember Sebastian Lujan’s bloody dangling ear after he fought Margarito?
Sparring sessions are just like real fights, Margarito expects no quarter.
On a Friday afternoon three prizefighters warm up to prepare for war. First up, Pomona’s Ivan Stovall, a hard-hitting middleweight who has a blend of quick hands and powerful blows. For three rounds Stovall fires combinations and moves around the ring so that the Mexican fighter can’t unload bombs from a set position. Every so often Stovall lands a good blow, stops, looks, and realizes that it’s not a good idea as Margarito keeps coming forward winging his own punches like some kind of punching robot.
“He’s like a punching machine,” says a smiling Stovall. “It’s not that he has the fastest hands, he just never stops punching. He never gets tired.”
Stovall, a good friend of Mosley, shakes his head at the prospect of the future match up. He doesn’t know what to think of his buddy’s chances.
“Shane’s my boy,” says Stovall who is hoping to fight on the same card. “It’s going to be a good one.”
Next up is Jesus Soto Karass, a stable mate of Margarito and somewhat a clone of the Tijuana fighter. The boxer from Los Mochis could be fighting Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto, who lost his intended opponent to injury. But right now he’s just helping put his buddy.
Karass and Margarito are very familiar with each other’s style. For three rounds they go through the motions with the younger fighter landing lead right hands and moving away before Margarito can retaliate with his best.
It’s a mere three round formality with Margarito simply expending energy as Karass moves and fires. Outside of the ropes, looking up at the action, a young fighter out of Hollywood has a smile on his face. He’s next and likes what he sees.
Henry Mitchell has quick feet and quicker hands and has never been stopped despite a 50-50 record of eight wins and eight losses. After watching Margarito and Karass lumber for three rounds the 24-year-old Mitchell looks confident.
Once inside the ropes, Mitchell immediately uses his swiftness to move around the ring as Margarito trails him. Quick darting jabs shoot out but every time Mitchell punches he takes one in return. By the end of the first round Margarito has gauged the distance and increases the volume of punches fired. The look of confidence in Mitchell has been replaced with puzzlement. For the next two rounds the youngster absorbs a multitude of snapping uppercuts from different angles that send his head backward like a bobble-head doll. To his extreme credit, Mitchell never crumbles but the look in his eyes after the pounding he withstood is a sight. I guess he realizes why Margarito is a world champion.
The next day, Mitchell returns. He’s one of the few to return to spar with Margarito who has blown out several sparring partners in the past two weeks.
“He was supposed to spar with Sergio Mora but he couldn’t make it today because of an eye infection,” said German Villasenor, a spokesman for Team Margarito. “Tony has been destroying sparring partners.”
Will he be able to destroy Mosle, a three-division world champion?
“He has a lot of experience,” says Margarito.
According to Top Rank, co-promoters of the world title fight, tickets are going briskly so they opened up the upper levels beginning at $25. The event is expected to attract more than 18,000 fans. For more information go to www.ticketmaster.com.