WBO welterweight titleholder Antonio Margarito and welterweight contender Miguel Cotto appear on separate boxing bouts on Saturday for the final buildup in Atlantic City, a town renown for gambling.

Margarito (33-4, 24 KOs) has been on every welterweight’s do-not-fight list while Cotto has been on everyone’s hit list, and now the two showcase their fistic talent at the Boardwalk Hall on Saturday Dec. 2 to set the stage for their own collision next year. The duo’s contests will be televised by Showtime.

Like a plague, Margarito has slowly emerged to the top of the heap in the 147-pound welterweight division and has scared off almost everyone.

But two weeks ago the Tijuana-based fighter, while sparring in a South El Monte gym, sprained his ankle and collapsed with a scream of pain. Now he faces a rugged and hungry opponent in Joshua Clottey whose biggest opportunity lies in front of him like a dangling piece of steak.

“I respect Margarito a lot. I love the way he fights. It is the way I fight,” Clottey (29-1, 18 KOs) said by telephone. “We all know that only the strong survive.”

Amid the roulette wheels, crap tables and poker players in the East Coast gambling city, Margarito is gambling that his right ankle will hold up in a 12-round world title fight.

“At the time that it happened I was really afraid I was not going to be able to fight,” said Margarito about his sparring injury to his right ankle. “But everything worked out nicely. I will be 100% on Dec. 2.”

Cotto (27-0, 22 KOs) has his own gamble going. The Puerto Rican standout has evacuated from the comfortable confines of the 140-pound junior welterweight limit to move into the heavier division where the likes of not only Margarito roam, but blockbusting fighters such as Kermit Cintron, Paul Williams, Floyd Mayweather and even Shane Mosley inhabit.

But first Cotto faces fellow Puerto Rican Carlos Quintana (23-0, 18 KOs) for the vacant WBA welterweight title.

Top Rank, which promotes both Margarito and Cotto, hopes that the Mexican and Puerto Rican Cotto are victorious and can then fight each other perhaps in June on Puerto Rican day in New York.

“That’s our intention,” said Bob Arum, president of Top Rank.

Like Margarito, Cotto faces an enormous gamble that those punches that shook him in the lighter junior welterweight division will bounce off him like Teflon in the welterweight level. It’s a big risk.

“I think it will be much better at this weight,” Cotto said during a telephone press conference call. “I think you’re going to see the difference in the fight.”

Facing him is fellow “Boricua” Quintana, a left-hander with slick moves and sneaky power that has enabled him to stop 18 of 23 opponents. The Puerto Rican from Moca has been one of those prizefighters that fly below the radar of the elite but not because of a lack of skill. His victory over the favored Joel Julio in Las Vegas last June shocked many with his convincing victory. Now he faces the favored Cotto.

“When I beat him (Cotto) it will be probably because of my quality as a boxer. Not because he is moving up to welterweight,” said Quintana with a quiet confidence. “Hopefully I’ll get the same exposure as he has been getting after I win.”

Quintana uses his left jab and moves in and out like a human mongoose. When he fights Cotto it will be mongoose versus the cobra.

“That is why I have been training and sparring a lot of rounds against left-handers,” Cotto says. “You just prepare yourself for them so there will be no difficulties.”

Against DeMarcus Corley almost two years ago, a junior welterweight southpaw, Cotto was nearly knocked out with a left hand. It was the first time anyone had seen Cotto hurt or dazed.

Lefties have that X-factor whenever they fight.

Both Cotto and Margarito are basically at the roulette wheel hoping the little marble hits black. It’s 50-50 for both.

“We have confidence in both of them,” Arum said.

Winky Wright

Speaking of lefties, several hundred miles south in Florida, Winky Wright engages Ghana’s Ike Quartey in a 12-round non-title middleweight bout. The contest will be televised on HBO.

Wright, who is considered by many as the best fighter pound-for-pound in the world, has campaigned like a Presidential candidate for years of his ability. Until he beat Mosley twice, few took him seriously.

“Thanks to Shane people know who I am,” said Wright while training in Las Vegas. “He gave me my opportunity or people would still not know who I am.”

After Mosley came the dreaded Felix Trinidad. Wright embarrassed him over 12 rounds in front of a worldwide audience. Trinidad retired.

“I told everybody that I could beat him,” Wright explained. “He’s a good fighter but I can box and I can fight.”

Last June against middleweight world champion Jermain Taylor the world got a glimpse of Wright’s talent. For 12 rounds they fought on even terms. It ended in a draw that saw both sides claiming victory.

“Every time I hit him I moved him. He didn’t move me,” Wright said. “Jermain is good but he don’t want to fight me again.”

Now Wright faces a Quartey fighter who fights in a similar jab and block style.

“I’m much stronger than he is,” Wright says.

Dan Birmingham, who trains Wright, said Quartey is no pushover.

“He’s got a lot left,” Birmingham said of Quartey.

Another fighter who has a lot left is Jeff Lacy who is also trained by Birmingham. Lacy faces Vitaly Tsypko again. Their fight in 2004 ended in a no-contest because of a cut suffered by the Ukrainian during an accidental clash of heads.

The heavy-handed Lacy returns to the ring since losing to Joe Calzaghe last March in Great Britain.

“We’ve been working on a lot of things,” Birmingham said. “Jeff is ready.”

Fights on television

Fri. Telefutura, 8 p.m., Ricardo Castillo (27-2) vs. Takalani Ndlovu (26-3).

Fri. Showtime, 11 p.m., Timothy Bradley (16-0) vs. Jaime Rangel (30-9-1).

Sat. HBO, 6:45 p.m., Winky Wright (50-3-1) vs. Ike Quartey (37-3-1).

Sat. Showtime, 9 p.m., Antonio Margarito (33-4) vs. Joshua Clottey (29-1).