The Calculated Villain: Antonio Margarito
There is no such thing as bad publicity.
Antonio Margarito is living proof.
In the wake of his very public disgrace as a result of plaster-gate, there were more than a few who believed Margarito’s days as a professional fighter might be numbered. Those people, however, severely overestimated the power of boxing officials and the long-term memory of the sporting public while simultaneously underestimating the power of the greenback.
The fact of the matter is that for every good guy, there needs to be a bad guy, and Antonio Margarito has whole-heartedly embraced his role as the bad guy, the boxing pariah so many love to hate. Margarito hasn’t exactly been the most congenial of figures since his suspension, between brazenly making light of Freddie Roach’s Parkinson’s disease and vehemently deflecting responsibility for the handwrap controversy. Maybe Margarito has faced the reality that his boxing sins are unpardonable, that no amount of groveling and contrition will ever pay due penance, and that he might as well cash in on the image he inadvertently created for himself the moment his loaded wraps were found out. His image is now of the outlaw, the remorseless bad boy who relishes his place in the hurt business. Even his appearance has changed since his boxing exile; Margarito now sports a shaggy danger-mullet, a Luciferian goatee, crime kingpin sunglasses, and almost exclusively black and red garb. His bad-dude gimmick is so obvious as to border on comical.
This is a far cry from the Margarito of old, whose image focused solely on his ring abilities, and whose reputation was that of an honest, old-school Mexican warrior who was a mean son-of-a-gun in the ring, but a decent family man out of it. With that image, Margarito was not a particularly bankable fighter, which led to him being dubbed “the most avoided man in boxing” for years. It’s hard to sell a major attraction in boxing without a little controversy. The old Margarito was a little too boring for that, even if he fought like a maniac. The new Margarito, on the other hand, is a whole different matter altogether.
If any skeptics out there doubt the marketability of Margarito’s new maverick persona, consider this: Margarito headlined exactly one major pay-per-view before his loaded-wrap suspension, and that was his first fight with Cotto. Saturday’s rematch with Cotto will be his second fight in a row headlining major pay-per-view. All this for a fighter who has not won a significant bout in over three years and has been obliterated in his last two meaningful fights. In boxing, it is apparent that being bad pays.
Perhaps Margarito has taken a a page from boxing’s most celebrated bad boy: Floyd Mayweather. While Mayweather has always been a prodigious talent, he has not always been a bankable box office attraction. It wasn’t until his 2007 showdown with Oscar De La Hoya that Mayweather vaulted to superstardom, and he did it by playing the heel. Mayweather’s self-aggrandizing, narcissistic bravado has reached new heights as he plays to onlookers and HBO’s 24/7 crew in the years since, and it has made him one of the biggest earners in all of sports. Like Margarito, Mayweather has a lucrative incentive to be bad.
Margarito has also emulated Mayweather’s persona in another respect: it is unclear where the schtick ends and reality begins. With Mayweather, the act of uber-villian is prevalent even when the cameras aren’t rolling and the fans are nowhere to be found. His often-discussed, real-life legal travails reflect the same character traits of his supposed alter-ego, Money Mayweather: propensities toward violence, vulgarity, and vice that make him an easy target for criticism. The word in acting is to never break character; Mayweather must be one good actor.
Similarly, Margarito’s blatant disregard for boxing protocol as well as the health of his opponent(s) in illegally wrapping his hands demonstrates an obvious and severe character flaw. His unrepentant demeanor doesn’t help either, considering that the likelihood that he knew exactly what was going on is more along the lines of certainty. Some might argue that this version of Margarito is who he really was all along. As is the case with Mayweather, the enigma of Antonio Margarito is a difficult one to interpret. It’s all too difficult to see where the villainy, or reality, begins and ends.
One thing is for sure: Margarito has been highly successful at turning shunnings into earnings. One of the most polarizing figures in the sport will take to the ring Saturday night in what could potentially be his last big payday, but who knows? This bad guy gig could go a long way, possibly longer than the span of true boxing relevance.