MIGUEL COTTO'S BIG PAYBACK WAS A LONG AND WINDING ROAD (AND A PLEASURE TO WATCH, FROM BEGINNING TO END)

After weeks of waiting, an incredible build  and at least one near-cancellation, the impossibly hyped rematch between Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto finally went off as scheduled. As redemption stories go, this one was set up perfectly. All that was left was for the right guy to actually win.

As maligned as Boxing has been for the last decade or more, and as passe as it might have become to some, there’s still nothing that beats a big boxing match for sheer drama. You know, one winner, one loser. Every now and again you get a great fight, or a great storyline. Every once in a blue moon, you get both. This was both.

Long before some promoter was cagey enough to tell his fighters to pretend to hate each other in order to sell a fight, you used to actually get the occasional, honest to goodness grudge match. Sometimes it was an ethnic thing, or a respect thing, or just a plain old “I don’t fucking like that guy” thing. The old adage holds true: People like watching guys fight, but they love watching guys who hate each other fight.

For this one, there was no doubt. As I said a few weeks ago, this fight featured a very real grievance,and a made-to-order good vs evil scenario that was every bit as organic as most others (see just about every contrived MMA “grudge match”) aren’t. Sure, Antonio Margarito has done his best to be a completely unlikable pissant in the weeks leading up to the fight (and after), but there’s a world difference between embracing a villain roll and creating a fictitious persona like a some (again, more of an MMA epidemic) have resorted to in recent years.

If Margarito has been the bastard in this equation, Cotto had been everything but. Humble, soft spoken and determined to get even are the words that come to mind here. Convinced that Margarito had used loaded gloves in their first fight, it’s likely that Cotto feels like the defeat he suffered that night (his first as a pro) is something he could never truly avenge. Still, laying a beating on Margarito in the rematch would not only count as revenge for the first fight, but vindication in the mind of himself and others who believe Maragrito cheated to win.

So here we were, after all the talk, the near-postponement of the fight (the NY athletic commission had to be convinced Margarito’s eye was in good enough shape) and the almost-impossible-to-live-up-to-the-hype feeling that had attached itself to this fight. A sold  out (and decidedly pro-Cotto) Madison Sqaure Garden. Cotto’s wife and kids in the front row and everything. All he had to do now was vanquish the guy who, with the aid of loaded gloves or not, had put such a vicious beating on him three years earlier.

The big payback.

For the first five rounds, Cotto dominated the way he had in their first meeting. Only on this night, his dominance wouldn’t turn into fatigue and eventual defeat as it had then. On this night, he boxed, he moved, he feinted, he befuddled. On this night, he paid it all back.  For his part, Margarito never stopped pressing the action. Of course, he never stopped eating leather, or for that matter, bleeding all over the ring. As is his way, he stayed macho until the bitter end. At one point, he actually tapped the cut on his own eye repeatedly with his glove, as if to say, “go ahead, hit it, see if I care”. He is after all a man who has said many times that he would be willing to die in the ring before he would submit.

Hard to find any logic in that line of thinking, but then again, who ever said logic had anyplace in a fistfight?

Not that he wasn’t completely dominated, but the end of this one came at the behest of the ringside doctors, who insisted Margarito’s already surgically repaired eye should not be subjected to any more punishment.

Hard to argue with that decision.

Predictably, Margarito played the bastard ’til the bitter end, saying Cotto hit like a girl, insisted he could see just fine, blah blah blah.

What, you expected something different?

So when all was said and done, almost everybody got what they came for. Whether it was revenge, excitement, or the fulfillment of the drama and competition we were promised in the hype.

Everyone but Margarito, that is. All he got was a beating.

-John Hathwell

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