Miguel Cotto vs. Antonio Margarito in the Garden: Reporter's Notebook

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Miguel Cotto vs. Antonio Margarito in the Garden: Reporter's Notebook
Al Bello/Getty Images

Saturday, December 3rd, in Madison Square Garden WBA junior middleweight champion Miguel Cotto retained his title by closing the right eye of his bitter rival Antonio Margarito, delivering a technical knockout to the man who TKO'd him three years ago. 

This was boxing at its most primal, at its greatest. The New York State physician, through whom Fate ultimately delivered Her verdict, was probably all that stands between our own civilization and the last decadent days of Rome. But still, it was glorious, and whoever was there Saturday night in the Garden will go to their grave eternally glad that they were.

Even if they did not hate each other we would want to see them fight. These are two of the elite of this generation, with six world titles between them and the perfect style matchup to create high drama.

Then again, who could even imagine a world where these two were not enemies? Cotto is the perfect model of the civilized warrior: Spartan self-discipline, stoic demeanor and devotion to family. And Margarito is the cunning barbarian; jovial,  good-humored and very much at-home in a destroy or be destroyed situation.

Re-watch the 24/7 segments. Margarito, high in the mountains and training among ancient pre-European conquest ruins was like some Germanic Chief, surrounded by his brothers-in-arms. Cotto at his home in suburban Florida was the Roman Centurian, going about his rigorous daily routine while paying careful devotion to the household gods. 

Blowing off steam for Margarito was watching his training partners compete at performing acrobatic maneuvers on the lawn outside of the gym, or digging into a delicious communal training meal. For Cotto relaxation meant savoring time over dominoes with his mother, grandfather and brother.

Al Bello/Getty Images

 

I'm not saying Margarito doesn't love his own family and Cotto doesn't like to go hang out with his boys. But these classic narratives seemed to suggestion themselves naturally here, whether or not the HBO producers were fully aware of them or not.

 

But dramatic soap opera stuff aside, it was a great fight.

It was a sporting event to be put up along side any other exciting sporting events in recent years. As a night of fighting, from undercard up through the main event, it had the moments of raw excitement mixed with technical mastery that fight fans cherish. 

And was there ever any doubt that it would be so? Bob Arum will always be a controversial figure, but I have to give him credit for putting together this card.

He loaded it up with talent and matched the fighters up well. The three fights before the PPV even started featured impressive knockout performances by solid looking prospects. Junior welterweight Glen Tapia improved to 12-0 while light heavyweight prospects Sean Monagham and Mike Lee went to 11-0 and 8-0 respectively.

The undercard featured three fights that could legitimately headline premium cable main events. Mike Jones, 26(19)-0, earned a one-sided decision over Sebastian Lujan, 38(24)-6-2, that will have many questioning his power and aggression. Nonetheless, he will be fighting for a world title his next time out.

Al Bello/Getty Images

Brandon "Bam Bam" Rios defended his WBA lightweight title for what may be the last time before moving up in weight, running his undefeated record to 29(21)-0-1 by TKOing Englishman John Murray, 31(18)-2(2).

The challenger from Manchester had a rugged straight-ahead style perfectly matched to make for an exciting fight with Rios. Large sections of the bout could have been contested inside the proverbial phone booth, with the two competitors standing forehead to forehead, trading shots. In the end, the stronger, quicker Rios was just too much for him. 

And in a highly anticipated rematch to last summer's draw, junior middleweight contender Delvin Rodriguez 26(14)-5-3, left no doubts this time around, earning a convincing unanimous decision win over Pawel Wolak, 29(19)-2-1. Even as he was clearly ahead on the scorecards in the final round, Rodriguez pushed hard to finish the fight, ensuring that the final bell would find the Garden's capacity crowd on their feet cheering.  

 

But in the end, the night belonged to Cotto, his fans, and the Garden itself. 

For the large Puerto Rican fanbase in the New York City Cotto is a major star, their adopted son. And Saturday night was a moment of wild celebration for that community. The Puerto Rican National Anthem echoed off the walls of the Garden as nearly 20,000 voices joined in. Puerto Rican flags were waved from every corner and were hung wherever there was available space. 

Al Bello/Getty Images

When the jumbotron showed an image of Cotto's handsome young son, looking pleased at the way Papa was handling the bad man, screams and cheers broke out. A lady sitting behind me joyously screamed: "Baby Cotto! That's a little Baby Cotto!"

As for Cotto's performance, it will go down as a signature victory for what will be a Hall of Fame career. He fought in a skillfully-controlled yet fast-paced style for which Margarito's only answer was to shake his head, smile with good humor and wade into more abuse.

 

It's true that he never greatly slowed the "Tijuana Tornado," but Margarito's tremendous endurance and heart deserve the credit for that. Cotto punished Margarito's body enough so that Margarito had to think about it and he hit his infamously vulnerable right eye with a thudding and consistent accuracy. 

The Doctor's decision, when it came, was merely academic. There was no way that Margarito was going to come back to win. The only thing that was prevented was the potential for another horrific eye injury for Margarito, or worse. 

I can testify that many of the 20,000 on hand Saturday night in the Garden wanted to see the brutal and inevitable end play itself out. They wanted to see the notorious "criminal" receive the full measure of his punishment, no matter how brutal the result might be.

But ultimately this is a sport, regardless of whatever mythic overtones we read into it or however we may employ it to satisfy what Joe Rogan calls our Chimpanzee DNA. So it is enough, more than enough, that Cotto got his redemption only in a thorough and masterful domination of his hated foe.

He took his revenge  not as a merciless demon but as a civilized sportsman. He reestablished himself as still one of the sport's legitimate big draws and big talents.

The devoted family man had a proud night to celebrate with his tight-knit clan. The sports star gave his fans another night of boxing in the Garden that they will never forget. 

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