Thursday, November 11, 2010

High stakes for Pacquiao, Margarito

ARLINGTON, Texas — Manny Pacquiao, the pound-pound-for-pound king, and the controversial Antonio Margarito are fighting for different stakes. One fights for history. One for redemption.

Pacquiao had hoped to be in the ring with Floyd Mayweather Jr. defending his welterweight title, but Mayweather refused to fight him and is, as he says, “on vacation,” while also now fighting a variety of criminal charges stemming from alleged domestic dispute in September.

So while Mayweather’s next fight will be in the courtroom, Pacquiao has moved on with his career and is moving on up in weight yet again as he seeks a vacant junior middleweight belt when he and Margarito meet Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET, $54.95) at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington in front of a crowd that could draw 70,000, Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said at Wednesday’s final news conference. That would be a record for an American indoor fight.

If Pacquiao wins, he would claim a title in a record-extending eighth weight class, which, even in this era of title proliferation, is still eye-catching.

“It would be an eighth title, which nobody else has ever done, but Manny Pacquiao is a different kind of athlete,” said Arum, who also promotes Margarito. “He’s very special and the type of accomplishments he has shouldn’t really surprise anybody.

While Margarito, a former two-time welterweight titleholder, will also be looking to win a vacant junior middleweight belt, he will be seeking a measure of redemption following the well-publicized hand-wrap scandal he was at the center of when he attempted to enter the ring with loaded hand wraps before his welterweight title fight with Shane Mosley in Los Angeles in January 2009.

Margarito had his license revoked and his once-solid reputation went into the toilet. He was not allowed to fight in the United States and only after California rejected his plea for a return of his license did Texas regulators give him one in September. It was a controversial move, but it paved the way for his fight with Pacquiao, which will be contested at a contract limit of 150 pounds even though the limit for junior middleweights is 154 pounds.

“Antonio knows he needs to win the fight. He’s hoping he’s going to redeem himself with the victory,” said Sergio Diaz, Margarito’s co-manager. “But at the same time he says he doesn’t really think he’ll get the credit he had before [the scandal]. He thinks if he wins there will be people who will say, ‘Well, he got lucky. Maybe it was the weight and Manny was too small and Margarito was too big.’ I feel, and he feels, he will carry this scandal the rest of his life.

“But I do believe it’s going to diminish and you’ll hear about it here and there and every time he fights it’s always going to be written about and spoken about. It’s going to always be there. It’s tough to accept it.”

So while Margarito aims to resurrect his reputation as best as he can, Pacquiao goes for more history. He’s used to it.

From flyweight to welterweight, where he currently holds an alphabet title, Pacquiao has roared up the weight classes like nobody in boxing history. He set the mark of winning titles in seven divisions when he knocked out Miguel Cotto in the 12th round last November to win a welterweight belt.

After one defense, a near shutout of Joshua Clottey at Jerry Jones’ $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium in March, Pacquiao is moving up in weight yet again to fight for the belt vacated earlier this year by Sergio Martinez, who went on to win the middleweight championship.

Pacquiao has never bragged about his run of titles. Instead, he has remained humble about his accomplishments and the possibility of adding another.

The Filipino icon — elected to congress in his home country earlier this year — showed little emotion when asked about the prospects of claiming another title.

“This is why I do my best in training this time,” Pacquiao said. “This is going to be another record in boxing and I have to be in great condition to win. We consider this a very important fight in my whole career.”

“All the people around him have made it into a big deal, but Manny has not,” Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said. “[Trainer] Freddie [Roach] is excited. [Adviser] Michael Koncz is excited. All the other guys around him are excited about it. Manny never even mentions it except when he’s asked.”

Arum knows a thing or two about fighters moving up the scales to win titles in multiple divisions. Besides promoting Pacquiao, he promoted Oscar De La Hoya for most of his career, during which he won belts in six weight classes before Pacquiao pummeled him into retirement.

Arum also promoted such fighters as Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Alexis Arguello, who all won titles in multiple divisions.

He won’t be surprised if Pacquiao gets No. 8.

“Who would believe that after the first fight with Erik Morales [Pacquiao's last defeat in 2005] that he would be here in this kind of fight and be a congressman in the Philippines,” Arum said. “Who would believe that he would come to Nevada [on a last-minute campaign appearance] and help win an election for the majority leader [Harry Reid] of the United States Senate? If I said things like that before he really did them you’d have said it was just typical Arum bull—-. So nothing he does surprises me, including if he wins an eighth title.”

Roach, Pacquiao’s longtime trainer, however, has no problem bragging about the fighter he hooked up with in 2001 and helped lead to six of his titles.

“Manny’s a freak, let’s face it,” Roach said. “We’re not going to see another Manny Pacquiao in our lifetime. He’s a once in a lifetime deal. If you get four world titles it’s a big deal. One is hard enough. To win eight is unheard of. He continues to amaze me.”

Roach was a well-known trainer even before Pacquiao came into his Hollywood, Calif., gym for the first time but with Pacquiao has his star pupil, Roach has reached a new level of fame.

So, of course, he’s excited about the opportunity to be part of an eighth title.

“I feel great about it,” Roach said. “It’s a record that will stand for a long, long time. He’s the history books and he’s changed my life. Having Manny in my life has made me better and made me a better life. One day he walks into my gym as a 122-pounder. He breaks [Lehlo] Ledwaba’s nose in the first round and knocks him out [in the sixth round]. The rest is history. Who would think we’d be here going for an eighth title?”

Margarito is happy just to be getting a chance to fight a major fight, one for which he’ll make at least $3 million, a figure likely to more than double if the pay-per-view performs well.

He has maintained all along that it was his former trainer, Javier Capetillo, who put the illegal pads in his hand wraps before they were discovered in the moments before he went to the ring for his knockout loss to Mosley.

After serving his year license revocation, Margarito did have a fight in Mexico in May under the guidance of new trainer Robert Garcia, a former junior lightweight titlist. Margarito did not look particularly good after such a long layoff as he outpointed the obscure Roberto Garcia [no relation to his trainer].

Then came the battle to get a license. Nevada tabled his request and told him to go to California first. California then denied him. Finally, Texas gave him one.

“I try not to dwell on the negative,” Margarito said. “I know people will ask the questions and I have to answer the questions and I have no problem with them. To me, all I am concentrating right now is on the fight. I know it is going to be asked, but, for me, I have to concentrate on the fight. Everything is in the past and I can’t wait until [Saturday].

“I thank God for getting this opportunity. Of course, Bob Arum has been behind me the whole time and I thank him too. I know it is a great opportunity and I’m going to take advantage of it. I know how hard it was to make the fight real and I’m very happy that it’s finally here.”

Dick Gordon 2010