Margarito's road to redemption could begin Saturday in Dallas
GRAPEVINE, Texas -- It was a bizarre moment, even by boxing standards. As the news conference promoting the undercard for Saturday night's show was winding down, Top Rank promoter Bob Arum stepped to the podium with an announcement. Antonio Margarito was here, Arum said, and he wanted to address the media.
Margarito was here? Now? Two days before a fight, most boxers are sequestered in their rooms, preferring to use the remaining hours to narrow their focus. But something was eating at Margarito, something he was itching to let out. Earlier in the week, a video surfaced on YouTube that appeared to show Margarito, along with stable mate Brandon Rios, mocking the tremors suffered by Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer, who is afflicted with Parkinson's disease.
On Thursday, Margarito's trainer, Robert Garcia, tried to repair the damage by apologizing for his fighters. Earlier in the news conference, Rios issued an apology of his own. Now it was Margarito's turn.
"First of all, I want you to know that I would never make fun of Freddie Roach or anyone with that disease," Margarito said through an interpreter. "I have someone in the family with that disease, so you know that I would never make fun of them, but I just wanted to tell you how it happened. I just wanted to tell you that that day when I came to the gym, there was a guy with a camera, and he came up to me and told me that Freddie Roach had said that I was going to get knocked out. And I just shook my hands and said, 'Oh, I'm really scared now.'
"I hope that Freddie Roach and all of the people accept my apologies, and this goes to everyone with that disease. I want to tell you that I would never, ever in my life make fun of someone like that. I just wanted everyone to know that I would never do anything like that."
Margarito's apology rang empty -- it's hard not to look at the video and think he wasn't imitating Roach's symptoms -- but it revealed a truth. Margarito has been cast as a pariah for almost two years, a label he earned the moment the piece of plaster slipped out of his hand wraps before his fight with Shane Mosley in January 2009. But up until now, it often appeared Margarito was indifferent to public opinion.
"He's not," Garcia insisted. "He wants everybody to know he's a decent person. He worries, he cares about what people think. Everybody makes mistakes, but that's why he was up here apologizing for it."
Lately, Margarito's career has been filled with mistakes. In the aftermath of the Mosley fight, the California State Athletic Commission yanked Margarito's license, effectively suspending him for one year. The commission couldn't prove Margarito was trying to load his wraps -- his then-trainer, Javier Capetillo, took the heat for that -- but few in the industry bought the excuse that Margarito didn't know what was in them.
Nor did most believe it was the first time Margarito fought with illegal wraps. Last year, photographs surfaced showing red stains on Margarito's hand wraps from his fight with Miguel Cotto, stains that were consistent with the coloring on the wraps seized by the California commission.
"I don't think you get caught the first time you do something like that," Roach said.
Despite California's refusal to reinstate his license in August, Margarito was able to secure the fight with Pacquiao in Texas, a lucrative, high-profile event that has been hyped by HBO's Emmy-winning reality series
Margarito's abhorrent behavior has led many to question whether he cares about his image. He acknowledges that a win over Pacquiao might help restore some of his reputation but rarely goes much beyond that.
"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, right now all I am concentrating on is the fight. ... Everything is in the past."
But it's not. The perception that Margarito attempted to load his wraps -- the type of cheating that has led to horrific results in the past, most notably in the case of Luis Resto and Billy Collins in 1983 -- will chase him everywhere.
"It's part of his legacy now," boxing historian Bert Sugar said. "It will always be repeated. It will be like a hyphen in his name."
Margarito's road to redemption figures to be a long one. Winning will help, but his behavior over the next few years will determine if he will ever be forgiven. And forgiveness could prove to be important. Margarito has had a distinguished career, with wins over Miguel Cotto, Kermit Cintron and Josh Clottey. He reigned as a welterweight champion for the better part of seven years and for a time was considered the most feared fighter in boxing.
To some, those are Hall of Fame credentials. A win over Pacquiao on Saturday (9 p.m. ET, HBO PPV) would further bolster his case. And at 32, Margarito still has several good years left to pad his résumé.
But all that is irrelevant if Margarito can't be forgiven. SI.com asked six voters if they would ever vote Margarito into the Hall of Fame. While all six said Margarito's record to date was not worthy of the Hall, three said they would never vote for Margarito because of the hand-wrapping incident; three others said they would weigh it but not refuse to vote for him because of it.
"Jake LaMotta is in the Hall of Fame after he threw a fight [a 1947 loss to Billy Fox]," Sugar said. "So anything is possible. But I think what Margarito did will weigh on some of the voters."
Whatever the reason -- his popularity, his legacy -- Margarito needs more positive PR to improve it. When it comes to athletes, the public tends to forgive, as long as it is not constantly reminded about what irked it in the first place.
• The injury to Kelly Pavlik has elevated the welterweight fight between Mike Jones and Jesus Soto-Karass to the final bout of Saturday's undercard. Jones (22-0, 18 KOs) is an interesting prospect. The Philadelphia native has rarely fought on television as co-promoter Russell Peltz has opted to keep Jones active rather than wait for interest from HBO or Showtime. But his blend of power and speed could put him in the mix at 147 pounds once he gets more exposure.
"Nobody knows who the hell Mike Jones is," Arum said. "Mike Jones has been built by one promoter [Peltz] with all of his own resources and with no help from the premium networks. Russel Peltz built this kid to where he is now. HBO put millions of dollars into making Andre Berto a star. After you see Mike Jones fight on Saturday, you tell me who is the better fighter, Jones or Berto."
• A fighter with a college degree is rare in boxing. Count Mike Lee as one of them. Lee, a light heavyweight prospect recently signed by Top Rank, graduated from Notre Dame in 2009 with a degree in finance. In college, Lee wanted to be a trader, even doing internships in Chicago and working on the trading floor for two summers. He didn't start boxing until he was 16 but soon got hooked.
"It's one of those sports I just got addicted to," Lee said. "I loved the adrenaline rush, I loved the aggression of it."
Lee (2-0, 1 KO) has joined up with trainer Ronnie Shields, one of boxing's top tacticians who has trained Pernell Whitaker, Vernon Forrest and Evander Holyfield. He has developed a strong fan base in Chicago -- he drew 3,000 fans to his pro debut in May -- and many of those supporters will make the trip to Arlington to see Lee take on Keith Debow (0-2, 0 KOs) in a four-round fight that will also be streamed live on TopRank.com
"I've been with Ronnie for eight months and I've improved drastically," Lee said. "I think we're doing great. I'm young. There's no reason to rush. Boxing is an unforgiving sport. We're going to take our time and do what's right for my career."
• Lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez has been in two tightly contested fights with Manny Pacquiao and is considered a top candidate to face Pacquiao in 2011. However, Marquez is represented by Golden Boy, which has been involved in an icy standoff with Top Rank. To that end, Arum says he will share the proceeds of any Pacquiao-Marquez fight with Golden Boy, but not the promotion.
"They will make a lot of money and Marquez will make a lot of money," Arum said. "But I don't need them. They don't think the way we do."
• A developing story in Pacquiao's camp continues to be the relationship between Roach and Arum. Roach has been vocal that he believes Pacquiao should strongly consider quitting after this fight, citing a lack of relevant opponents as the top reason. Arum has strongly disagreed with Roach and gone out of his way to point out that the trainer doesn't always have his fighter's ear.
"Freddie has absolutely no idea what Manny is thinking," Arum said. "Absolutely no idea. Manny relies on Freddie for training. But he does not confide in Freddie as far as his future plans."
Arum says there is a lengthy list of potential challengers should Pacquiao win this fight. Mayweather remains at the top, but Arum listed Marquez, Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto. Arum also said he could be interested in matching Pacquiao against the winner of the Timothy Bradley-Devon Alexander junior welterweight fight.