January 25, 2010

1. Disgraced former welterweight champion Antonio Margarito is applying for a license in Texas with the hope of fighting on the Manny Pacquiao-Josh Clottey undercard on Mar. 13. Should Margarito be allowed to return to boxing after getting caught with loaded gloves before his fight with Shane Mosley in January 2009?

CHRIS MANNIX: As much as everyone -- myself included -- believes that Margarito has been loading his gloves for years, the fact remains that he was busted only for trying to slip a veritable rock in his wraps against Mosley. And the punishment he has received, with more than a year of his prime lost, fits the crime. Still, Margarito's return should shift the topic back to the careless California commission. Remember, it wasn't a member of the commission who caught Margarito; it was Mosley's trainer, Nazim Richardson.

All commissions, not just California, need to be more diligent with inspecting fighter's gloves. Margarito was the most recent fighter caught, yes, but you can be sure he is not the only one doing it.

RICH O'BRIEN: Business gets done in boxing all the time -- a record massaged here, an "opponent" brought in to help boost a prospect's confidence there -- it's how the sport survives. Likewise, fighters have always relied on tricks and gamesmanship (see Holyfield, Evander and head, or Hopkins, Bernard and elbows) to supplement their Queensberry-approved repertoires. But what Margarito tried to do against Mosley (and, by all implication and bloody evidence did do against Miguel Cotto) goes beyond the boundaries of the colorful and the crafty straight to the criminal.

If it were up to me, I'd just as soon Margarito were never licensed again (along with his trainer, Javier Capetillo). But, again, this is boxing and business does get done. So, once he has served his suspension, he'll almost certainly be reinstated. Promoter Bob Arum is already talking about a Pacquiao-Margarito fight. Certainly that would be a bout with a ready-made Good Guy-Bad Guy theme. It also would no doubt have Cotto rooting for his most recent conqueror to avenge him against his first.

BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: Margarito and Capetillo should consider themselves lucky they're not in jail. Luis Resto and Panama Lewis served prison terms for similar machinations against Billy Collins Jr. in 1983, a tragic episode in fistic lore captured in last year's outstanding (and discomforting) HBO documentary Assault in the Ring. For Margarito to be pocketing a seven-figure paycheck less than 14 months after getting pinched for an offense tantamount to manslaughter (or worse) is nothing short of an insult.

2. Featherweight titleholders Juan Manuel Lopez and Yuriorkis Gamboa scored a pair of impressive knockouts against credible opponents Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Top Rank CEO Bob Arum says he wants Lopez and Gamboa to clean out the 126-pound division over the next two years before fighting one another at an outdoor venue like the new Meadowlands Stadium. What do you make of Arum's game plan for these two?

MANNIX: I think Bob learned a valuable lesson from Cotto's recent fight with Manny Pacquiao. You don't send one of your top earners -- in this case, the popular Lopez -- into the lion's den (a role played by the powerful Gamboa) unless you are sure he can handle it. Watching Gamboa crush Rogers Mtagwa at Madison Square Garden was chilling, especially when you consider how Mtagwa gave Lopez all he could handle just a few months earlier.

Personally, I think Lopez going up against Gamboa is a suicide mission. He just had his first 126-pound fight after campaigning for three years at 122. Let Arum's prized light weights spend 2010 cleaning out the featherweight division. There is money to be made in fights with the entertaining Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez (assuming the two don't kill each other when they meet for the fourth time in May) and it gives Lopez more time to adjust to his new weight class. Come the summer of 2011, a Lopez-Gamboa fight might be big enough to fill the arena at MSG, not just the theatre.

O'BRIEN: Gamboa was sensational on Saturday in disposing of Mtagwa in two rounds. Certainly he looked far more impressive than Lopez did last October, when he barely held on to take a decision over Mtagwa. However, Lopez looked terrific on Saturday, methodically breaking down WBO featherweight champ Steven Luevano over seven rounds. And certainly right now a match between the two would be a pick'em fight. Arum's plan to build up interest in a Lopez-Gamboa superbout sounds promising -- starting off with a double date in the spring featuring Lopez fighting in Puerto Rico and Gamboa in Miami. The question is whether he'll match the two against credible opponents. Undefeated Chris John would be a real attraction against either man, as would Elio Rojas (though he's set to face Guty Espadas Jr. next month). What I'd hate to see is a couple of marking-time bouts against lesser lights. There aren't that many truly compelling matchups in boxing these days and we've seen too often how easily a prospective one can blow away.

GRAHAM: Before you call the oxymoron police on featherweight megafight, remember the climate is ideal for an event like the one Arum prophesied with such enthusiasm Saturday night. Small men have always benefited from periods when interest in the heavyweight division is dragging. Leonard, Hargler, Hearns and Duran benefitted from the dip between Ali and Tyson, just like Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather wouldn't be threatening pay-per-view records if there were a Tyson, Lewis and Holyfield on the scene. With some of the nation's biggest Puerto Rican and Cuban enclaves within spitting distance of East Rutherford, there's no reason Lopez-Gamboa -- with the proper seasoning -- couldn't draw more than 30,000 to North Jersey's sparkling $1.4 billion pleasure palace. It's a no-brainer.

If Arum is serious about putting Lopez and Gamboa up against the featherweight division's very best, I agree with the idea that a two-year buildup can build interest in their eventual showdown to irresistable levels. (Chris John says he's "ready to fight either one of them.") But if Arum just looking to put them in against handpicked "opponents," those designs could have an off-putting effect on fans.

3. The Associated Press reported WBA lightweight champion Amir Khan has reached a tentative agreement to fight mandatory challenger Marcos Maidana at the end of March or early April. Is this a good fight for Khan?

MANNIX: Fighting (and beating) Maidana would do more for Khan's career than three fights against lesser competition. We know Khan has skills and a little pop behind his punches. We also know his career has taken off now that he has the estimable Freddie Roach in his corner. What we don't know is if Khan can take a punch. Every boxing fan remembers the stunning knockout Khan suffered against Breidis Prescott in 2008. Khan will never be anything more than a paper champion until he proves his chin has more iron than glass in it. And Maidana doesn't scare me that much. Sure, he put a whooping on Victor Ortiz, but before that he'd been an honors student at the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. School of Picking Opponents. He also proved against Ortiz that while he could knock you down, he was just as susceptible to being knocked down.

O'BRIEN: In a word, No. There's some talk, isn't there, that the fight's not set yet -- that Khan may make his U.S. debut against an interim (read far-less-threatening) opponent, with Maidana on the undercard, and then face Maidana later in the year? Either way, the hard-punching Maidana (26 KOs in a record of 27-1) seems a nightmare opponent for Khan. Certainly, he's no Dimitriy Salita. Even in Maidana's one loss, a close, split decision to Andriy Kotelnik last February, Maidana punished his opponent and never stopped coming. Khan, who under Roach, is relying more on his jab and movement, will have a hard time keeping Maidana off him, and if Maidana can turn the fight into a brawl, the tinkling sound of Khan's chin is very likely to be heard.

GRAHAM: Maidana is a bona fide title contender, an extremely tough and resiliant fighter. Everybody remembers the drilling Maidana put on Victor Ortiz, the future-of-the-network-type guy who'd been dominating some upper-level but mostly mid-level competition for the previous year. But that defeat was less about Maidana's ability and more about Ortiz's immaturity and (I thought) a touch of arrogance.

Against the in-his-prime Maidana, Ortiz established himself as the more aggressive fighter early and seemed to be lunging on his punches and headhunting instead of employing a more measured, tactical approach. Why? Because he'd been doing the same thing for two years while crushing guys in the first six rounds. That strategy, we saw, is a recipe for disaster against a guy like Maidana.

Don't get it twisted: A fight with Maidana would be the biggest challenge of Khan's career and I don't know that he's ready for it. But just because Maidana derailed Ortiz's career (at least temporarily), doesn't guarantee he'd do the same to Khan. No trainer in the game can break down an opponent and concoct a game plan as effectively as Roach -- and you know he'd have Khan much better prepared for Maidana than Ortiz seemed to be.

4. Yuri Foreman will make the first defense of his WBA junior middleweight belt against Miguel Cotto on June 12 at Madison Square Garden. What do you make of this matchup?

MANNIX: This is the -- I repeat the -- perfect comeback fight for Cotto. Not only will it be a high-profile, HBO-broadcasted fight at Madison Square Garden for a bona fide title but it is also against an opponent who, while skilled, has no chance of knocking him out. That's an important factor when you consider the beatings Pacquiao and Margarito have put on him the last couple of years. Foreman presents a challenge and I'm not sure Cotto has the skills anymore to win a 12-rounder against a guy with this kind of hand speed. Nor am I sure that the recent death of Cotto's father and the embodiement of ineptitude that is Joe Santiago in his corner won't diminish him even further. But if Cotto can beat Foreman, he instantly becomes the face of the 154-pound division with a chance to close his career as the undisputed champion.

O'BRIEN: Huh? Wha'? Oh, I'm sorry, was I snoring? Foreman is a wonderfully well-schooled boxer, but he is hardly the most exciting fighter ever. The hope is that Cotto will force Foreman out of his comfort zone and we'll get to see how well he can handle adversity. That said, I'm a bit troubled by seeing Cotto fight on. He seemed badly affected by the beating he took against Margarito. And I think the Pacquiao fight cost him dearly as well. Admittedly Foreman is as safe an opponent as Cotto could hope for, in terms of power. But, if Cotto gets by Foreman, what's really in store for him?

GRAHAM: If Cotto wants to campaign at 154 pounds to close out his career, I can't imagine a more favorable jumping-off point: a junior middleweight title fight before a sold-out crowd at MSG on the eve of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. It'd be the fifth time in six years Cotto headlines the Garden over that weekend, and I've grown to love the carnival-type atmosphere the Boricua folk hero inspires -- even if three hours of cowbells, airhorns, thundersticks and reggaeton can get a little overbearing.

As far as the opponent: Foreman's record (28-0, 8 KOs) reflects his pillows-for-gloves reputaton. If Cotto can't defeat Foreman, he'll know it's probably time to ride off into the sunset. But at least he won't end the night at St. Vincent's hospital.

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