Three years ago Margarito ended Cotto's unbeaten streak, brutally battering the then-welterweight champion at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas over 11 gut-wrenching rounds. Dismay in Cotto's camp quickly gave way to fury, however, when six months later Margarito's trainer, Javier Capetillo, was caught attempting to slip plaster in Margarito's hand wraps before his fight with Shane Mosley. He tried to cheat then, Cotto reasoned, so he has probably cheated before.
"He used the plaster against me," Cotto said. "He looked and acted like a criminal."
• PHOTOS: Best shots from Margarito-Cotto I
To an uninformed observer, this weekend's rematch between Cotto and Margarito (9 p.m. ET, HBO PPV) doesn't mean much. Margarito, 33, is considered by many to be a shot fighter, having absorbed brutal beatings at the hands of Mosley and Manny Pacquiao over the last two-and-a-half years, the last of which left his right eye disfigured and could have (some would say should have) ended his career. Cotto, 31, has a little bit more left, having won an alphabet junior middleweight title in 2010 and successfully defended it against Ricardo Mayorga earlier this year. But the quick feet and the sharp skills Cotto once was known for have eroded to the point where those close to Cotto openly wonder how many fights he has left.
Yet there is a palpable buzz to Cotto-Margarito II. Madison Square Garden is just a few hundred tickets short of a sellout and pay per view buys are expected to soar past the half million mark. The interest isn't in witnessing two fighters with a future, but a primal gravitation towards two men out for blood.
That's what it is about, really. Blood. Cotto wants it. Last year a photo of Margarito celebrating his win over Cotto started to circulate on the internet. Shown clearly in the picture is a red substance, or what appears to be the same red substance smeared on the pads confiscated from Margarito before the Mosley fight. Cotto carries the image around like a handbag, convinced (as many are) that it's proof that Margarito was packing something extra in his gloves.
Margarito? He's got a score to settle, too. Whether he truly is innocent or -- like Panama Lewis, Marion Jones and Barry Bonds before him -- has simply convinced himself he is, Margarito has campaigned on the premise that he has been given a bad rap. The plaster incident was on Capetillo, Margarito insists, a one-time accident that should not diminish the fact that on that summer night in the desert, he was the better man.
"This fight, I'll beat him by knockout," Margarito said. "They will take Cotto out on a stretcher."
It has become commonplace in the boxing post-fight interview to ask the winner about what's next. Hey Floyd, what about Pacquiao? Hey Julio, when will you fight Sergio? Hey Wladimir, who's next on your hit list? It's doubtful though that when HBO's Max Kellerman climbs into the ring late Saturday night, "who's next" will be among his questions. That's because no one cares if Cotto will fight James Kirkland or if Margarito is interested in another shot at Sergio Martinez. To the winner will go the satisfaction of finally, fairly claiming superiority. To the loser, well, a trip to the hospital likely awaits.