Reporting from New York — At this point, Antonio Margarito realizes he’s not going to change anyone’s opinion about whether he knew there was plaster inside his hand wraps before a title fight in 2009 — which led to him being suspended from boxing.
If fans wants to think of him as a “criminal,” as his Saturday-night opponent Miguel Cotto does, then so be it.
“Here comes a criminal, open the doors for the criminal,” Margarito said Wednesday, his first words upon being introduced at a Madison Square Garden news conference for his junior-middleweight title bout against Cotto. “They say I’m not a gentleman, not a great person. I don’t know why they say that.”
Those closest to the “Tijuana Tornado” say Margarito (38-7, 27 KOs) doesn’t care much about what others think.
The controversy dates to January 2009, when the California State Athletic Commission removed plaster-caked inserts from inside Margarito’s hand wraps before his welterweight title defense against Shane Mosley at Staples Center. Margarito denied knowing his gloves were loaded, but his license was revoked for a year.
Some in the boxing community also wondered if Margarito had used loaded gloves five months earlier when he knocked out then-unbeaten champion Cotto in their July 2008 bout.
Certainly, Margarito is likely to be booed unmercifully Saturday at Madison Square Garden by supporters by of the popular Puerto Rican star Cotto (36-2, 29 KOs), who is defending his WBA junior-middleweight title.
“It’s been going on for more than two years now,” said Robert Garcia, Margarito’s trainer. “If anything, those people saying negative things about him motivates him to do better.”
Margarito’s promoter Bob Arum said his Mexican fighter’s tough attitude defines his come-forward fighting style. However, that style didn’t serve Margarito well in losses to Mosley or to Manny Pacquiao in November 2010.
But it convinced Arum to invest what he said was more than $1 million to fight legal challenges for Margarito to regain his boxing license. Arum also paid for Margarito’s cataract surgery in May after Pacquiao broke an orbital bone.
Margarito, 33, said he is healthy and expects to beat Cotto, 31, again. Margarito says a win in their rematch will prove that his 11th-round knockout of Cotto in 2008 wasn’t spoiled by loaded gloves.
“He’ll feel my power,” Margarito said. “I fight clean. Cotto will see that. I’ll impose my strength on him.”
Margarito also said that Cotto’s lack of interest in moving their bout to a different state if Margarito couldn’t get a license in New York showed “he’s just a big baby.”
“He feels an advantage here [in New York]. He needs that security. I don’t understand that. It makes me believe, ‘Does he really want this fight?’ ” Margarito said.
When told Cotto will try to exploit Margarito’s weakened eye, the challenger said, “There’s a lot of anger. A lot of hatred. Someone will be hurt in this fight.”
Things were so testy at the news conference that Arum stood between Cotto and Margarito as they posed for typical face-off pictures.
“He can hit at my eye as much as he wants, he hits like a little girl,” Margarito said.
Cotto answered, “Say that in the ring.”
Then Cotto defended his use of the word “criminal” in describing Margarito: “You can look it up in the dictionary. It’s someone who uses a weapon. You’re an embarrassment to boxing.”
Like Arum said last week when New York gave Margarito a boxing license: “We have a fight!”