Nobody knows if Antonio Margarito's fists were soaked and loaded with a "foreign substance" when he ruined Miguel Angel Cotto in their savage and unforgettable world welterweight title fight in Las Vegas in July 2008.
Cotto was finally saved from the risk of serious damage in the 11th round and left slumped, bloody and disfigured in a corner as his Mexican opponent celebrated. Cotto lost for the first time; he had never been hurt, cut and broken like that before.
Margarito's next fight against Shane Mosley nearly ended in the changing room when Nazim Richardson, Mosley's trainer, noticed that Margarito's hand-wraps looked and felt strange during the routine pre-fight ritual. The bandages were removed, placed in a sterile bag and later examined. The fight rather controversially went ahead and, against the odds, Mosley smashed Margarito from corner to corner before the one-sided beating was stopped in the 9th round. Margarito fought like something was missing and a few days later we all found what: his bandages contained a foreign substance that was like plaster. The Cotto massacre made sense.
However, Margarito denied knowing anything about the substance found in his hand-wraps and predictably claimed that he therefore knew nothing about illegal plaster across his knuckles (soaked and then hardened) having anything to do with his win over Cotto. An impasse was reached over the Cotto fight, but Margarito was duly suspended from boxing by the commission in California for the find before the Mosley fight. Margarito's trainer Javier Capetillo took the main blame and the pair no longer work together. "I did it, it was a mistake. Tony knew nothing about it. I did it because we should never have taken that fight [against Mosley]. Tony was weight-drained," said Capetillo, who denied it had ever happened before and claimed his fighter simply had the style to beat Cotto. Nobody really believed him.
That was in January 2009. Margarito was back making millions in November last year when he lost every round against Manny Pacquiao in another fight to add to his seemingly endless list of world-title fights. Margarito did not look very good, but he was back on TV and back in a real fight. There remained only one thing to do; the rematch with Cotto has been a year in the planning and this Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York they fight again.
Margarito suffered a slow and nasty beating in the Pacquiao fight and left the ring with a broken orbital bone and a cataract in his right eye. This Saturday's fight was in doubt three weeks ago when the local commission refused to give Margarito a licence because of his injuries; nobody was willing to admit that his suspension was a factor but I find it impossible to believe that it wasn't. Last week he was given a licence when his medical examination papers were studied; Margarito underwent cataract surgery and now has an artificial lens in his eye. The big fight was on.
"I know that when I look at him I am looking into the eyes of a liar," said Cotto. And so we come to Saturday night at the so-called spiritual home of boxing and a fight that has the potential to be the fight of the year. It needs to be said that Bob Arum, the promoter, had several venues ready to host the fight if Margarito had not been given his licence. It is a fight that I have wanted to see since Cotto sat on the canvas smeared with his dark blood and dazed from Margarito's lethal fists. It is also a fight that I know I should not be looking forward to.