Deplorable, disgraceful, disgusting...all words that have been used by combat sports fans to dismiss Saturday night's tilt between boxing pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao and cheat-for-cheat king Antonio Margarito. One can't really argue that it's an unfair stance to take. There are many levels to the "wrongness" of this fight taking place but it's impossible to argue that your combat alternative for the night in UFC 122 is more important and relevant in a sporting context.
UFC 122 is an unusually weak card for the machine that is the Ultimate Fighting Championships. The headlining bout, a fight between #3 middleweight in the world Nate Marquardt and #8 middleweight Yushin Okami, absolutely has relevance in the larger context of the sport as the winner will receive a future title shot against 185 pound king Anderson Silva. But there is not another top ten ranked fighter to be found on the card. Sure, the co-main event should produce major fireworks when strikers Jorge Rivera and Alessio Sakara throw hands, but the winner of that bout is not likely to factor into the top of the middleweight division any time soon.
That there are some entertaining fights on paper and the fact that the card will air "free" on Spike TV are positives. But the fact that tape-delayed cards historically perform poorly (the event takes place in the afternoon in Germany and airs on delay in American several hours later) looms over the card like a thunderhead.
While you'll have to shell out some cash to see Manny Pacquiao vs. Antonio Margarito you are getting a historic main event featuring the best fighter the sport of boxing has going. Pacquiao is making a run for a title in his eighth weight class, an unprecedented achievement. Not only is he taking a shot at a historic achievement, he is doing it against an opponent who is a legitimate threat to defeat him. Antonio Margarito is a bigger fighter than Manny has faced in his career and he will test the chin of "Pacman" if he can land a flush shot.
Of course, combat fans know there is more to the story than simply Manny vs. the bigger Margarito.
On January 24, 2009 Antonio was slated to fight Shane Mosley. At the time Margarito was one of the hottest fighters in the entire sport of boxing. He had piled up a 7-1 record in his last eight fights, only losing to the supremely talented Paul Williams during the stretch. And Margarito wasn't just beating people, he was hurting them. In 2005 he basically ripped Sebastian Lujan's ear in half:
He had wilted men like Kermit Cintron (twice) and Miguel Cotto with his power attack. This was no ordinary power puncher. Antonio Margarito was turning into a legitimate force. If the Lujan picture wasn't enough of a display, here's Cotto during their bout:
But on the night of the Mosley fight it was noticed by Shane's trainer Naazim Richardson that a strange pad was being placed inside of Margarito's hands as they were wrapped. After making them re-wrap Antonio's hands the wraps were saved and later analyzed and determined to have been similar to Plaster of Paris. Margarito would not only get upset by Mosley that night but would be handed a one year suspension for attempting to illegally load his hand wraps, an extremely dangerous practice.
While Margarito's camp insists that they did not cheat in previous bouts, and that the fighter was unaware of what was going on in this bout, it suddenly threw his incredible power punching under the microscope. The way that fighters were looking after fights was unnatural, was Margarito cheating and putting opponents in potentially life-threatening danger for years?
In May of this year he would return to action in Mexico winning a decision over Roberto García. Despite the hand wrap controversy, the Mexican fans showed up in a large show of support for Antonio. It proved that he may still be able to draw a certain, highly coveted boxing audience and when Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s camps could not come to terms on a deal Manny's promoter Top Rank (also Margarito's promoter) saw it as time to put together this fight.
The state of California would deny Margarito's attempt to regain his boxing license in the state after a bizarre athletic commission meeting that was streamed on the internet. Despite California's denial it was clear to most boxing fans that the fight would simply be moved to Texas, a state with a commission that would almost certainly license the disgraced former welterweight champion. And they did license him and the bout was set for Cowboy Stadium, the same stadium that hosted Manny's one sided decision win over Joshua Clottey this March.
Margarito will still represent a portion of the Mexican fanbase who want to see someone get revenge against the "Mexicutioner" in Pacquiao. Manny has defeated beloved Mexican fighters such as Eric Morales, Juan Manuel Márquez and Marco Antonio Barrera and it has led to a bit of a respectful "feud" between Mexican fighters and Manny.
Still, despite the obvious intrigue of a larger, stronger fighter than Manny has faced before trying to represent his country against a man who has ran through several of their cultural icons it is not hard to understand the vocal part of the fanbase that wants to boycott the fight. Many feel that Margarito's actions in loading his wraps were so dangerous that they warrant a lifetime ban from the sport. Instead, he sat out of action for a little over a year and now is going to get the biggest payday of his career.
And if that wasn't enough, now Margarito and his camp have sunk as low as to both joke about loading his hand wraps and make fun of Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach. Roach is a former fighter who suffers from Parkinson's disease, almost certainly a product of a career filled with punches to the head. Long retired from in-ring action, Roach now serves as one of the best trainers in Boxing despite his disease.
I've told this story multiple times at Bloody Elbow but I've been privileged in my life to meet Muhammad Ali on multiple occasions. One such instance was being sat next to "The Greatest" on a flight from South Bend to Atlanta in 2004. I'm not ashamed to say that Ali is my hero. I grew up being told stories of how amazing the man is by my great grandfather and it cemented him as more than a man to me. On this plane ride it was a great opportunity to see how much Ali still loves to entertain as he stood up in the aisles and did magic tricks, took the book I was reading from me and pulled out the bookmark and took every opportunity to smile at the other passengers and share a brief moment. But it took a turn into heartbreaking territory when he was unable to feed himself due to his Parkinson's and had to have his wife spoon feed him on a plane where almost all eyes were on him at all times. This is not a disease that one should ever joke about and to see Margarito's camp stoop to that level infuriated me.
The video of Margarito's camp mocking Roach's speech patterns and actions can no longer been seen online. The video was posted by AOL Fanhouse and then removed and replaced with an edited version that make it appear as though they were simply saying Roach was shaking with fear and then the re-edited version was pulled as well. It was a low rent move by AOL to protect a camp that they are not a part of and it's disappointing to see them sink to a level almost as low as the camp by needlessly protecting them. It's a good reason to not pretend that Elie Seckbach is anything resembling a legitimate member of the media.
All ranting about AOL aside, the video produced even more reason for fans to feel dirty about the fight taking place. Margarito and his camp have made it clear that they do not feel bad about the hand wrap situation and now they are taking a very serious disease with an uneasy tie to the sport and mocking it. Not only that, but the loaded hand wraps Margarito was caught with increase the chance of inflicting the very kind of brain damage on an opponent that can lead to these forms of pugilistica dementia.
The sticking point for fans on what they want to watch Saturday night comes down much less to live boxing vs. tape delayed MMA and more to if they're willing to contribute to the bank account of someone who is looking more and more to be a despicable human being. If you're not willing to make Antonio's wallet fat and want to pass on watching Manny attempt to make history, you have an entirely passable option on your regular cable dial in UFC 122.
But ultimately, regardless of what fans choose to put their eyeballs on and how they feel about one of the men involved there is simply no denying that Manny Pacquiao vs. Antonio Margarito is the biggest event taking place this weekend. The best that a sport has to offer attempting to make history is simply a bigger event than a challenger bout airing on tape delay.