Monday, July 21, 2008 | 2 a.m.
IF YOU GO
What: WBA welterweight title fight
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena
Tickets: $100-$700, mgmgrand.com
TV: HBO Pay-Per-View ($49.95)
Perhaps the highest compliment in boxing is to say someone competes like a Mexican fighter.
The designation has become shorthand for fighting with heart and guts, without a hint of fear.
It’s a style that happens to please the fans, but it has nothing to do with showboating. Rather, it’s something that comes from within, something that does not allow for the possibility of backing down.
If that’s the case, two-time welterweight world champ Antonio Margarito, who is of Mexican descent, paid a nice tribute to Miguel Cotto, his opponent in Saturday’s welterweight world title fight.
“All of the Mexicans, when they get up into the ring, are going to give it their all,” Margarito said. “They are going to do whatever it takes to win, even if they have to die in the ring. But I’ll tell you one thing: I think Cotto can fit into that same category.”
Cotto, a hero in his native Puerto Rico, will put his WBA championship belt on the line for the fifth time Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena against Margarito, who lives in Tijuana.
It’s not only the sport’s most promising matchup of the year. It also conjures memories of past fights in which regional or national pride was at stake.
“When you have that many passionate fans as those in Mexico and Puerto Rico, and when you have two great fighters, you are going to get that type of a reaction,” said Bob Arum, who promotes both men. “It’s the same as when we had Italians and Irish and the Jews fighting each other in New York. It went on for years.
“When (Ray) Leonard and (Thomas) Hearns fought it was Washington, D.C., against Detroit, and when (Marvin) Hagler fought it was New England against Detroit. There were fierce rivalries, and fans loved to watch those fights.”
Both fighters seem to be taking the nationalistic angle seriously, with Cotto comparing it to the 1999 megafight between his countryman Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya.
Saturday’s pay-per-view bout for supremacy at 147 pounds marks a return to Las Vegas for both boxers after a bit of an absence.
Cotto (32-0, 26 knockouts) last fought here three times in 2004, including a successful defense of his WBO junior welterweight title against Randall Bailey.
Margarito (36-5, 26 KOs) fought consecutive bouts in Las Vegas in 2005 and 2006, demolishing Kermit Cintron and Manuel Gomez.
It’s always dangerous to speak of the “inevitable” in the cockeyed realm of boxing, where logic can be a stranger and seemingly obvious matchups might or might not get made.
But Cotto and Margarito certainly appeared to be on a collision course in the past couple of years, since Cotto stepped up to welterweight from the 140-pound division.
In fact, the two men fought separate opponents on the same card in three of Margarito’s four most recent outings. The proximity gave Margarito a closeup view of Cotto’s victories against Alfonso Gomez, Shane Mosley and Carlos Quintana, all on the East Coast.
“Of course I have watched a lot of video of Cotto, but I have also seen him fight live since we have been on the same card quite a few times,” Margarito said. “I am not worried about what his weaknesses are. I am worried about what I need to do. My confidence and my ability to win this fight will be because I have trained very well for this fight.”
The one fight in his past four in which he did not share a card with Cotto was Margarito’s worst performance in the latter part of his pro career, which dates to 1994. Margarito dropped a 12-round decision to Paul Williams in a WBO welterweight title bout last July.
Margarito figures he matches up better against Cotto.
“Every opponent is different and everyone fights each opponent differently,” Margarito said.
“We can’t fight the same. We have to have a different strategy for each guy. Against Paul Williams I had a bad night and then I won the championship again, and I’ll win it again on Saturday.”
Unlike recent opponents of Cotto such as Mosley and Zab Judah, Margarito can rely on significant height (5-foot-11 to 5-7) and reach (73 inches to 67) advantages to counter the champion’s vaunted body-punching and technical boxing skills.
“I feel that I will be pressuring him a lot more,” Margarito said. “I have a lot more power and I can do a lot more things as far as power is concerned. And I know I have a bigger heart than both of those guys (Mosley and Judah) combined.
“I have waited a long time for this type of fight and I know that I am hungrier than he is and I want it more than he does and I’m going to go get it.”