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October 21, 2014

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Decisive win puts Margarito in driver’s seat

New welterweight champ now has cache to call the shots

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Sam Morris

Antonio Margarito finishes off Miguel Cotto in the corner during the 11th round of their WBA welterweight championship fight Saturday.

Margarito new champ

In what is being called by some as the fight of the year, Antonio Margarito beat Miguel Cotto by 11th round TKO to win the WBA welterweight championship Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Margarito stops Cotto

Miguel Cotto enters the ring for the WBA welterweight championship bout against Antonio Margarito on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Cotto lost in an 11th round TKO. Launch slideshow »

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For the better part of this decade, at least since winning his first world welterweight title in 2002, Antonio Margarito had been the quintessential high-risk, low-reward fighter.

He had been the most unloved boxer in the 147-pound division, the man other fighters went out of their way to avoid.

Potential opponents would repeatedly settle for matches against fighters who, in a paradox, packed less power, less talent and less wile than Margarito yet commanded bigger names and more lucrative potential paydays.

Oscar De La Hoya’s advisers, for example, told Margarito’s promoter Bob Arum they wanted no part of Margarito, Arum said.

Most famously, Floyd Mayweather Jr. turned down an $8 million offer to fight Margarito, as Arum reminded everyone within earshot Saturday night after Margarito’s sensational technical knockout of Miguel Cotto at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Arum rehashed the anecdote under the guise of paying Mayweather a backhanded compliment: Look how much savvy Floyd has as a businessman. Surely he would have lost to the “Tijuana Tornado,” right?

Yet Arum had the right to gloat a little. This was the night Margarito solidified his status among not only boxing’s best fighters but also its most prominent names.

This was the night Margarito became a marketable commodity in the sport.

By upsetting Cotto in the WBA welterweight world championship fight via an 11th-round stoppage, Margarito graduated from a post as boxing’s great outcast to one as a power broker who can largely call his own shots.

For possible opponents, Margarito will still carry a high risk.

But he’ll also offer a high reward.

“It’s a different ballgame,” Arum said Saturday night. “Something happened tonight that changed everything.”

Besides establishing himself as a force on boxing’s elite level by handing Cotto his first career loss, Margarito also helped drive a promotion that generated strong financial numbers on pay-per-view and at the box office.

“This fight did tremendous numbers on pay-per-view,” Arum said. “I would say a great number of the people who bought the fight were Mexicans or Mexican-Americans. Therefore, people who wouldn’t fight Antonio before now will be inclined to fight him because the money rewards will be so much greater.

“When you win a fight like this on a big stage like this and where the result looks to be very, very good from an economic standpoint, it changes the whole parameters.”

Margarito (37-5, 27 knockouts) expressed a willingness to fight Oscar De La Hoya, although that might be the one showdown that remains more of a wish-list entry than a distinct possibility.

De La Hoya has indicated he wants to close his career by fighting an opponent who’s not of Mexican heritage, and speculation has it that De La Hoya naturally would like to go out with a victory.

Margarito, who grew up in Tijuana, has deep Mexican roots and would be considered a solid favorite to beat De La Hoya.

The welterweight division does offer a wealth of talent that should ensure a rich selection of attractive matchups for Margarito. Zab Judah and Joshua Clottey, who lost to Margarito in 2006, fight Saturday for the IBF title, which could set up a potential unification bout.

A megafight against Shane Mosley, heavily favored to beat Ricardo Mayorga in September, is another possibility, as is a rematch against Paul Williams, who beat Margarito last year. (Unless Williams has taken over the mantle of high-risk, low-reward champ.)

Margarito’s victory against Cotto as a plus-190 betting underdog unfolded as a classic “turning-point” bout. The first half of the title fight was filled with back-and-forth action as both men dealt out and absorbed repeated shots in a series of furious exchanges. From the seventh round on, however, it was all Margarito as Cotto (32-1, 26 KOs) could not contend with the Mexican’s nonstop attack.

In the final five rounds Margarito connected on 134 power punches to just 70 for Cotto, according to CompuBox statistics.

Margarito, who was guaranteed $1.5 million to Cotto’s $3 million, was gracious in victory. He declined to call out any potential rivals, instead saying he would leave it up to Arum to determine his course. He was complimentary toward the man he had just systematically yet brutally dismantled.

“I showed I was a great fighter just like Cotto’s a great fighter,” Margarito said. “I was hitting him hard. He showed how tough he is.”

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