HBO WCB - Jul. 14, 2007

Paul Williams vs. Antonio Margarito

Gatti vs Gomez
Cintron vs Matthysse

Margarito: Affairs Of The Heart

A Stephen Stills song lyric says that, "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with." Antonio Margarito would love to get it on with his Top Rank rival, Miguel Cotto, whom he tells Nat Gottlieb would be "an easier fight" for him than Paul Williams. But hey, $1,205,000 goes a long way toward soothing a broken heart.

The date was set. Top Rank's two welterweight champs were to fight it out on June 9 at Madison Square Garden on the eve of Puerto Rican day in New York. Then a sanctioning body threatened to strip Margarito of his title unless he fought Williams, who was his mandatory. The Mexican opted not to lose his belt. Affairs of the heart are never easy.

Although Margarito doesn't talk about it much, for years he has watched with more than a little envy while Top Rank has heavily promoted Cotto's career. While it was flattering to hear Top Rank boss Bob Arum say last year, "Antonio Margarito is without a doubt the most feared fighter in the sport today," it didn't put food on his family table.

One of Margarito's two managers, Sergio Diaz Jr., says both he and his fighter do not understand why he is not a superstar, considering he has made seven straight successful title defenses and lost just once since 1999.

"I ask myself that all the time," Diaz said. "I am confused. Is it the promotion? Is it the networks who want to protect their fighters? It is not our fault he isn't a superstar. He does everything he has to do. He keeps winning fights."

When he isn't winning fights, Margarito is watching them. In particular those of Cotto. Since January of 2004, Cotto has fought 12 times, Margarito just six. Both Margarito and his manager do not hide their feelings about what they perceive has been preferential treatment by Top Rank.

"It's been very disappointing. We can't understand why Bob, having a great, exciting Mexican fighter is not giving us any attention," Diaz said.

Margarito, through his interpreter, Diaz, chimed in: "Cotto has surpassed me in title defenses and made more money than me. Now, after he beats Judah, Bob is saying Cotto is the best welterweight around. I ask myself why is he saying that."

Despite their apparent dissatisfaction, Diaz and his partner Francisco Espinoza recently signed a new deal with Top Rank. Asked why, Diaz said, "We did that to avoid litigation. We just have to hope it comes out the best."

Top Rank, meanwhile, doesn't agree with Margarito and Diaz's assessment one bit. Spokesman Lee Samuels said: "Bob did a masterful job promoting the Tijuana Tornado as the big punching, all-heart champion who Floyd Mayweather Jr refused to fight. Bob did offer PBF $8 million and it was turned down. All of this elevated Margarito to a new level. And when Margarito wins, as we expect on July 14, he will next fight Cotto in a mega fight."

Before Margarito can get to that fight, he must go through Williams (32-0, 24 KOs), an oversized welterweight who is 6'-1 -- two inches taller than Margarito -- and has a freaky 82-inch reach, which is more than any currently reigning heavyweight champion, including Wladimir Klitschko.

While considering Williams more hype than substance, Margarito said something that would probably stun most of the boxing world.

"Antonio thinks Paul Williams is a tougher fight than Cotto," Diaz said.

What makes that so surprising is because Cotto, who is also unbeaten (30-0, 25 KOs), has won 10 straight world championship fights. This will be Williams' first title fight.

"I say tougher because Paul Williams is a southpaw and he's like 6'-2," Margarito said. "Those are two things I am going to have to deal with. Cotto is right-handed and stands right in front of you. That's perfect for me."

Margarito is not crying, mind you, about having to fight Williams. The money he is getting for this fight, thanks to a winning purse bid of $1,506,250 by Williams' promoter, Dan Goossen, will be his biggest pay day ever, and set him up for even more money against Cotto.

"The reason why I took the fight with Williams is because I wanted to keep my belt," Margarito said. "I have held it for such a long time (six years). I know a lot of fighters would give up their belts for money, but I feel by having a title I can make even more money in a reunification fight."

While saying Williams is a tougher out than Cotto, Margarito is very confident he will beat him.

"All the people hyping Williams ignore his lack of quality opponents and his defense," said the 29-year-old Margarito. "My last seven or eight fights have been against Top 10 fighters, while he has struggled with lesser fighters because of his defensive flaws. Paul Williams has a lot of defects, and I intend on taking advantage of them."

Margarito is also counting on his greater ring experience. In a 13-year professional career that began when he was 16, Margarito has fought a total of 205 total rounds, 65 of them coming in world championship events. Williams, who will turn 26 this month, has fought a total of 128 rounds, none on a world title stage.

"My experience might be overwhelming for him," Margarito said. "I expect my experience will really come in to play towards the end of the fight when I have hurt him. Because of his defense, Williams has been hit by a lot of punches. But the big difference here is he has never been hit by a fighter with my power."

Diaz recognized Margarito's power and big heart from the first moment he saw him in 1996, when he fought and lost to hard-hitting Rodney Jones.

"I went to the fight just to watch. Rodney had been knocking everybody out. But Antonio went a good solid 10 rounds with him. I told my partner that we've got to sign this guy," Diaz said.

Since the defeat by Jones, Margarito has lost just once in 11 years. In 2004, with the best welterweights having moved up to junior middleweight, Diaz decided to chase them by fighting Daniel Santos for his 154-pound championship belt in his native Puerto Rico.

"We made that move for the same reason as today, too much inactivity," Diaz said. "We had offered fights to Mayorga and Spinks at welterweight. They would tell us it was too difficult a fight and the money was not there. So we put the money there and they had more excuses. We basically were chasing a fight to stay active."

Margarito lost that fight by technical decision when it was stopped in the 10th round due to a cut over his right eyebrow caused by an accidental head butt in the sixth round. When they went to the scorecards, as required, the fight was up for grabs, with Margarito trailing on two cards, 84-87, 84-86, and ahead on the other, 86-85. The Mexican pleaded with the doctor to let him continue.

"My experience might be overwhelming for him," Margarito said. "I expect my experience will really come in to play towards the end of the fight when I have hurt him. Because of his defense, Williams has been hit by a lot of punches. But the big difference here is he has never been hit by a fighter with my power."

"When they stopped it, I saw him (Santos) slowing down and I knew I could take him out," Margarito said. "The cut was big, but my corner had it under control and it wasn't bothering me to the point where I couldn't fight."

Margarito moved back down to welterweight after the Santos fight, and has not lost since, winning four straight, include a knockout of current belt holder Kermit Cintron.

If Margarito beats Williams, Arum is already talking about a fight with Cotto in New York, where the Puerto Rican is hugely popular. Diaz says he has also heard it might be in Puerto Rico, but his fighter is not fazed by a biased venue.

"I don't care where I fight him. I want to knock him out and become the star at Top Rank," Margarito said.

Should Margarito get by Williams and knock out Cotto, his star power would rid him of a label that has kept him from getting fights with big-name opponents. Margarito has been perceived as a high risk, low reward ($) fighter.

"I hear that a lot, but Bob Arum offered Floyd $8 million a year before he fought Oscar, and that's a lot of money," Diaz said. "I think people don't want to fight him more because of the high risk. The money is there."

It will be even greater should Margarito get his chance to tango with Cotto. Of that fight, however, some would say to Margarito, be careful what you wish for, you might just get it. Margarito shrugs at that. For a guy who prides himself on taking on the toughest partners, he has been a wallflower much too long. He's ready for the Big Dance.

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