Margarito’s actions could have been fatal

Cheating in boxing is unlike cheating in any other sport.

Take steroids in baseball and you may hit more home runs. Use an illegal driver in golf and you mash the ball 25 yards further down the fairway. Finagle with a car’s engine in auto racing and you zip around the track a couple of miles per hour faster.

But cheat in boxing and you bring into play the very real possibility of seriously injuring, or killing, your opponent.

This is about more than the legitimacy of the all-time home run champion’s records. Load your gloves in boxing and there’s no explanation for it other than a cold-blooded attempt to maim an opponent.

Former WBA welterweight champion Antonio Margarito and his trainer, Javier Capetillo, had their licenses revoked by the California State Athletic Commission at a disciplinary hearing in Van Nuys, Calif., on Tuesday for placing an illegal object into Margarito’s hand wraps before his Jan. 24 fight at the Staples Center in Los Angeles with Shane Mosley.

The illegal piece, which was first noticed by Mosley trainer Naazim Richardson while Margarito’s hands were being wrapped, was hard and firm that had a substance like plaster of Paris on it, as well as a stain that a commission inspector said appeared like blood.

Fortunately, due to Richardson’s sharp eye, the objects were removed from Margarito’s wraps and he fought the fight, in which he lost the championship on a ninth-round technical knockout, with legal gloves and properly wrapped hands.

Capetillo tried to be the fall guy Tuesday, begging the commission not to penalize Margarito and that the insertion of the illegal objects into Margarito’s wraps were “a big mistake.”

It might be inadvertent if an illegal object had been discovered in just one of his hand wraps, though you’d be a fool to believe it. But how does one mistakenly put a foreign object into the wraps on both hands? That fact alone, that Capetillo put a foreign object into each wrap, has to strain the credulity of even Margarito’s most ardent supporters.

There can’t even be an explanation for why Capetillo owned such an object, because there would never be an appropriate time to use such a thing.

Capetillo didn’t admit to cheating and said he mistakenly grabbed a pad that had been used on the hands of another fighter.

That explanation simply doesn’t pass the smell test.

A prominent fighter who didn’t wish to speak on the record said on the night of the fight after the wraps were discovered to contain a hard object that he wasn’t surprised. He said he believed Margarito had worn that in sparring previously.

And one of Margarito’s sparring partners, Rashad Hollaway, told an even more damning story to Ryan Songalia of about a Dec. 19 sparring session with Margarito in which he was seriously injured by a left uppercut thrown by Margarito.

“When it first happened, I didn’t know what hit me,” Hollaway told Songalia. “I’ve been hit 50 million times in my career, but I’d never been hit with a shot that hurt like that. It felt like a hard object hit me in the face. I thought he hit me with the palm of his hand. It wasn’t like a normal punch. It didn’t feel like a padded glove hit me. It was like a solid, hard impact. It felt like I had been hit with a bag of rocks.”

The credibility of both Margarito and Capetillo has to be questioned upon hearing that. Hollaway’s comments to Songalia make their denials of intentional wrongdoing to the commisison on Tuesday sound as if they’re simply trying to save themselves.

The Jan. 24 incident, fairly or not, puts all of Margarito’s accomplishments into question. He’s the only man to have beaten Kermit Cintron, and has done it twice, both times by brutal beatdowns.

Miguel Cotto’s face was badly swollen and misshapen after Margarito finished beating upon him for 11 rounds last year in Las Vegas in what would go on to be the most significant victory of Margarito’s career.

Though the Nevada Athletic Commission insists it’s confident that Margarito’s hands were wrapped properly for that fight, there is now room for more than a little doubt, particularly given how grotesquely Cotto’s features were rearranged.

Margarito won’t be able to fight in the U.S. or in any country that honors U.S. suspensions for at least a year, and perhaps more.

That almost certainly won’t prevent him from being able to fight in his native Mexico, where the boxing commission has routinely ignored suspensions, particularly if they’ve been handed down to Mexican fighters.

And Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who hired the high-powered attorney Daniel Petrocelli to defend Margarito, suggested he might do just that.

Arum, though, had better think that through carefully. He doesn’t want to appear to be condoning the loading of a fighter’s hand wraps. Otherwise, what comes next, brass knuckles?

If Arum promotes a Margarito fight in a venue that does not recognize U.S. suspensions, he’d be putting his promoter’s license at risk. Losing that would be significantly more valuable than losing one lucrative Margarito fight.

Petrocelli attempted to raise a chain of custody issue, though the commission rightly sloughed that off. Capetillo admitted that he had mistakenly placed the illegal pad in Margarito’s wraps. This isn’t like the chain of custody being broken on a urine sample or a blood sample, when it then can’t be proven that the specimen was not tampered with.

Capetillo in this case admits he put the object into Margarito’s gloves, albeit mistakenly, which ends any question about the legitimacy of the commission’s evidence.

Of course, Arum is so upset because the revocation will cost him millions in lost income from a potential rematch with Cotto he’d been planning for the summer.

The smart move for Arum would be to accept the revocation and advise Margarito not to fight in Mexico and risk the California commission’s wrath.

Capetillo is almost certainly never going to be licensed to train again in the U.S., but there is at least the possibility that Margarito could be licensed after the one-year revocation ends. At that stage, he’ll be able to argue that he didn’t know that anything illegal was being done to his wraps.

He’s responsible for the actions of the people who work for him, which is why he’s paying the price for Capetillo’s, ahem, “mistake” now.

But no matter what happens, Margarito has ruined whatever reputation he had and his accomplishments can never be taken seriously. He can forget induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

This was little more than an attempted assault that, fortunately, was prevented.

There are no room for cheaters in a sport in which even playing by all of the rules can cause serious injury or death.

Margarito and Capetillo ought to be thankful that they’re not facing any criminal allegations. If the foreign objects hadn’t been taken out before the fight and Mosley were injured seriously after being hit by them, their penalty may have been a lot more serious than the revocation of a boxing license.

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Feb 10, 2009