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Cotto-Margarito a fight worth making

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Emanuel Steward, one of the game's elite trainers, said it. So did Miguel Diaz, the wily trainer/cut man. And promoter Bob Arum repeated it over and over.

Floyd Mayweather Jr., the reigning pound-for-pound king in boxing, the WBC welterweight champion, the 2007 Boxing Writers Association of America Fighter of the Year and part-time pro wrestler, won't fight either Miguel Cotto or Antonio Margarito.

Both Cotto and Margarito were brutally efficient during knockout victories Saturday in their respective welterweight title fights before an enthralled crowd of 9,724 at Boardwalk Hall.

Cotto delivered a one-sided beatdown to overmatched former reality TV star Alfonso S. Gomez, stopping him after five rounds to retain his WBA welterweight title when ringside physician Mark Schaber wouldn't permit Gomez come out for the sixth to receive any more punishment.

Earlier, Margarito walked through a few powerful right hands, showing his trademark granite chin en route to a lopsided knockout of Kermit Cintron at 1:57 of the sixth round.

The win set up a compelling July 26 fight between the two that will either be in Las Vegas, New York or back in Boardwalk Hall, pending finalization of the business arrangements.

What's certain, though, is that Mayweather won't fight either man this year and probably never will.

But perhaps that's not such a bad thing after all.

Mayweather is a wunderkind and has been one of the two or three best talents in the sport since his debut in 1996. His reflexes are unmatched and his instincts are unparalleled.

For all the angst created by Mayweather's indifference to fighting the two best 147-pounders in the world other than himself, it's worth noting that a Cotto-Margarito fight would be more compelling than any Mayweather bout could possibly be.

Cotto and Margarito will stand in the pocket and trade powerful, hard shots. The pace will be frenetic and the emotions will be raw. Mayweather will undoubtedly mock their lack of skills, but the intensity, passion and drama will be real.

And in the end, most people would rather see two men stand toe-to-toe and slug it out than watch any other kind of a match. Margarito and Cotto should deliver the kind of performance that Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo provided on that epic spring night in Las Vegas in 2005.

Cotto, who is now 32-0, will be the favorite, but it's hardly unthinkable that Margarito could be the first man to defeat him since Muhammad Abdullaev did it in the first round of the 2000 Olympics. Cotto has been vulnerable to a hard, straight right in the past, though Steward pointed out that perception was primarily built when Cotto was a super lightweight.

"He's at the right weight now," Steward said. "His problems came, I think, from trying to make 140. At 147, he hasn't shown me any problems at all with his chin and he's been in there with some good guys."

Margarito was in with a fairly good one on Saturday, but he made Cintron look second-rate. He walked through some powerful shots to deliver a frightful beating. By the fourth round, it was clear that Margarito was going to duplicate his 2005 win over Cintron. The only question was whether he could do it quicker this time around.

He clearly disliked Cintron and picked up an extra bit of motivation at Friday's weigh-in when Cintron made a throat-slash gesture toward him.

"That was a completely stupid thing to do, because he woke up the giant," Diaz said.

But Margarito was also fueled by the memory of his late brother, Manuel, who passed away eight years ago. Saturday would have been his birthday.

"This was my gift to him," an emotional Margarito said afterward.

And Arum's gift to Margarito was a fight against an A-class opponent, one he'd been chasing for so many years. The bout isn't signed, but it's all but certain to happen.

If the Nevada Athletic Commission changes a regulation and allows welterweights to wear eight-ounce gloves instead of 10-ounce gloves, as it has mandated since 2006, then the bout will be in Las Vegas.

Otherwise, it will wind up in New York or Atlantic City.

Wherever it is, few will be thinking of Mayweather as it's unfolding. They'll be riveted by what figures to give the Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez bout and the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez bout a run for the money as the 2008 Fight of the Year.

Arum, who promoted Mayweather for more than nine years, made a point of mocking Mayweather at the post-fight news conference.

Mayweather, who despises Arum, would likely fight Cotto if Arum weren't involved. But Cotto, who would like the fight, isn't about to cast Arum aside to make it happen. So, boxing will survive without the bout, especially given the great match that can be made in its stead.

"Obviously, I'm prejudiced, but there is one guy out there who I don't think is a fighter any more, who once was a great fighter," Arum said. "Make no mistake about it, but he's not a fighter any more. And a lot of the media, not all of you, encourage the nonsense, encourage the f-bombs, encourage terrible behavior and encourage somebody to go into nightclubs and throw money around. If you want to do that, it's fine, but that doesn't do anything for my sport."

Mayweather's team, primarily manager Leonard Ellerbe, has done a magnificent job of making him the sport's most notable personality. He was featured in a Wall Street Journal article on Saturday, the latest in a series of events which show how he's caught on beyond the boxing public.

He remains a marvelously gifted fighter, but for some reason, he wants to pick and choose his opponents instead of taking the approach that made men like Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Aaron Pryor and Thomas Hearns greats.

They fought the best, even if it didn't mean the greatest amount of money. But because the public knew that those men would never duck a challenge, their purses rose dramatically fight by fight.

Mayweather wants to rematch Oscar De La Hoya, a bout few boxing fans are interested in, then has talked about going to England to fight Ricky Hatton, a man he's already drubbed.

He'll make a lot of money for doing both, which is good for him.

Cotto and Margarito will make a lot of money – a lot less than Mayweather, but still a lot – and will give the sport the kind of a boost it needs.