LOS ANGELES – Antonio Margarito had a shot to salvage his battered reputation on Tuesday.
He blew it.
Margarito is a black sheep in a sport that doesn't need any more of them, and even 15 months on from his hour of disgrace and a few weeks shy of his return to the boxing ring, he just doesn't get why.
This week Margarito spoke publicly for the first time since Jan. 24, 2009, the night Shane Mosley's trainer, Naazim Richardson, alerted officials to irregularities in Margarito's handwraps prior to a WBA welterweight title fight at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Mosley would go on to win the fight comfortably, yet the revelations set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the revocation of Margarito's California boxing license, his 12-month suspension from fighting in the United States, and the ruination of his standing in the sport.
However, given the "Tijuana Tornado's" defiant attitude at the Millennium Biltmore hotel on Tuesday, he clearly feels as though steering clear of competitive action for just over a year means all will be forgiven and forgotten.
He is sorely mistaken.
Margarito has not reapplied for a California license and will instead take on Roberto Garcia in Aguascalientes, Mexico, on May 8. During his time out, his former trainer, Javier Capetillo, has taken the rap over the wraps, with the boxer claiming he had no knowledge of any illegal gauze pad (which was apparently loaded with a plaster-like substance) being inserted.
Boxing’s history is sadly littered with its share of unsavory characters and the sport will never stand accused of being squeaky clean. But there is something particularly stomach-churning about the thought of loaded gloves in a game where leather-cased fists alone can cause severe damage to human skulls and the mental faculties that lie beneath them.
That is why some semblance of culpability and remorse would have been so welcome. Why it would have made his return so much easier to swallow for the thousands of fans who just wish he would disappear.
No one expected an admission of guilt from Margarito, a teary confession where he laid his soul bare and said he was a cheat.
But if he had at least stood up like a man and admitted that he should have known what was being inserted into his wraps, that he had made an error in concentration, and that a fighter should take responsibility for at least keeping an eye on his own fistic preparation, it would have been something.
Instead there was outrage, excuses, defiance and a stubborn refusal to give straight answers to straight questions.
"People don't know me,” he pleaded, through a translator. “They don't know my history that has always been clean. People are just going by what is said and written."
At a venue which used to host the Academy Awards, Margarito's performance was thoroughly unconvincing.
His game plan was to plead ignorance and stick to it. The fighter and his small army of cronies who seek to excuse him were infuriated by the line of questioning chiefly employed by myself and The Ring's Mike Rosenthal.
Several times I gave Margarito the opportunity to say that even if he didn't know what was in his wraps, he should have known. Given that many fighters claim they would be able to tell if a stray hair had gotten into their wraps, let alone a lump of hardened matter, it was a fair inquiry.
Each time, there was a steadfast refusal, a scowl of frustration and anger from his sneering associates.
"I didn't know what was on my hands," said Margarito. "I never had to deal with any of these things before, and now you're telling me I have to deal with it every time?
"I didn't know, I don't know anything about what happened. I put my hands up there, and they wrapped them. I don't know what you guys want from me. You don't have to believe me. I'll prove it to everyone. I'll show you guys."
For a boxer who has made his name by standing and slugging it out with the best, it was a master class in evasion.
Promoter Bob Arum has been banging the Margarito drum like only he knows how, trying to spark interest in this fight and in the resurrection of his boxer.
"I have been distressed by the amounts of misinformation that's been out there," Arum said. "People want to sentence this guy to purgatory and that's just shameful and sad."
The long-term plan is to have Margarito thrown in with pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao, maybe even as early as later this year.
For the sake of boxing's credibility, let's hope not.
- Antonio Margarito