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Margarito working toward big payday

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – One has to imagine that Antonio Margarito feels a little bit like Phil Connors, Bill Murray's character in "Groundhog Day," who kept living the same bad day over and over.

Nearly three years after the biggest win of his career, Margarito is back to where he was in 2005 when he faced Kermit Cintron.

Prior to meeting Cintron in 2005, Margarito was a big, strong and durable welterweight who seemed to be on the outside looking in when it came to the big fights.

He wasn't high-profile enough for guys like Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley to seriously consider him and that made him far too great of a risk considering the pop he carries and the physical style he employs.

Margarito decimated Cintron in that 2005 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, stopping him in the fifth round of a WBO welterweight title fight.

Now, about two weeks shy of three years later, Margarito is facing Cintron again for a welterweight title and still hasn't been able to land the big fights against the big names.

The only thing that has changed is the belt at stake – Cintron's IBF belt instead of the WBO belt Margarito held then – and the casino town where the bout is being held.

In 2005, the crowd in Las Vegas was made up of many passionate Margarito supporters who made the drive from Tijuana, Mexico. On Saturday, it will be a largely Puerto Rican-based audience that will be there to root for native sons Cintron and Miguel Cotto.

But there aren't a lot of the division's big names who are eager to face Margarito. It's almost certain that he'll never climb into a ring with Floyd Mayweather Jr., the WBC titleholder and the pound-for-pound champion. De La Hoya and Mosley are, as they were, largely off limits.

"My own success, beating up those guys and knocking them out early, people didn't want to get near me," Margarito said. "I'm not saying they were scared to fight me, but they just didn't want to face me because I was too risky and there wasn't enough in it for them.

"It is frustrating. I've made seven title defenses, I won a lot of fights and I still don't have that big fight. It's very frustrating. Maybe this is my year. Maybe this will be the fight that will open everything up for me."

Emanuel Steward, the Hall of Fame trainer who is now guiding Cintron's career, raves about Margarito and said his size, power and volume punching would have made him a tough match for any welterweight in any era.

"Ray (Leonard), Tommy (Hearns), (Wilfred) Benitez, any of those guys, he would have caused them lots and lots of problems," Steward said.

Steward laughed and said it's no coincidence that Mayweather has not fought Margarito or Cotto, who faces Alfonso S. Gomez in the main event on Saturday for the WBA title.

Both men would give Mayweather a rough, physical fight that Steward suggests Mayweather wants no part of getting into.

"I give him credit for being able to get away with it," Steward said of Mayweather.

Margarito is 35-5 with 25 knockouts and rarely is in a dull fight. But he's been a second-tier attraction because he doesn't have the fan base in his native Mexico that others, such as Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera have built, and because he doesn't speak English.

"The people here just don't know enough about him," said his promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank. "There are very few guys who are going to be big in the States if they don't speak English. (Julio Cesar) Chavez did it and (Roberto) Duran did it, but they were among the greatest fighters of all-time and they had ways of communicating even though they didn't speak English.

"He's an entertaining guy, but he's stuck because he doesn't speak the language and he can't build a connection with the fans."

And at 30, it's too late for him to learn now and introduce himself to the American public, so he's going to have to fight himself into the public's consciousness.

It's going to take a break, but Steward warns that not only does he see a slight decline in Margarito, but he said Cintron is not the same fighter now that he was in 2005.

Cintron took that first bout on short notice – "His people told him, 'Hey, look, you're fighting because we need the money,'" Steward said, wincing – and despite not having legitimate sparring partners.

It was his first fight in Las Vegas and the circumstances and the atmosphere combined to make him little more than a lamb led to slaughter.

"He was a boy then, but Margarito shouldn't expect to see that same kid," Steward said. "He's going to be fighting a man on Saturday night. The circumstances are a lot different now."

Margarito acknowledges Cintron's improvement under Steward's direction, but he also is convinced he'll repeat his victory.

His motivation is even greater given that a win, combined with a Cotto win over Gomez, may finally land him the big fight he's craved. Arum said that if Margarito and Cotto win on Saturday, he'll match them on July 26 in New York or Las Vegas for the WBA-IBF belts.

Margarito doesn't dare look ahead, because if he loses to Cintron it's unlikely he'll ever get this close to the big shot.

And he says he's learned from a June loss to Paul Williams, so he won't make that mistake any more.

"I started too slowly," Margarito said, "and it cost me. Never again. Never. Every fight from now on, you'll see me going with everything from the first punch."