The right type of yes man

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

You might call Antonio Margarito a yes man.

But he's the kind of yes man who boxing fans love.

Would he be willing to fight Oscar De La Hoya?

Yes.

How about taking on pound-for-pound kingpin Floyd Mayweather Jr.?

Yes.

Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley or Ricky Hatton?

Yes, yes and yes. Talk to him for a few minutes and you quickly get the impression he'd take on a hungry grizzly bear if you paid him and a few folks were interested in watching.

Margarito is a man of few words, but he understands the one word he needs to know.

Now, if only a few of the other fighters in his division also understood the word, we might have something.

It's a word that Margarito, who defends his WBO welterweight title on Saturday in Carson, Calif., against unbeaten knockout artist Paul Williams, laments is missing from the vocabulary of many of his would-be opponents.

"Some of these guys, they call themselves fighters," Margarito said, almost sneering.

"Hah. If you're a fighter, you should be willing to fight. These guys want to look pretty but they don't want to fight."

Margarito (33-4, 24 KOs) is a boxer by trade but he's a fighter at heart. He's never been accused of being stylistic, and that's the way he likes it.

His promoter, Bob Arum, has tried to bill him as the most feared man in boxing for the past year. Arum and Margarito have sought a bout with Mayweather, whom most regard as the best fighter in the world, for far more than a year.

Arum offered Mayweather $8 million last year to fight Margarito, but Mayweather instead chose to fight Carlos Baldomir and then signed to fight De La Hoya in what went on to become the largest-grossing match in history.

Arum cleverly spun Mayweather's decision to bypass Margarito in favor of Baldomir and then De La Hoya as proof of a yellow streak down the "Pretty Boy's" back.

Margarito has been asked about Mayweather so often, he speaks as if he's programmed.

"My promoter offered him $8 million and he still said no," Margarito said. "What else could we do?"

Margarito, 29, stands on the verge of hitting the big time, though. Should he get past Williams he'll get a date with Cotto later in the year.

That will be no easy proposition given Williams is a.) left-handed; b.) one of the few fighters who is taller than Margarito (6-2 to 5-11); c.) much quicker and d.) probably has more one-punch power.

Cotto holds the WBA welterweight title and is one of boxing's hottest properties. He drew nearly 21,000 fans to Madison Square Garden for a bout last month with Zab Judah and is slowly beginning to convince a skeptical public that he might be the early 21st century's Roberto Duran to Mayweather's Sugar Ray Leonard.

A fight with Cotto would do wonders for Margarito's visibility, let alone his bank account, but he insists he's not letting himself think about the implications of that bout.

"The one thing I've learned in this business is that you always have to respect your opponent," Margarito said. "I don't want to disrespect Paul Williams by talking about Cotto because I need (to win) one before I get the other."

He's punished himself in training camp so that he can show a national audience that Arum's campaign was more than sharp marketing.

His fights are painful, often gory battles. If Mayweather wins with surgical precision, there can be little doubt that Margarito does his thing with blunt force trauma.

And he says he has special incentive because he's not happy with his performance in a December win over Joshua Clottey. He injured a hand, which kept him from fighting for more than eight months.

But he's insisting he's healthy and out to prove a point.

"You're going to see a different Antonio Margarito," he promised. "I want to prove I'm ready for all of these big fights I might get. The people will get a chance to decide for themselves."

Margarito and Williams are highlighting a rare HBO tripleheader. The opener features men who Margarito and Williams have already beaten when one-time Margarito victim Kermit Cintron battles one-time Williams victim Walter Matthysse for the IBF welterweight belt.

Then, Arturo Gatti and Alfonso Gomez will meet in a bout that will have little signficance in terms of the title picture but that nonetheless figures to be only slightly less wild than a barroom brawl.

Finally, Margarito and Williams will close the show by battling for the WBO belt. And a battle, Margarito said, is just what Williams will get.

He plans to answer the question of whether he's good enough to be considered on the Mayweather-Cotto-Mosley level by saying yes with his fists.

"He is a good fighter, but he hasn't fought the kind of fighters I have," Margarito said. "He's going to learn there's a big difference between the guys he's been facing and the guy he'll face on Saturday."