Cintron ready for Margarito, all comers

Kevin Iole

Kermit Cintron did an odd thing in November. He opted to defend his welterweight title against a hard-nosed guy with nothing to lose despite the fact a big-money unification bout was looming against Paul Williams in about two months.

The norm in boxing is to say no until you have to say yes.

But Cintron not only willingly agreed to defend his belt against Jesse Feliciano on Nov. 23 in Los Angeles rather than sit out in anticipation of the agreed upon IBF-WBO title unification in February, he doesn't regret it now even though an injury in the first minute of the first round against Feliciano cost him the Williams fight.

"You know, this is boxing and I am a champion and a champion is supposed to be willing to take on all comers," Cintron said. "I knew what I was doing."

Feliciano is no Sugar Ray Robinson and few outside of his immediate family gave him much of a shot of lasting past four rounds with the hard-hitting Cintron, much less actually winning the fight.

But when Cintron broke his right hand in the first minute of the fight, a Feliciano victory suddenly became significantly more possible, if not probable.

Cintron looked awful in the fight – "Come on, now," he says, chuckling. "It wasn't that bad. Was it?" – but managed to pull out a victory.

He could have quit, given the excruciating pain he felt every time his right hand made contact with Feliciano. He almost certainly would have gotten an immediate rematch had he opted for discretion over valor.

The thought, though, never crossed his mind.

"When you fight, things are going to happen and you have to expect it," he said. "Just because things aren't going your way doesn't mean you can't find a way to win. I just sucked it up and I fought."

And, in a way, things turned out better had he actually gone on to face Williams. The broken bone and deep bruise that he suffered forced him to scrap the Williams bout. Carlos Quintana subsequently upset Williams.

Cintron, though, hasn't thought twice about it. He wound up as the co-feature of a card featuring WBA welterweight champion Miguel Cotto, No. 4 on Y! Sports' poll of the world's best boxers, against the man he wanted to fight more than anyone else.

He'll meet Antonio Margarito in the first bout of the HBO-televised card on Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.

Margarito decimated Cintron in a 2005 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in what remains the only blemish on Cintron's record. Cintron was a rising star at the time and his knockout power was helping to make him one of boxing's best young fighters.

There were plenty of ominous signs. He had hand surgery after stopping the usually durable Teddy Reid in eight rounds on July 17, 2004.

By December, the hand was still bothering him, enough that it caused him to wince when he made a fist. He had yet another surgery. He didn't get into training camp until about a month before that April 23, 2005, bout with Margarito. And he was instructed by a doctor not to punch in the last two weeks.

In essence, he had a two-week training camp.

"I knew I wasn't well prepared for that bout and there was a lot going on in my life," said Cintron, who is 29-1 with 27 knockouts. "I was young and immature in my boxing career. I hadn't been fighting that long.

From amateurs to that point, it had been like maybe four, five years, where Margarito I think had something like 12 or 13 years of experience.

"Basically, I didn't have the experience to show me how to handle a situation like I was facing, especially against a tough guy like Margarito. I didn't have the right people around me. Things weren't going the way they should have. But I think now that I've hired one of the best trainers (Emanuel Steward) and I have changed so many things, I'm a different person and a different fighter."

Even Margarito concedes that. He's not expecting to blow through Cintron nearly as easily as he did in 2005, when he put the kind of devastating beating on Cintron that often ruins a young prospect for good.

Promoter Bob Arum said he'll match Margarito with Cotto if Cotto gets past Alfonso S. Gomez and Margarito repeats his win over Cintron on July 26 in either New York or Las Vegas.

That's plenty of motivation for Margarito to take Cintron seriously.

"He understands what's at stake, but he really understands that Kermit Cintron is a completely different fighter now than he was then," Arum said. "Based on the last fight, you might be tempted to say this one would be a waltz, but Emanuel has done great things with Cintron and he's really a different fighter."

And while Cintron wants to prove that to Margarito, he even more desperately wants to prove it to himself.

He's a competitor and didn't like the feeling of inadequacy he had after the loss. And he was stung by the lack of professionalism some in his corner showed, starting a fight outside the ring after the bout had ended.

"I didn't know it was going on, but it was embarrassing to me when they did that because they were with me and wearing my (colors)," Cintron said. "I am a professional and that's how I believe you should conduct yourself. I think I took the loss like a professional and I believe the way I'm coming back to this fight and the way I've prepared is the way a real pro would do it. It would mean so much to me personally to get this one win, which is why I've put so much of my life into this fight."