Antonio Margarito already has won, in a way. The disgraced former welterweight champion, whom many never expected to see in a boxing ring again after being caught with an illegal knuckle pad in his hand wraps before a 2009 fight with Shane Mosley, has landed a fight with Manny Pacquiao and the big payday that goes along with it.
For a guy who was forced into a year's exile and had to publicly beg for his job, that's a major win no matter what happens in Cowboys Stadium on Nov. 13.
Landing the bout gave Margarito a high-profile vehicle with which to proclaim his innocence, and he has used it expertly. HBO's "24/7: Pacquiao-Margarito" series has allowed Margarito to cast doubt upon claims that he was aware former trainer Javier Capetillo slipped something illegal into his hand wraps before that fateful Jan. 24, 2009, bout with Mosley at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The California State Athletic Commission suspended Margarito for a year and then denied him when he reapplied for a license. Moreover, Margarito was cast as a pariah in the court of public opinion.
Pacquiao and his trainer, Freddie Roach, are among legion in the fight game who insist Margarito was aware of the illegal pad and that he's not the innocent he has portrayed himself to be on "24/7."
"It's common sense," Pacquiao said on the first episode of the four-part series, insisting Margarito knew what went on his hands.
Roach not only maintains that Margarito knew about the illegal pad on the night of the Mosley fight, but says he's convinced Margarito has worn them in previous fights.
"You can see it when you watch his [old] fights," Roach said. "He reacts a lot differently when he has them in and when he doesn't. He looks like a more confident guy in the fights in which he has them in."
In the first two episodes of "24/7," Margarito perfectly crafts an image as a victim. He's almost always shown with his loving wife, Michelle, at his side. He wades into large groups of adoring fans, signing autographs and posing for pictures. His trainer, Robert Garcia, and his training partner, Brandon Rios, rave about his character and his personality.
Margarito has turned a large portion of public opinion in his favor and made a big dent in the impression of him as a cunning, conniving cheater. In a sense, Margarito is a winner regardless of what happens when he faces Pacquiao for the World Boxing Council super welterweight title.
At least one highly regarded expert believes there is a good chance Margarito will leave Cowboys Stadium with one more win at the venue than the building's primary tenant has achieved this year. Trainer Joe Goossen, who will corner Jesus Soto-Karass against Mike Jones on the undercard, said it's not out of the question for Margarito to defeat the world's top-ranked fighter.
"He has talent, he has technique and what I know with 1,000 percent certainty is that by working with Garcia, he'll be in tremendous, tremendous shape," Goossen said. "You can put an exclamation point on that. The one thing about the Garcia camp, they kind of work like I do. They grind. They're workers. Robert knows that talent is important. He knows that technique is important. But you could have both and if you don't have conditioning, you are in for a long night.
"Freddie's been saying that Manny's had a lousy camp. Margarito looks from what I saw on television to be in incredible shape. I'm shocked that Pacquiao is a 6-1, 7-1 favorite. This is more like a 2-1, 3-1 kind of fight."
Goossen said that given the questions about Pacquiao's conditioning – there was a conspicuous lack of training footage on "24/7" from the Philippines, largely because Pacquiao wasn't training that much – and Margarito's size advantage, Margarito ought to pressure constantly.
Goossen said Margarito has to make Pacquiao back up and move frequently in an effort to wear him out.
"The first thing I'd do is make sure you're backing him up and moving him," Goossen said. "I'd hit that body incessantly. I'd attack the body hard early, even if it meant catching a few counters. I think he just has to set the tone with his pressure. He has to get Manny on the run, when he has a chance, get to the body, and sooner or later he'll tire him out.
"Manny just hasn't looked the same from what I've seen on television. He didn't look tight and wound up. He didn't seem chiseled. He had a bit more loose skin than you normally see. Freddie's been complaining about his training camp. That says something. So I think if Margarito can pressure him and make him move a lot, Manny could tire and all of a sudden, it's a completely different fight."
Trainer Kenny Adams, who for my money is the best teacher in the business, isn't as optimistic about Margarito's chances. Adams said Margarito can win, but he expects Pacquiao to do so.
Speed, Adams said, is a major difference.
"Margarito has to have a shot, because he's got a good chin and decent power, so it could happen," Adams said. "Most likely, though, it won't. He'll probably get chopped up and cut up. He ought to try to keep Manny on the outside and try to hit him with long shots. He needs to lead with the jab and drop the right hand in on him, but keep Manny away from him. If Pacquiao gets in there near him and lets those fast hands go, he'll probably cut him all up."
The difference in speed and quickness between the men is immense. You could make an argument about who is better technically. I prefer Pacquiao, but it's not a rout. There's a legitimate question about who hits harder and it's almost without question that Margarito has the better chin, since he might have the best in boxing today.
Rarely in the sport's history has the slower man won when the gulf in speed and quickness is as vast as it is in this fight.
This, though, is no normal bout. This is Pacquiao's first after being elected to the House of Representatives in his native Philippines. Roach has been irate because of the distractions Pacquiao's political responsibilities have created. On Friday, Pacquiao left Los Angeles to fly to Las Vegas against the advice of Roach and conditioning coach Alex Ariza to campaign for Sen. Harry Reid.
If Pacquiao is at his best, it's hard to conceive of a path to victory for Margarito. But with Pacquiao consumed by things other than boxing, it's not so difficult. And even Pacquiao's vaunted speed and quickness advantage doesn't seem as daunting in light of that.
"I think Pacquiao will be slower and I think Margarito will be quicker because of the mitt work and the combination punching he's been doing with Robert Garcia," Goossen said. "The pendulum swings both ways. Margarito is hungry, motivated; he's in great shape and he's a big guy. He's got a great team with him and they've worked hard together and from what I can tell, they had a great camp.
"On the other side, you have a guy who is now a congressman, whose trainer has been complaining that he hasn't been putting the work in the way he has in the past. He's got a lot of things on his mind other than Margarito and with Margarito as hungry as he is, that's not a good thing when you look at it from Manny's standpoint."
Already, Margarito has won regardless of the outcome. Amazingly, though, he stands on the precipice of a win that, just a few months ago, seemed folly to even consider.
Margarito has a shot. After what he's been though the last 21 months, that's all he wants.