LOS ANGELES – Boxing delivers its reality checks with brutal finality. For Antonio Margarito and his legion of supporters, the realization that his exceptional powers weren't superhuman came with a flurry of gloves and pain.
Margarito's ninth-round technical knockout defeat to Shane Mosley on Saturday night at Staples Center shattered the myth that the Mexican was without peer at welterweight, yet spoke volumes about his heart and courage.
And there, in part, lies the problem.
Margarito is known as the "Tijuana Tornado." But that nickname became something of an anomaly as the 30-year-old was cast as not so much a force of nature, but an immoveable object.
Prefight predictions once again went out the window as Mosley assumed control of the WBA title bout.
Margarito, the man with the iron chin, is still arguably the most resolute receiver of pugilistic punishment in the sport. It is a testament to his will and durability that he took Saturday's contest into the ninth round.
Who could blame Margarito if before this fight he started to believe all that was said and written about him? That no amount of pain could make him cower. That he could walk through any punch and emerge throwing leather of his own. That he was boxing's ultimate tough guy.
Perhaps it was too soon for him to fight again, given that it was only six months prior that he defeated Miguel Cotto, but took a heavy pounding in the process of that brutal bout that left blood and sweat spattered across MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Boxing is in desperate need of a savior and every impressive victory these days leads to the anointing of a new superstar. So, it was Margarito who was thrust into the limelight to replace Cotto.
"Young people these days think boxing is Armageddon," said Top Rank promoter Bob Arum. "The winner is going on to unbelievable things and for the loser it is the end. That is not sports and it is not boxing."
Arum used the example to suggest that Margarito can still have a bright future, yet his words summed up perfectly how his fighter had been hyped beyond reasonable bounds.
Heading into this bout it was hard to see how Mosley, the alleged drug cheat and supposedly washed up at age 37, could break him down.
Mosley is a fighter and has heart of his own, yet it was through tactical acumen and blistering hand speed that he conquered at Staples Center. His trainer Nazim Richardson demanded that the boxing media take nothing away from Margarito's reputation.
"Do not defang or declaw Margarito," Richardson said. "Do not make him out to be any less of a monster because he has lost. We knew he was a special fighter and that it would take special preparation to beat him."
The truth is somewhere in between. Margarito is not the tired journeyman that this performance made him out to be, nor is he the superstar that the Cotto result suggested. He is a solid performer in a strong division, capable of beating the best on his day but also able to lose to men inferior to Mosley.
Margarito's popularity, which stems from the fight audience's love of his pugnacious style and unquestionable heart, deserves to endure, yet you have to wonder what big fights await him now.
Can Margarito respond again? Win or lose, he gets beaten up and there is only so much punishment a man can take while retaining all his quickness and skills.
It should not have taken until 23 seconds into Round 9 for the fight to have been stopped. Trainer Javier Capetillo threw in the towel but Margarito should neither have been allowed to leave his stool for the ninth nor been allowed to eat shot after shot by referee Raul Caiz Sr.
Just because a man can withstand an onslaught of fearsome brutality, it doesn't mean he should have to and Caiz erred in judgment.
Margarito, the man from the mean streets of Tijuana, has bounced back from adversity in the past.
He did it after losing to Daniel Santos, and following defeat to Paul Williams. This time, rebuilding might be tougher, especially if the boxing authorities find impropriety in a substance that is alleged to have hardened his hand wraps before Richardson ordered them changed in the locker room.
Boxing was a big winner Saturday as Staples Center buzzed with activity before a record crowd of 20,820. Margarito was the big loser.
The cloak of invincibility was destroyed and doubts were raised about his honesty due to the hand wrap saga. The bravery remains, and time will tell if it is enough to breathe life back into his career.
Remember, this is a man who responds to being smashed in the face with a smile, a shrug and a forward step. But it will take a giant leap to make up the ground Margarito lost Saturday.