Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Margarito Mess - Ultimately A Judgment Call

Jeff Pryor takes a look at the Antonio Margarito situation.

Photo © Ray Kasprowicz

After much speculation, rumors, mis-information and accusations it appears that while some specific details remain to be divulged, we know now the most important bit of information we needed following the scandalous events leading up to Antonio Margarito's bout with Shane Mosley. The wraps do indeed have traces of the ingredients to make plaster.

The biggest issue now facing the boxing world is what Margarito knew and when he knew it.

On the one hand, if Margarito knew about the destructive substance in his hand wraps, unquestionably he should be banned for life from the sport he's dedicated so much of his life to. Oscar Diaz and Victor Burgos are just two of the more prominent pugilists who could recently vouch for how dangerous the job can be with just a regular old gloved fist bouncing off your noggin.

What is probably needed in this instance is a deep interrogation of all those around Margarito, to try and glean whether or not he seemed to be cognoscente of his surroundings when his hands were being wrapped and if he ever exhibited or said anything that might point to his implicit knowledge of what was being put on his hands.

A prudent commission would also convene a panel of boxers and trainers to provide their experienced knowledge and give their opinions on the likelihood of Margarito being unaware of the contents of his hand wraps. A number of both fighters and trainers; Shane Mosley, Emanuel Steward and Freddie Roach, most notably, have been quoted recently stating that it's possible he might not have known what was happening with the wraps. Others, just as qualified to know, have steadfastly asserted the opposite. Clearly, it's a gray area in which a number of experienced people have varying opinions.

Judging only from my own observations of Margarito through interviews and second hand accounts, it would appear that Margarito falls into that type of fighter who gets in a zone and tunes things out, making it somewhat plausible that he could be oblivious to the dastardly wrapping going on almost literally beneath his nose.

Like an echo from 90 years before, it was said that Jack Dempsey thought his trainer was sprinkling talcum powder on his wraps in preparation for his bout with heavyweight Jess Willard. In a controversy that still remains ambiguous, his trainer later claimed that he had in fact peppered Dempsey's hands with plaster, which ultimately led to Willard's jaw shattering, en-route to a horrendous beating.

Like the black cloud that plagued Dempsey, the fallout of this scandal has already spread to earlier bouts in Margarito's career and the question of just how long this has been going on has begun to ring loudly. Kermit Cintron, two time knockout victim of the "Tijuana Tornado" is eager to write off his losses to this new development, alleging that loaded gloves must have taken his undefeated record from him. It must be said however, that in his most recent bout, Cintron claimed that the devastating punch that Sergio Martinez dropped him with, must have been a headbutt.

The same Sergio Martinez was stopped in seven by Margarito back in 2000, and has flatly stated that Margarito was simply the better man back then, and loaded gloves were no issue. In between these two opposing positions, lies Miguel Cotto, who has remained ominously silent for the majority of the investigation. Though Cotto has shown restraint and class in his handling of the situation, behind the scenes rumblings have him extremely angry and in a development that continues to simmer, it has begun to drive a wedge between he and his promoter, Bob Arum, who has defended Margarito.

Many have pointed to the damage that Cotto's face sustained by the end of his match with Margarito and also to Sebastian Lujan's detaching ear, which stopped his bout with Margarito as the appendage began to tear away from his head from repeated clubbing rights to the head. With these dramatic examples of facial trauma, it is posited that this is evidence of prior misconduct. But if this is the case, one wonders why Paul Williams or Cintron didn't suffer the same disfigurement, should loaded gloves have been in use by team Margarito for an extended period of time. It could be argued that perhaps their skin was simply more resilient... but conversely, it could be argued that Cotto and Lujan's skin is simply less durable, loaded gloves or no. Ultimately these speculations lead only in circles.

In regards to the possibility that loaded gloves were used in Margarito's earlier bouts only one thing is certain, the commissions and opposing trainers all had the opportunity to inspect the wraps and sign off on them. None ever spotted anything unusual, nor raised any voice of caution or concern. Be that as it may, one other certainty may be drawn here, the question of tampering, even with no evidence whatsoever, will always hang over Margarito's earlier accomplishments. A shame in any event for if Margarito knowingly cheated and threw away all of his tremendous work for an insidious advantage it is a terrible pity, but worse, if his sacrifices to boxing have been taken from him by someone he trusted implicitly.

Manny Steward is quoted in next months issue of The Ring with his opinion, and seems dubious as to the likelihood of prior illegalities. “I doubt Margarito has done this in the past; he’s fought in all of the biggest states with the best commissions, so I find it hard to believe he’d get away with it for this long."

Looking into Margarito's past and trying to determine what effect loaded gloves may or may not have had on his rise to the top of the welterweight division is something that will be argued over and speculated on for years to come. More pressing is the issue of what exactly Margarito's future will entail.

Currently serving a one year suspension by the California State Athletic Commission, which for all intents and purposes locks him out of American boxing into the year 2010, Margarito faces a difficult stretch. Talk of a bout in Mexico has been met with mixed reaction from fans and the boxing establishment. Such a bout may alienate the American Commissions who would feel that Promoter Arum and Margarito are circumventing their ruling, and perhaps making a speedy reinstatement after one year less likely.

Margarito's wild card, may be the support of Freddie Roach, with whom there has been preliminary discussions of a future partnership. Roach brings an integrity and reputation that would go far to put a continuation of Margarito's career in a positive light. Few take the cruelties of the sport more seriously than Roach, who has been dealt a tough lot, dealing with Parkinson's disease brought on by the damage he took as a professional prize fighter. Few too, would be able to speak to the severity of Margarito's offenses and ensure that under his watch there would be zero possibility of future indiscretions.

In fact this is a chief reason why it's not much of a risk to reinstate Margarito, should the commission be reasonably certain he wasn't aware of the wrongdoings; from here on out, all eyes will be glued to the wrapping process of Margarito's hands. With such attention it would be impossible and incredibly foolhardy to ever again attempt any kind of tampering.

Roach has spoken with Margarito about the situation and came away from the conversation with an emotional Margarito, believing him. He feels that Margarito is a stand up guy and sincere in his assertion that he didn't know what was going on with the wraps. One gets the sense, from watching his career journey, that Margarito is indeed a sincere, hardworking guy. Which is why this whole thing has been all the more troubling.

There are no easy answers. Slapping a lifetime ban on Margarito would be easy, but imagine if he truly did not know what his trainer was up to. Simply reinstating him after a year wouldn't address the possibility that he was an active part of the devious scheme. Clearly more investigation is needed, before a final decision is rendered.

As with much in boxing, all this is ultimately going to come down to a judgment call. Like a controversial split decision, there will certainly be some fans displeased no matter what the outcome.

For Margarito it must be a frightening and stress filled time. Only he knows exactly how much of that hardship he deserves. He has the advantage of knowing the black and white of it, the guilt and the innocence. The rest of us must wade through the gray area to decide if a seemingly good guy, knowingly did an unforgivable thing.

e-mail Jeff Pryor


Michael Nelson said...

I believe that the facial damage argument should be thrown out the window as well. Clottey didn't have a mark on his face, and Williams has been on record saying he doesn't think Margarito's gloves were loaded against him.

I also hope that there's a comprehensive investigation into what Margarito did or didn't know.

Well done article.

Anonymous said...

What about Rashad Halloway's face being fractured in sparring against Margarito? That was something that really jumped out at me that made me believe they were practicing the use of the wraps.

Anonymous said...

I've been in the locker room and have watched top level hands being wrapped several times. Sometimes, the commission and opposing team member watch very closely and sometimes they don't. From state to state...fight to fight, the process is very different. There are also parts of the tape and wraps that are prepped before the actual wrap starts. Tape strips are pre-cut and gauze is folded and prepared. Even with diligent commissioners watching, I can easily see how someone "could" do this on a regular basis. I don't know all the facts with the Margarito case so I don't want to say he's guilty but...I've watched how intimate this process is between a fighter and a trainer. There are times when a piece of tape being 1/100 of an inch out of place has caused a fighter to ask it to be re-done. I really can't believe a fighter would not "know" if something illegal, or different, was happening. If they found an illegal substance or plaster of some sort, I'd have to think Margarito knew. That's not fact, just my opinion. I actually "hope" I'm wrong for if he did this knowingly, it is the lowest of moves a boxer can make. I "hope" he didn't know it but I don't believe that. I believe he knew it, loved it, and embraced the super ability it gave him. I think the case should be thoroughly examined and he should not be re-instated until it can be proven he didn't do it knowingly! We don't know if he did it before but we now know it was done at least once. Shift the burden of proof to him. Ban him until a good explanation can be given and the evidence convinces all involved that he didn't do it before. Only then, should he be re-instated. Do you think he would have used it in the next fight had he not been caught? Of course he would have which leads me to believe he's used them before. Would Emmanuel Steward say he thought he used something illegal against Cintron? Only if he wanted to take the blame since it was either him, or someone from his team, who was supposed to be watching. I wouldn't expect him to sing a different song. He has to stick to the idea that he doesn't think it happened on his watch.

Anonymous said...

But Shane cheated too. And Margarito is from the West Coast so that means we should all give him the benefit of the doubt whereas nobody else would get the same.

This whole thing is a bunch of crap but since certain sites are West Coast based, and biased, Margarito is afforded certain liberties not given to other fighters.

Anyone remember an article titled Cheat-O Trinidad? I do. Anyone remember the article titled Plasterito or Cheatarito? Nope. But that's because we should wait for all the facts.

All the build up to the fight was about how good Tony looked in camp and how he was just killing sparring partners (curious that he fractured someone's face before the fight that he loaded his gloves) but after the fight it was all about his bad back or his eye.

To me, the worst part about this story is the fact that nobody is talking about Shane's beautiful fight and how he stopped the Tijuana Tornado.

I could probably rant for days on this subject and how disgusting the liberties afforded to Margarito are but you all already know that.

I guess I'll just leave with 2 points.

1) Shane kicked his ass something fierce and would do it again, bad back/bad eye/loaded gloves whatever.

2) If Floyd/Oscar/Hopkins/most others had been caught loading their gloves a certain website would absolutely have killed them and done numerous pieces about it. But since it's Margarito we just have to believe that he had no clue. Weak.

Anonymous said...

Shane is a cheater cheater pumpkin eater...