How much does Antonio Margarito have left in the tank? (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Antonio Margarito's questionable, surgically repaired right eye is officially a target.
Miguel Cotto beat it up last night at Madison Square Garden, connecting with 86 punches to that side of Margarito's face last night, cutting the eye and swelling it shut, earning a doctor stoppage victory after nine rounds.
We've certainly seen eyes in worse shape, with fights allowed to continue. The same referee, Steve Smoger, and a New York doctor allowed Pawel Wolak to fight through a grotesque hematoma on July 15 in Wolak's first fight with Delvin Rodriguez. And, of course, last November in Texas, Margarito finished a fight with a complete crushed orbital bone against Manny Pacquiao.
Margarito (38-8, 27 KO) didn't want the fight stopped last night. Smoger didn't want the fight stopped, almost apologizing to Margarito for having to follow the doctor's instructions to stop the fight.
[ Related: Cotto Stops Margarito at MSG ]
It's easy to understand the idea that the fight should have played out over the remaining three rounds. But if Margarito couldn't see, then by the books, the fight had to be stopped. And it was.
But there was a lot more to last night's fight than Margarito's eye, and little of it is good for Margarito's future in boxing.
Last night at Madison Square Garden, we saw a defiant, cocky Margarito lose badly to Miguel Cotto. The fight really wasn't close, and though Margarito feels he was hurting Cotto when he was connecting, he wasn't connecting with nearly enough frequency to likely do the necessary damage in the remaining rounds that he would have needed to stop Cotto and defeat him again.
He can shout, "Woooo!" as many times as he wants. Margarito was getting lit up in there.
It's not all on the eye, although Cotto putting a bullseye on it and connecting repeatedly didn't help.
Antonio Margarito is 33 years old now, turning 34 in March. And no matter what he says, he is not close to the same fighter he was in July 2008.
For one thing, Margarito doesn't appear to have the same punching power. Whatever your theories about that are, he's not the same puncher he used to be. Maybe it's the hand wraps stuff. Maybe it's that he moved up in weight. Maybe it's simply that he's even slower than he used to be, and doesn't connect enough for his shots to do the cumulative damage over the course of a fight that they used to.
Margarito's hands were, of course, never fast, and nor was he nimble. Like his hands, his feet have become even more plodding and predictable, and he doesn't stalk the way he used to, more follows his opponent and hopes they'll be where he needs them to be at some point. Cotto was able to easily slip Margarito at various points, turn him around, and cut off his offense. Cotto rarely was caught on the ropes in the fight -- in fact, Margarito found himself back to the ropes more often than did the Puerto Rican.
At his best, Margarito was probably a B+ fighter, but a special sort whose toughness and determination made him a threat to just about anyone he did face, or could have faced but did not for various political reasons. At one time, he was a top fighter.
Those days are gone. Margarito is now a five dressed up as a nine, and his days of major pay-per-view main events likely came to a one-sided end in New York. But he's still incredibly tough, and will walk through shots with one or two good eyes to keep coming forward.
So what's left for Margarito? As long as he doesn't retire, and I can't imagine that he will, he will find fights. They may not come in New York again, or in another state with a tougher commission like Nevada, and certainly California will never bend because there's no way for them to look good letting him fight in the state. But we know other states will license Margarito, including Texas, and he can always fight in Mexico.
Here are three potential Margarito opponents. (And just in case anyone wonders, and I don't imagine many of you do, but someone probably does: There will never be another Cotto vs Margarito fight.)
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr
Though Arum is saying that he wants to match Cotto and Chavez (44-0-1, 31 KO) in New York, that's entirely up to Cotto, and frankly if Miguel looks at the kid who walks into the ring at 180-185 pounds and says, "You know, Bob, I think he's just too big for me," I don't think we could really blame him. Chavez is a big middleweight, Cotto a tiny junior middleweight.
[ Related: Chavez Stays Unbeaten, Stops Manfredo ]
Chavez vs Margarito would be a natural fit after that. He's washed up and doesn't appear too dangerous anymore, so that's a plus in the way Chavez is usually matched. For money fights, Antonio's not going to have a ton out there coming to him. This may be the biggest he could get. If Cotto doesn't want to fight Chavez, then Margarito could get the call.
[ Related: Clottey Returns to Action With Win ]
Clottey (36-4, 21 KO) is back in the ring as of November 19, and competing as a junior middleweight going forward. He would love the chance to avenge his 2006 loss to Margarito, and I'm sure Antonio would fight him again. The biggest problem here would be finding TV to support the purses of the fighters. I really don't see HBO buying this one unless it's a co-feature to a very good main event, or unless it's on an undercard of an HBO PPV show out of Texas. If Arum took it to pay-per-view as a main event, I'm not sure it would have a lot of interest, even enough to make it worthwhile.
[ Related: Wolak Loses to Rodriguez in Rematch ]
They both lost last night, but also both proved they're two of the toughest guys in the sport. A fight between the two would be head-to-head mayhem. Again, it's an issue of where you put the fight, but I can't imagine either balking at the idea, and this one might actually be worth a Top Rank PPV, since Wolak doesn't have Clottey's ill-placed ego when it comes to money.
Obviously there are more possibilities out there, but unless Margarito is ready to take a major cut (and I mean major), they all have big question marks. He can't make 147 anymore, so moving back down all the way is probably out of the question. Top Rank doesn't have a ton of in-house guys at 154 or 160. And affording a Margarito fight without the luxury of HBO assistance isn't going to be easy.
It might be wise to look for Margarito to take a tune-up or bounce-back fight in Mexico next, similar to his 2010 fight with Roberto Garcia. Given his health, even that would be a risk, since anyone decent is going to target that eye from now on, but the options aren't great right now, or at least don't appear to be.