The first episode of HBO's Cotto vs Margarito 24/7 series was amazing. It was, as I've now said countless times, the greatest episode in the series history. Margarito cast himself in the role of Ultimate Villain -- not just because he's the guy who tried to load his wraps against Shane Mosley, and the guy many believe (including Miguel Cotto) believe loaded his wraps in July 2008, but just because.
Margarito is aloof, and smug, and dismissive of any claims against his character. Years ago, he was marketed as a hard-working, relentless fighter. He smiled a lot. He just wanted the big fights. He was avoided, but he went out and fought. Coming from a hard background in Mexico, turning professional at age 15 and working his ass off to get to the top of the sport, Margarito was easy to like. The fact that his fighting style was so great to watch only helped that.
Before January 2009, I encountered very few boxing fans who didn't like Antonio Margarito. Now finding someone who will admit to liking him outright is nearly impossible. A lot of them even reveled in the fact that Manny Pacquiao destroyed his orbital bone last November.
Now he's back, and he's dropped any notion that he's a good guy. Last year in the fight with Pacquiao, he wasn't this guy. But this time around, either he's given up pretending he's nice, or he's playing the heel role to incredible heights.
Then there's Miguel Cotto, who is the same Miguel Cotto we've always known. Quiet and serious, with a humble attitude, but now adding a cold thirst to punish Margarito for his sins, and to do so in memory of his departed father.
As Doc Holliday said in Tombstone, "Make no mistake. It's not revenge he's after. It's a reckoning."
Episode two had no chance to live up to the greatness of episode one, but we still got another fine episode.
* * * * *
We open with Liev Schreiber catching us up on last week, and noting the fight's trouble in New York, as just days ago, Margarito had a pair of meetings and an extra examination in New York just to see if he could get his license to box in the state.
Shots of New York (including an angered cabbie and the obligatory steam from the sewer) set us up to go inside the New York State Athletic Commission on November 18. Melvina Lathan explains the NYSAC position. Sadly, we miss Lathan demolishing Margarito's lawyer.
And Top Rank VP Carl Moretti makes his 24/7 debut: "We didn't get a denial. We don't believe we're gonna get a denial. But the logistics of having Tony fly from Mexico to New York City the week of Thanksgiving is a little challenging. But we'll deal with it."
Margarito's lawyer is, well... he's such a lawyer.
* * * * *
Margarito and his team head to the mountains to train. This thing where Margarito and his camp of unruly clowns train in a mountain hideout is straight out of an 80s action movie.
"What I'm hearing from New York is they want to deny my license because of my eye," Margarito says. "I've kept saying my eye is fine. I'm focusing on the fight. I know there will be a fight. This isn't a distraction. It doesn't bother me at all. If they don't give it to me, I think some other state will."
We look back on where the injury comes from -- Pacquiao vs Margarito at Cowboys Stadium. Jim Lampley shouts over the highlights as Margarito talks about never giving up, and telling trainer Robert Garcia not to pull him out.
"We felt that Tony deserved that chance to try until the end and make it to the last bell," says Garcia.
Sparring partners discuss Margarito's status in camp, including J'Leon Love, a 24-year-old middleweight prospect. "The way he's boxing, the way he's working, the eye's not bothering him. No problems with the eye. They tell us to go full blast, and that's what we do. Cotto better be ready, because this motherfucker is ready."
Garcia says he's asked the sparring partners to focus on throwing left hooks, since that's what he expects from Cotto. Jesus Soto Karass, a veteran Mexican, has also been in camp and believes there are no issues: "I'm the one boxing with him and I feel his punches. It's pretty clear proof that he just sparred eight rounds with a middleweight fighter and me. It was a war, too. We were not playing around. I think Margarito is in perfect condition for the fight."
Margarito himself says he wouldn't fight if he felt it were something to worry about.
"As you can see, we keep training like it's nothing. My eye is in perfect condition, it's fine. If it weren't in perfect condition, believe me, I wouldn't fight."
* * * * *
Orange groves and swans and picturesque picket fences bring us to Orlando, where Miguel Cotto, his new trainer, and yes, there's Marco Antonio Rubio, work out in the park.
Then, as the episode moves along at a brisk pace, Cotto stops it with a vicious line that brings to light how personal this fight is to him:
"No matter what, I'm preparing myself to beat Margarito's ass. He played with my health. I'm going to play with his."
Now we get a chance to get to know trainer Pedro Diaz, working his first fight with Cotto. He looks over his laptop, analyzing Cotto's workouts and trying to optimize his day-to-day schedule.
"If you don't plan, and you don't know the degree of work needed for each facet of the preparation, then you are really flying blind," he says.
Clearly, this is not a trainer who's here to take a paycheck from a big-name fighter in a big-time fight. Diaz, who led the Cuban amateur program for two decades, is here to learn as well as teach.
"I left Cuba because I wanted to grow more with the professional sport. Simply that. To talk to other trainers who have built great fighters. And see how they conduct themselves and to learn from them. And that is impossible in Cuba, that's why I left."
Like all Cuban defectors in the sport of boxing, he left behind his family, and his entire life.
"I don't know when I can be with my family, and I'm prepared to endure," he says. "I think that just like boxers train their arms to defeat their opponent, I train my brain to overcome life. And one day I will be with my family. I don't know when. I want to hug them, give them a kiss, maybe a father's advice. But it's not possible at this time."
"Right now," he adds, "boxing is my family."
* * * * *
In Mexico, Margarito still hasn't mad his way to New York, and hits the track for a workout.
"Lots of fighters just run laps. These exercises are for my legs. To build speed. I enjoy all of this."
Garcia says they should go to Disneyland after the fight. Margarito offers Ireland, "Disneyland for adults."
Now the trip to New York becomes a reality, and Margarito and Garcia head to the airport. Picking up from last week, Margarito hits a leather couch, Pac-Man hat and all, to laze about and look aloof with Garcia, who says they're headed to New York to prove they're not hiding anything.
Margarito heads to the plane, and it's almost impossible to look at this shot and not hear Geto Boys' "Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta":
"I didn't want to go because I didn't want to leave training," says Margarito. But he understands that it's necessary, and that without it, Madison Square Garden will be empty on December 3. At 1 a.m., he arrives at his hotel, receiving four hours of sleep before heading to a doctor chosen by Top Rank.
Dr. Kenneth Rosenthal, Top Rank's choice, says that Margarito is fine: "I saw Mr. Margarito today, we did an extensive examination. I found that he is suitable to fight. His eye has had some serious injuries, but they've been well-repaired. I think that the commission has every basis for issuing him a license in the state of New York, based on the current regulations and on his fitness to fight."
A two-hour exam awaits Margarito with New York's doctor. After the exam, Margarito is the face of arrogant confidence. Smacking gum like a Mean Girl, Margarito gives the impression that he has no doubt he will be passed in New York.
* * * * *
Back in Orlando, Cotto plays dominoes with his mother, grandfather, and best friend.
"They give me emotional stability. It's another thing I need to stay working in peace with myself, and in peace with anything that's going to happen in that fight."
Later that same night, Cotto's wife and children arrive in Orlando, and Miguel prepares dinner.
"It's hard not to have him in Puerto Rico," says Melissa, Miguel's wife. "He was helping me a lot with the kids, taking them to school, picking him up. Those are the moments that I miss him most. And when it's time to go to sleep. Yes, the warmth ... you know."
Flash back to July 26, 2008, and Melissa holding her crying son in the crowd at the MGM Grand, as Miguel bleeds badly in the ring, having given up the fight.
"Nothing could ever compare to watching Miguel destroyed the way he was," she says, "bleeding like never before. Like never before. I can tell you, it's really a fight that scarred us. Really difficult."
And she believes, as her husband does, that Margarito was armed with plaster that night in Las Vegas.
"To see Margarito ... anger. It fills me with anger, because he played with the life of my husband. I shouldn't even think about him, because a person like him, he isn't even worth a single thought."
This time, she is confident her husband will win.
* * * * *
New York on Tuesday. A lengthy deliberation is cut down to the important part: The fight is on, and Moretti and Todd duBoef breathe big sights of relief in the background.
"This whole process has been so inconsistent and so unpredictable, and it's turned in so many ways, I didn't know what to expect," says duBoef.
"When we get to fight night, that week, the Garden is really where the fight fans are. They call it the mecca. So I think we're gonna see an incredible night and an incredible show."
* * * * *
Cotto: "Madison Square Garden for me, New York for me, it's like home. And I know that's going to be a huge Puerto Rican night, the night of December 3."
Margarito: "The square is always the same in any ring. It'll just be me and him. I'm going to come out with my hand raised as champion of the world."
It is natural for elements of uncertainty to loom over a fight. After all, the tension that underlies the exercise is heavily rooted in the unknown. What will happen in the ring? Who will prevail? How will victory come about? Those are the fundamental questions of a boxing match. Even as the clash at hand has revealed an array of other uncertainties that can emerge around them. Unsolvable mysteries of the past at the center of their conflict. Sizable concerns about the future nearly derailed their mutual objective. Now, that very direct verdict they each desire calls them forth from their vital sanctuaries of support. Once again, they head towards each other, and towards boxing's violent epicenter of the unknown.
Cotto: "I don't have any respect for him. And I'm going to take advantage of his eye like he took advantage of the plaster."
Margarito: "Fuck Cotto. If he thinks that I had plaster, it will hurt like I was using plaster. And he will know it."
Cotto vs Margarito 24/7 will replay with back-to-back episodes on Friday, December 2, at 8 p.m. EST. Both episodes are also available on HBO On Demand.