By Matthew Hurley There is nothing quite like an upset, in any sport. But when it comes to boxing the upset reminds us all that anything can happen, at any given moment, during those three-minute rounds. As HBO commentator Larry Merchant once said, “Boxing is the theatre of the unexpected.”
Still, boxing can be, and often is, highly predictable, particularly when one considers all the bad matchups that occur on a fairly regular basis. The all mighty “0” in the loss column has become something of a badge of honor for many of today’s fighters who avoid challenges to protect that precious undefeated record. The most famous proponent of this bit of nonsense is one of the best fighters to come down the pike in years – Floyd Mayweather. He speaks of his undefeated ledger ad nauseum. Yet a loss in the ring should never take away any amount of pride from a boxer as long as he acquitted himself admirably.
But the upset is a true necessity in boxing. It shakes things up, and it can humble even the most arrogant of men.
As Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito continue their preparations for their showdown on November 13th at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas most fans and media scribes are anticipating nothing short of an extended beat down and, it is presumed, that Pacquiao will be doing all of the damage.
After all, the Pacman is generally regarded as not only the best the sport has to offer but also a potential all time great. He’s become a national figure, one worthy enough to have his mug on the cover of a regional edition of Time Magazine. He’s exciting in the ring, he’s charmingly low-key and he takes his profession seriously. He’s a very easy guy to root for and he appears to be in his prime.
Margarito is another story all together. His notoriety precedes him now. Once he was feared in the ring for his relentless forward aggression and cast iron chin. Some even likened him to the monstrous character Jason from the Friday The 13th movies – an unstoppable force that soaked up punishment and just kept coming and coming.
He broke out into stardom after taking apart a surging Miguel Cotto in a war of attrition and seemed to have all the ingredients that a cross over star needs. He was a lunch pail, blue-collar guy who suffered through anonymity until finally getting his shot at glory and he willed himself to make it happen. He was also a nice guy and seemed to have everything going for him.
Then came the infamous loaded gloves scandal before the biggest fight of his life against Sugar Shane Mosley. His boxing license was eventually stripped from him and endless questions as to what he did or didn’t know hovered over and around him like a black cloud.
To many, Margarito should not only not be fighting Pacquiao he shouldn’t be allowed to fight at all. His transgression was the most egregious a fighter could make. Even those who believe that he had no knowledge of what had been inserted into his hand wraps before his bout with Mosley should concede that he has done nothing to earn this opportunity.
He was brutally knocked out by Mosley in the 9th round, after his fists were re-wrapped. The California State Athletic Commission refused to license him so he fled to Texas after being idle for a year’s suspension. He then looked average at best in his return bout, winning a decision over Roberto Garcia. Those are hardly the credentials necessary to perform on the grand stage. In fact, were it not for his promotional ties to Bob Arum and Top Rank, which also promotes Pacquiao, this fight never would have even been considered. (Note: Margarito has consistently maintained he had no knowledge of any tampering with his hand wraps.)
But this is boxing. A sport filled with devious, dark characters, moral bankruptcy and downright criminality.
However, it can also be the most beautiful of sports. Flip the coin and on the other side of all that sludge are honest men of courage, skill and humanity. At its highest level it can resemble an exquisite, brutal ballet of athletic excellence. There is nothing quite like fight night, and nothing, not in any sport in this writer’s opinion, can produce the fervent energy and passion among a crowd as two primed fighters shaking themselves loose in anticipation of that opening bell.
Which makes this fight all the more odd. With all the baggage it carries, what if Margarito wins? What if this villain, in the eyes of so many, pulls off the colossal upset? He’s bigger than Pacquiao, much bigger in fact, and he has nothing to lose. His recent comments indicate that he understands his precarious position when it comes to public approval so he views this bout in both redemptive terms and as a last ditch effort to salvage a once promising career.
What if Pacquiao beats him to a pulp round after round as Thomas Hearns did to Iran Barkley in their first fight back in 1988 and suddenly gets complacent, grins as he often does and admires his work? All it takes is a split second and then, BOOM! Hearns found that out after literally tearing Barkley’s face to pieces and doubling him over with wicked left hooks to the body. But one mistake, one moment of laziness and he was flat on his back.
The chances of that happening to Pacquiao are slim. But they were slim in the Hearns – Barkley bout and in the welterweight fight between champion Donald Curry and upstart challenger Lloyd Honeyghan and when an unfocused Lennox Lewis got clocked by Hasim Rahman and, of course, in the mother of all upsets, Mike Tyson falling to Buster Douglas.
Upsets happen because in the ring, no matter how great you are, anything can come into play. Be it outside distractions, of which Pacquiao has multitudes, though he has handled them all well up to now; suffering a cut during the bout, a concern Manny’s trainer Freddie Roach has admitted his charge does not handle well; or being confronted with an opponent who just won’t go away when you are not at your best. And he just keeps coming and coming.
It’s unlikely that Pacquiao will suffer through any of this against Margarito, but this is boxing and whatever you may think of Antonio Margarito he is a man with his back to the wall and he’s desperate, which makes him dangerous. The theatre of the unexpected – it’s what makes this unwarranted showdown oddly compelling.