Antonio Margarito, Miguel Cotto talk

NEW YORK -- At first, Antonio Margarito just thought it was a good shot by Manny Pacquiao and his eye was merely swelling.

Then he learned after the defeat in November he had a fractured orbital bone.

"I never thought it was going to be a career-threatening injury until I was told in the hospital I had to have surgery," the Tijuana Tornado said through a translator. "That's when it all started sinking in that my career might come to an end."

It didn't, and Margarito returns to the ring Dec. 3 in a rematch against Miguel Cotto for the Puerto Rican star's WBA super welterweight title at Madison Square Garden.

The 33-year-old former welterweight champion considered retirement after the surgery to repair the fracture and another procedure about 2½ months ago to fix a cataract caused by the blow. But he was assured by doctors he could still fight.

He still can't shake talk about what happened in January 2009 when Margarito was found to have a plaster-like substance in his hand wraps before a loss to Shane Mosley.

At a news conference in Manhattan on Tuesday to promote their bout, Cotto showed reporters a photo on his phone of Margarito's hands after their fight that he suggested revealed an improper wrap.

Margarito insisted yet again that "I've always fought clean."

"After I beat him, everybody's going to see that," Margarito said.

Margarito stopped Cotto in the 11th round in a rousing fight in July 2008 to win the WBA welterweight title. Since then, both have been battered by Pacquiao, and Margarito missed more than a year because of the hand-wrapping scandal.

Margarito's stubborn onslaught had Cotto taking a knee twice rather than absorbing anymore punishment, and his corner threw in the towel in Round 11.

But fight fans looked at that bout differently when Margarito was busted for trying to use hardened hand pads against Mosley when they gloved up in California on Jan. 24, 2009. The California State Athletic Commission confiscated the dubious pads that night, had them tested and determined that elements of plaster of Paris were present.

Margarito protested that he did nothing wrong, that his then-trainer, Javier Capetillo, had inserted the pads, but the officials didn't buy it. They decided Margarito was guilty of a most serious infraction, trying to add to his punching power by loading up his gloves, and they suspended him for at least a year. He had a comeback bout in his native Mexico in May 2010, and then got the OK to fight in the U.S. on Nov. 13, 2010, against Pacquiao, who won by unanimous decision.

Nowadays, the court of public opinion is slanted against Margarito (38-7, 27 KOs). Some fight fans assume that if "Margacheato" tried to cheat once, he'd possibly employed the same tactic before. So there is no shortage of folks who'd like to see Cotto strike a blow for decency, for sportsmanship, at MSG on Dec. 3.

"I accepted my defeat as a true defeat," Cotto said Tuesday, in reference to the 2008 bout.

Promoter Bob Arum has refused to throw Margarito under the bus from the start.

He told ESPN.com that he considers Margarito a friend and thinks there is a glaring lack of evidence to support the California Commission's ruling to suspend Margarito.

"He's a true sportsman, an honest man," Arum said. "I believe whatever happened in the Mosley fight, he was unaware."

The promoter has pitched a system to New York State Athletic Commission chair Melvina Lathan to ensure that there is no funny business when it comes time for hand wrapping. All materials to be used in the wrapping of Cotto's and Margarito's hands would be locked into suitcases at the weigh-in, to be kept under the watchful eye of the commission overnight. Lathan indicated she'd consider that proposal.

Information from ESPN The Magazine's Michael Woods and The Associated Press was used in this report.