A look at five pivotal fights in Antonio Margarito's career:
Pro Fight No. 30
Opponent: Antonio Diaz (39-3)
Date/Site: March 16, 2002; Las Vegas
Result: Margarito by TKO in 10
Why it matters: In a pro career that began in his native Tijuana at age 15 (and included three losses as a teenager), this was Margarito's second chance at a world title. Nine months earlier, his challenge for Daniel Santos' WBO welterweight belt ended in a first-round no contest after a head clash opened a deep cut that didn't let Margarito continue. Santos moved to junior middleweight, allowing Margarito to meet Antonio Diaz for the vacated title. Diaz, Julio Diaz's older brother, had vastly more experience than Margarito; he had beaten Cory Spinks and Micky Ward and had fought Shane Mosley. Margarito (25-3) had fought just nine rounds in the previous two years. Diaz came on strong, timing a rusty Margarito to land crisp rights and body shots. It wasn't until Round 7 when Margarito's higher work rate took effect. A notorious late starter, Margarito began scoring hard uppercuts with both hands, including a right in Round 8 that snapped Diaz's head back. In Round 10, Margarito landed five left uppercuts to drop Diaz. After more battering against the ropes, Diaz's corner tossed in the towel and referee Jay Nady stopped the fight; Margarito was a champion.
Pro Fight No. 35
Opponent: Daniel Santos (24-2-1)
Date/Site: Sept. 11, 2004; Hato Rey, Puerto Rico
Result: Santos by technical split decision in 10
Why it matters: After four welterweight title defenses, Margarito packed on a few pounds to take a second crack at Santos, fighting for the WBO junior middleweight (154-pound) belt. Santos weighed 170 by fight night, and he surprised observers by coming out swinging, trading blows to please his home-country crowd. He took an early lead, scoring clubbing lefts and combinations. Margarito jangled him with a short, hard right in Round 5, opened up and landed plenty more -- but Santos slugged back, fighting off the ropes in what was shaping up to be a classic slugfest. Then came head-butt trouble, again. Santos' lunging, reckless style and southpaw stance caused heads to collide, as they had in their first meeting. In Round 6, a head clash opened a gash over Margarito's right eye. Santos took advantage, landing combinations and working the cut. Margarito surged in Rounds 7 and 8, but Santos scored a big right in the ninth and banged the cut open with lefts. As Round 10 began, referee Luis Pabon stopped the fight, and the decision went to the judges, who gave Santos a close, split decision. It was Margarito's first loss in eight years and the end of his journey above welterweight.
Pro Fight No. 39
Opponent: Joshua Clottey (30-1)
Date/Site: Dec. 2, 2006; Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City
Result: Margarito by decision in 12
Why it matters: Margarito had fought just one round in the prior 19 months, and his ring rust showed. Clottey darted in and out and made the busy Margarito miss repeatedly -- either by ducking back or absorbing Margarito's punches on arms held high. Clottey countered masterfully with head-rattling left hooks and combinations. In Round 3, he made Margarito whiff on a lunging right and leaped in to crack a jolting right to Margarito's chin. Then in Round 5, Clottey suddenly stopped firing back, and Margarito unleashed a blizzard of punches (197 to be exact, a welterweight one-round record, according to CompuBox). Clottey returned to his corner saying he'd hurt his left hand. After that, the Ghanaian mostly just pawed with the left and became ineffective. Margarito took advantage to dominate the rest of the bout and keep his title; he also set the all-time CompuBox record by hurling 1,675 punches.
Pro Fight No. 40
Opponent: Paul Williams (32-0)
Date/Site: July 14, 2007; Carson, Calif.
Result: Williams by decision in 12
Why it matters: Williams' plan was to "strike fast and put the early rounds in the bank," and he did. In early rounds, the 6-foot-1 Williams was an impossible target, jabbing incessantly out of his southpaw stance, sticking, ducking, moving unpredictably from side to side, using his greater reach to keep a distance, and tagging Margarito with a long left. He finally slowed by Round 7 and stayed in front of Margarito long enough for Margarito to start catching him. Margarito scored with rights that reddened Williams' face and won the middle rounds. In the 11th, he opened a cut over Williams' left eye. But in Round 12, Williams was mobile and connecting again. By the end, Williams had nearly doubled Margarito's punch output and landed almost 10 times as many jabs, 606 to 61. The unanimous decision gave Williams a title that Margarito had owned for five years, and it forced Margarito to climb back up the mountain.
Pro Fight No. 42
Opponent: Kermit Cintron (29-1)
Date/Site: April 12, 2008; Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City
Result: Margarito by KO in 6
Why it matters: Margarito's two meetings with Cintron may have been his two most important fights. The first, in April 2005, had announced to anyone who didn't know that Margarito was for real. Cintron had come in at 24-0 with 22 knockouts and a reputation as one of boxing's biggest punchers. Margarito completely dominated him, flooring Cintron four times in a five-round TKO blowout. By the time they met again, tables had turned. Margarito has lost his title to Williams. Cintron had won the IBF welterweight strap vacated by Floyd Mayweather. Yet the rematch was a lot like the first meeting -- only with more body blows. Starting in Round 2, Margarito began bending Cintron over with body shots. He landed uppercuts to the chin too -- and Cintron scored occasional combinations -- but Margarito was all over Cintron. A barrage of head shots staggered Cintron in Round 5, and then a brutal left-handed body shot in the sixth put Cintron down for a 10 count. With the win, Margarito was back on top -- and finally bound for a long-awaited superfight against Miguel Cotto.
Don Steinberg, a winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America's award for best column in 2005, covers boxing for The Philadelphia Inquirer.