Antonio Margarito would likely have been a handful for any welterweight in history. He might not have beaten all of them, but they would surely have known they had been in a fight.
As Saturday's big fight with Shane Mosley draws closer, here's a look at how the Tijuana Tornado might have fared against 10 former 147-pound champions. (Names were selected not on a basis of all-time greatness, but because each of the matches would have had its own special intrigue.)
10. BARNEY ROSS
A lightweight and two-time welterweight champion in the 1930s, Ross fought his share of tough customers, including two wins over "Fargo Express" Billy Petrolle and three over Ceferino Garcia, the bolo-punching Filipino who might have given Margarito all he could handle. He went 2-1 in a three-fight series with vicious left-hooker Jimmy McLarnin, and, even as a faded fighter, he endured for 15 rounds against the fabulous fighting machine Henry Armstrong.
Margarito would have had the physical advantages over Ross, who was a small welterweight. Ross, though, could box very well: "a smart fellow and a smart fighter," as John Kieran of The New York Times described him. When he defeated Garcia in their title fight at the Polo Grounds in 1937 he had to survive a battering in the last two rounds in "as masterful an exhibition of boxing, as admirable a display of fighting courage and as determined a stand as a champion has flashed in recent years," as The New York Times described the valiant victory.
With today's 12-round distance, Ross could have outscored Margarito in the early rounds and survived a late onslaught.
Pick: Ross by decision.
9. CARMEN BASILIO
Talk about an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. Margarito and Basilio would have come together like two trucks in an alley with room for only one to pass. One man would have had to give ground at some point. We think it would have been Margarito. As rugged as Margarito is, he would have met his match in Basilio, who twice stopped sturdy left-hooker Tony DeMarco in the 12th round of an all-time epic war, and defeated the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson at middleweight. In his rematch with Robinson, Basilio fought the last 10 rounds with his left eye pounded, yet still made it a highly competitive fight after "one of the gamest defenses ever seen in any ring," in the words of news-agency reporter Jack Cuddy. The craggy-featured ex-onion farmer from Canastota, N.Y., would have outfought and outlasted Margarito in a grueling war of attrition.
Pick: Basilio TKO11.
8. EMILE GRIFFITH
A superb boxer-puncher, Griffith was a great champion as a welterweight and middleweight and a veteran of many 15-rounders. Margarito might have been the stronger man but not by much, and Griffith would have been faster and more skilled. Griffith would have had rocky moments, but he was a fighter who knew how to win long, difficult fights, although it is a tragic irony that his greatest display of boxing and punching came in the fight that ended in Benny Paret's death.
Pick: Griffith by decision.
7. JOSE NAPOLES
Margarito would have been bigger, rougher and tougher, but Napoles was a masterful boxer who hit precisely and powerfully. Napoles prevailed in a long, tough fight against Ernie "Indian Red" Lopez, winning by 15th-round knockout (the rematch was easier), and the game, slugging Lopez was a similar type of fighter as Margarito, though not nearly as physically imposing.
There seems little doubt that Napoles would have dominated the early rounds against Margarito and inflicted damage. The later rounds would have seen Margarito coming on and making up leeway, but likely not enough to overtake Napoles' early lead on points. Napoles would have been very glad to hear the final bell, but he would likely have put enough rounds in the bank to get the verdict.
Pick: Napoles by decision
6. PIPINO CUEVAS
This Mexican civil war would have been what the boxing fraternity calls a "fun fight," although it probably wouldn't have been much fun for Cuevas. While a big hitter with the left hook, Cuevas wasn't the most durable of fighters and tended to leave himself open when launching his blows. Margarito might have had to pick himself up off the floor, but he would have ground down the smaller Cuevas, breaking his spirit and draining his resistance. By about the eighth round, the war of attrition would have tilted irrevocably in Margarito's favor.
Pick: Margarito TKO8.
5. WILFRED BENITEZ
There is no doubt that Benitez was a beautiful boxer. He could make good fighters look ordinary. Benitez never faced anyone quite like Margarito, though. Margarito might have floundered at times, missing and even being made to look a bit foolish, but gradually his earnest aggression and physical strength would have started to catch up with Benitez, who would not have been able to keep him at bay for the whole fight. Benitez was masterful at fighting with his back to the ropes, slipping and dodging punches and countering in a way that seemed effortless, but going to the ropes would have led to his downfall against Margarito, who would have been throwing such a high volume of hooks and uppercuts that some surely would have connected.
Pick: Margarito KO10.
4. THOMAS HEARNS
Margarito would have had problems against Hearns: He would have been meeting someone as tall as himself but much more skilled. Hearns would have been able to hit Margarito all too easily with a wicked left hook as well as the missile-like right hand. If Kermit Cintron could bounce shots off Margarito's chin in the rematch, it doesn't take much imagination to picture Hearns doing the same, but with more devastating effect. Margarito would have had to walk through some bombs in a bid to wear down Hearns. He would have been hit too hard, too often, getting stopped before he could gather the momentum necessary for him to be able to overpower the Motor City marksman.
Pick: Hearns TKO7.
3. SUGAR RAY LEONARD
Leonard's speed, skill and combinations have been much praised, but it is easy to overlook the fact that, at his best, he was also a resilient, determined warrior who could rally from adversity to pull out a victory, as was famously demonstrated in his classic 14th-round win over Hearns. Leonard's speed and movement would have had Margarito struggling to find him in the early rounds, and Sugar Ray would have been rattling off combinations and piling up points. Margarito might have had his moments, perhaps getting in body punches and driving Leonard to the ropes once in a while, but overall he would likely have found himself perplexed and being picked apart.
Pick: Leonard by decision.
2. FELIX TRINIDAD
This would almost certainly have ended in someone being stopped. Trinidad would have had the edge in hand speed and probably in firing power, too, with Margarito possessing a clear advantage when it came to absorbing punishment.
Margarito's iron chin would have been severely tested, but his left hooks and uppercuts would have been a threat to Trinidad, who was dropped by left hands in his fights with Yory Boy Campas and Kevin Lueshing. Margarito would probably have been the underdog, and it would have looked this way as the more polished Trinidad unloaded blistering barrages. One big left hook or uppercut from Margarito could have turned things around in an instant, however. With victory in sight, Trinidad might well have been caught by a powerful left-hand blast that, in his eagerness to close the show, he wouldn't have seen coming.
Pick: Margarito KO6
1. OSCAR DE LA HOYA (AT HIS PEAK)
De La Hoya would have had the advantages in speed and talent, but Margarito might have been a nightmare for him even on the Golden Boy's best night. De La Hoya's late-rounds fade against Trinidad has been well-documented, and he barely beat Ike Quartey. He might have been able to outbox and outsmart Margarito to win a string of early rounds, but Margarito's incessant forward march, digging to the body at every opportunity, might have taken a toll on De La Hoya as the fight went deeper.
This could have been one of those fights in which the superior boxer is outlasted by the one with the greater endurance and will to win. A battered Margarito, behind on points, could have overwhelmed a tiring De La Hoya in the home straight to score a dramatic and shocking upset.
Pick: Margarito KO12.
Graham Houston is the American editor of Boxing Monthly and writes for FightWriter.com.