Perhaps promoter Bob Arum is stretching it a little bit when he compares Antonio Margarito to great former middleweight champ Marvelous Marvin Hagler, but his point is well taken.
For many years, Hagler struggled for recognition and marquee opponents, even after he was champion. It wasn't until Arum, who promoted Hagler, was able to arrange the now-legendary fight between Hagler and Thomas Hearns that Hagler became a star.
Now, Arum is on the same mission with Margarito (32-4, 23 KOs), an all-action 27-year-old welterweight titlist who has been regarded highly by hard core boxing folks for years but unable to lure the big names into battle.
Margarito's quest for more recognition continues when he makes his sixth title defense, this one against Manuel "Shotgun" Gomez (28-10-2, 20 KOs) at the Aladdin Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas in the main event of Top Rank's "Real Warriors" pay-per-view card Saturday night (9 ET).
Also on the four-bout televised portion of the card: Junior flyweight titlist Brian Viloria (18-0, 12 KOs) makes his first defense against former strawweight champ Jose Antonio Aguirre (33-4-1, 20 KOs); slick strawweight champ Ivan Calderon (24-0, 5 KOs) meets former titlist Isaac Bustos (24-7-3, 13 KOs); and junior welterweight Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (23-0-1, 18 KOs) looks for revenge against Carlos Molina (8-1-1, 4 KOs), who etched the lone blemish on Chavez's record with a Dec. 16 draw.
But it is Margarito who, for once, is commanding the attention, due in large part to Arum's relentless drum beating.
"I had this with Hagler," Arum said.
"This is not new to me, trying to get attention and a big fight for a terrific fighter. Hagler ended up doing pretty well, didn't he? I believe, I really, truly believe that this fight will launch Margarito. People are writing and talking about this kid, about how good he is and about how no one really wants to fight him. Everyone is ducking him. That type of buzz will ensure the fact that I will be able to make big fights for him in the future."
One fight Arum would like to arrange -- and one Margarito wants as well -- is a match with pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr., whom Arum also promotes.
Arum said Mayweather has been offered the fight but turned it down for as much as $6 million, perhaps viewing Margarito as a bigger, stronger version of former lightweight champ Jose Luis Castillo, who twice pushed Mayweather to the limit in close losses.
"Mayweather wouldn't take the money," Margarito said through translator Ricardo Jimenez. "I know he wouldn't take good offers that Arum made to him. I saw the first Castillo fight and I thought Castillo won. I think I can do the same thing to Mayweather. I think I can really land something on him. Eventually, he'll have to fight me."
Mayweather is scheduled to face Zab Judah April 8, even though Judah is coming off a Jan. 7 welterweight title loss to Carlos Baldomir.
"I would love to have Margarito fight the winner of the Judah-Mayweather fight and I think I can accomplish that," Arum said. Arum added that Judah's promoter, Don King, is "fascinated" by the possibility.
Margarito doesn't care which big-name opponent he eventually gets -- Mayweather, Judah, Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Fernando Vargas -- as long as he gets one.
"Those are the guys that I want to fight," Margarito said. "For some reason, they don't want to give me a chance. But I will not rest until I get one of them in the ring. My goal is to get on that pound-for-pound list and be recognized as one of the very best. You do that by beating good fighters, fighters on that list, so those are the kind of fighters I want.
"But I can't lose focus. Gomez is first. That's who I need to beat. I have never underestimated any opponents and I'm not about to do it now."
Margarito has been on an impressive run. He has lost just once since 1996, when he was 18 and in his second year as a professional in Mexico. And even the defeat was questionable.
Fighting above his division in a junior middleweight title bout in September 2004, Margarito lost a controversial technical decision to Daniel Santos when an accidental head clash forced the fight to be stopped in the ninth round.
Margarito appeared to gain momentum last year. He thrashed Sebastian Lujan in a February defense on ESPN2, the fight ending in the 10th round when Lujan's bloody ear was literally hanging off the side of his head.
Margarito followed that with one of the most impressive victories of his career, a four-round decimation of hot contender Kermit Cintron in the main event of ESPN's first pay-per-view card.
But then the momentum came to a grinding halt. Arum had trouble finding marquee opponents to fight him. Then, when the match with Gomez was made as the co-feature for the November card that was to be headlined by the Vitali Klitschko-Hasim Rahman heavyweight championship fight, Klitschko injured his knee and abruptly retired.
That forced the card to be canceled, leaving Margarito and Gomez waiting for Arum to line up another date.
"I got those wins against Lujan and Cintron -- and they were big wins for me -- and I was looking forward to something bigger after that. But then nothing happened, so yeah, it was a letdown," Margarito said. "The important thing is they tell me 2006 is going to be my year, a great year. I am looking forward to doing something really special."
HBO passed on buying the Gomez fight, as did Showtime, so Arum created his own pay-per-view event around the match.
"I had tremendous difficulty selling Margarito to the networks, which I don't understand," Arum said. "So I found a way to do the fight because I have other fights that aren't costing me a lot of money and I don't have to do a hell of a lot of homes to come out OK. I won't make a hell of a lot on the show, but I can advance Margarito's career. I took the bull by the horns. It was the only way to do it."
Gomez, of course, aims to disrupt Margarito's and Arum's plans. He's an aggressive free swinger whose record is deceptive. He hasn't lost since 1998 and gave Shane Mosley the hardest fight of his lightweight title reign in 1997 before being stopped in the 11th round.
"I have been waiting for this opportunity a long time and Margarito is in for a surprise," Gomez said.
"I know I'm strong enough to take his shots and deliver some of my own. I don't mind if this fight is fought at close quarters. I know I can deliver as well as take strong shots. I feel I can go 12 hard rounds with Margarito if I have to. No one gave me a chance against Miguel Angel Gonzalez or Kofi Jantuah and you saw what happened" in those upset victories.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.