- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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AROUND THE RING
Margarito-Williams finally here
The year's boxing schedule has been littered with highly anticipated fights: Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather, Ricky Hatton-Jose Luis Castillo, Miguel Cotto-Zab Judah and Rafael Marquez-Israel Vazquez among them.
Now, the latest match in an outstanding run of the best fighting the best is upon us: Welterweight titlist Antonio Margarito (34-4, 24 KOs) faces highly regarded mandatory challenger Paul Williams (32-0, 24 KOs) Saturday night at the 8,000-seat outdoor Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
The fight, which many expect to be a barnburner, caps off a huge night of coast-to-coast welterweight action on HBO (9 p.m. ET).
The tripleheader will open in Atlantic City, N.J., where headliner Arturo Gatti (40-8, 31 KOs) returns to face Alfonso Gomez (16-3-2, 7 KOs) of "Contender" fame and Kermit Cintron (27-1, 25 KOs) defends his piece of the welterweight title against his mandatory challenger, Walter Matthysse (26-1, 25 KOs) of Argentina, in a battle of sluggers at Boardwalk Hall.
Margarito-Williams, dubbed "Pride N' Punishment," will follow from California. Perhaps it's a case of saving the best for last?
"You cannot predict with certainty how a fight is going to unfold. However, based on what I have seen of the styles of these fighters, it cannot help but be an exciting fight," said Bob Arum, Margarito's promoter. "Now, how exciting compared to Cotto-Judah? We will have to see. But certainly, it is going to be more exciting in the ring than De La Hoya-Mayweather."
Dan Goossen, Williams' promoter who won the rights to the fight with purse bid of $1.9 million and subsequent out-of-court settlement with Arum, agreed with his rival.
"One of the great things this year we have seen are some great anticipated match-ups and this is certainly I think one of the top ones," he said. "We have had De La Hoya-Mayweather, Cotto-Judah, Hatton-Castillo and I think at the top of that chain, we have two of the hungriest, in their prime, welterweights in the world -- one that we know has been considered the most feared fighter in boxing [Margarito], and the other one who wants to show that that title deserves to be on his shoulders."
Margarito has more on the line besides his belt. A victory will pave the way to a major HBO PPV fight in the fall against fellow titleholder Cotto. Their deal is done contingent on Margarito winning.
"They are talking about a lot of big fights for me in the future, but my future is [Saturday]," he said. "I must win or I can forget about any immediate big fights."
Margarito, who counts a knockout win against Cintron among his seven title defenses, is confident despite Williams owning many advantages. Williams, who owns a 10th-round knockout of Matthysse at the Home Depot Center in 2006, is younger (25 to 29), taller (6 feet, 1 inch to 5-11) and a lanky southpaw.
"Williams is undefeated so he doesn't know how to lose," Margarito said. "But he has never been in the ring with anybody like me."
The two sparred a few years ago, but they have different recollections of the session. Williams says he got the better of the action and cut Margarito.
"The truth never changes. I cut him and he knows that," said Williams, who is predicting a seventh-round knockout. "If he was a real man, he would admit that. I cut him, hurt him to the body and they sent me home. I am here to win. I am going to win. Margarito already knows the deal. He has already lost two rounds in sparring against me. I am going to mop the floor with him. You can take that to the bank."
Said Margarito: "I don't understand what Williams is basing his facts on. He did not cut me. His camp is full of [lies]."
Taylor-Pavlik at 160
Despite reports that middleweight champion Jermain Taylor's fight Sept. 29 (HBO) against top contender Kelly Pavlik might be at a catch weight between the middleweight limit of 160 pounds and the super middleweight limit of 168 pounds because Taylor is having trouble making weight, the fight will take place at middleweight, Cameron Dunkin, Pavlik's co-manager, told ESPN.com.
The sides are inching toward a deal, and Dunkin said the contract he is reviewing says that the fight will take place at 160 pounds.
"We want to fight for the title. That's the whole point of the fight," Dunkin said. "It's got to happen at 160. It takes a lot away if it's not for the middleweight championship."
Dunkin said that there is, however, a stipulation in Taylor's rematch clause that says if he loses and picks up his option for a rematch with Pavlik, it would take place at a maximum of 166 pounds. In other words, a rematch would be a nontitle bout.
"That's fine with us," Dunkin said. "We can do a rematch and Kelly's title won't be at stake? Great. Whatever they want to do. We just want this fight."
Cook-Luevano ready to rumble
Former European featherweight champion Nicky Cook of England was left at the altar in December when Scott Harrison, saddled with countless personal problems, withdrew from their fight on 36 hours' notice. Now, Cook (27-0, 15 KOs) is finally getting an elusive title shot.
Cook, 27, will face American Steven Luevano (32-1, 14 KOs) Saturday night in London for a vacant world title.
"I'll just be glad when Luevano finally steps through the ropes," Cook said. "Having Harrison drop out at the last minute was my lowest point in boxing, but winning the title will be my highest. I've recently become a father, so I've got even more incentive to go on and win this world title."
Luevano, 26, said fighting overseas will be a challenge, but one that he's up for.
"I will counter punch, move and make Cook miss; then make him pay," he said. "I'm going to London to win. I am going into a hostile situation when I walk into that ring. I watched the Ricky Hatton fight and saw all of the fans rooting for him. Everyone will be against me, but once it is just me and him, I will focus on the fight, beat Nicky Cook and bring home the world title."
The fight headlines a big British show that also features heavyweight Matt Skelton defending his Commonwealth title in a rematch with Michael Sprott and blue chip lightweight prospect Amir Khan, the 2004 British Olympic silver medalist, challenging for Willie Limond's Commonwealth crown.
• Featherweight titlist Robert Guerrero will meet mandatory challenger Rocky Juarez on the Sept. 15 Juan Manuel Marquez-Jorge Barrios HBO PPV undercard at Las Vegas' MGM Grand, Shelly Finkel, who manages both, told ESPN.com. Guerrero promoter Dan Goossen and Golden Boy, which promotes Juarez and is promoting the card, reached a deal this week, adding a fourth fight to round out a competitive card that also includes Kassim Ouma-Sergio Mora and Steve Forbes-Francisco Bojado. One interesting storyline of Guerrero-Juarez is Finkel's role since managers can't represent both sides of a fight. "I've worked that out internally already," Finkel told ESPN.com. "I will only be in one corner that night." He declined to say which side he would be with.
• Golden Boy has cut ties with junior bantamweight titlist Fernando Montiel (33-2-1, 24 KOs), releasing him from his contract. "We reached a settlement with him. He wanted a release," Golden Boy VP Eric Gomez told ESPN.com. "We offered him fights and he turned them down. It's better to release him and go our separate ways. We wish him the best." Montiel, 28, and Golden Boy have had a rocky relationship even though Golden Boy got him on HBO and HBO PPV cards; however, his underwhelming performances made it difficult for Golden Boy to secure more TV slots for him. Montiel isn't wasting any time getting on with his career post-Golden Boy. He'll defend his belt against Cecilio Santos (22-7-2, 12 KOs) on Saturday in Mexico.
• Organizers of the Oct. 13 heavyweight unification fight between Sultan Ibragimov and Ruslan Chagaev at Moscow's 14,500-seat Khodynka Arena in Moscow, claim they offered fellow heavyweight titleholder Wladimir Klitschko an opportunity to fight on the card "in an effort to give the world an opportunity to see the best heavyweight champions fighting each other on a road to a potential unification of all four heavyweight belts." The news release went on to say that they had "secured the necessary financial backing to invite" Klitschko to fight on the card. It should come as no surprise that Klitschko, who headlines his own cards instead of fighting on someone else's, rejected the invitation, which was probably more a public relations ploy than serious offer. Klitschko defended his title last week with an easy TKO victory against Lamon Brewster in their rematch, but injured his left hand and probably won't fight for the rest of the year. The release, put out by Ibragimov's promotional team -- Seminole Warriors Boxing, Golden Grain Promotions, Sampson Lewkowicz and Golden Boy Promotions -- also said that if Ibragimov beats Chagaev, "he would be prepared to unify the titles further with Klitschko sometime next year."
• Now that Manny Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera will meet in an HBO PPV rematch Oct. 6 at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay, it means junior lightweight titlist Joan Guzman and top contender Humberto Soto are out as possible opponents for either of them. But in the wake of the Top Rank-Golden Boy settlement, the sides are talking about matching Guzman and Soto this fall, either on the Oct. 6 card or on a separate show. A lot will depend on Soto's willingness to forego a mandatory shot against the winner of the Sept. 15 Marquez-Barrios title bout and fight Guzman for his version of the title instead.
• Almazbek "Kid Diamond" Raiymkulov, a Las Vegas resident from Kyrgyzstan who escaped with a very iffy split-decision victory against Miguel Huerta on June 14, likely will parlay the questionable victory into a title opportunity. A fight between Raiymkulov (25-1-1, 14 KOs) and Thailand's Prawet Singwangcha (30-2-2, 18 KOs) for a vacant belt is in the works to headline an Aug. 30 Versus-televised card. Singwangcha was held to a questionable draw with Jose Cotto in Puerto Rico in May. Cotto is ineligible to fight for the belt because he was suspended by the Puerto Rican commission for his unsportsmanlike behavior during the bout. Blue chip junior welterweight prospect Victor Ortiz (18-1-1, 13 KOs) will fight on the undercard.
• The Peterson brothers, junior welterweight Lamont (21-0, 9 KOs) and lightweight Anthony (23-0, 17 KOs), had been ticketed to appear on the Sept. 7 season finale of ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights." However, co-manager Barry Hunter (also their trainer) has pulled them off the show and is talking to Showtime about a possible "ShoBox" doubleheader in November for them. Zab Judah, returning from his knockout loss to Miguel Cotto on June 9, headlines the "FNF" card in Biloxi, Miss., against an opponent to be named.
• Middleweight puncher Edison Miranda will return in October, Warriors Boxing promoter Leon Margules told ESPN.com. Margules said he will do a show at the company's base at the Hard Rock resort in Hollywood, Fla., featuring Miranda in his first bout since losing an all-action battle with Pavlik on May 19. He said he would have liked to do the fight on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights," but the series finishes its season Sept. 7, so Margules said Miranda's comeback fight would be part of a pay-per-view card.
• Middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham (23-0, 18 KOs), who returned from a serious jaw injury and eight-month layoff to stop Sebastien Demers in the third round on May 26, will make his fifth defense against mandatory challenger Khoren Gevor (27-2, 15 KOs) on Aug. 18 in Berlin. It's a rare match between fighters representing rival German promoters Wilfried Sauerland (Abraham) and Peter Kohl's Universum (Gevor). The fight is also a rare meeting between famed German trainers Ulli Wegner (Abraham) and Fritz Sdunek (Gevor).
• Welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. won the ESPY Award for best fighter. Mayweather defeated Oscar De La Hoya on May 5 in boxing's highest-grossing fight ever. The pound-for-pound king, a first-time winner, beat out four other first-time nominees: Miguel Cotto, Manny Pacquiao and UFC fighters Randy Couture and Quinton Jackson. It was the first time boxers and mixed martial artists were in the same category.
• Vic Darchinyan (28-1, 22 KOs), who lost his flyweight title via explosive fifth-round knockout to underdog Nonito Donaire on July 7, told Australia's The Age that he will move up to junior bantamweight when he returns. When asked if he would continue at flyweight, Darchinyan is quoted as saying, "I don't think so because I weigh too much. I want to repeat at [junior bantamweight] what I did at flyweight."
"My job is to go in the ring and dominate my opponent, and that's what I'm going to do to Bernard. He's going to be dominated from Round 1. I'm going to break him down and he's going to go back to the retirement home because he should've stayed there. He should've stayed retired. He ended his career with a great fight by beating Antonio Tarver. Now, he's going to mess that up by getting beat by me."
-- Winky Wright, on his plans for light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins, whom he fights July 21 (HBO PPV) at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Welterweight titlist Antonio Margarito and Paul Williams prepare to face off in another one of the best matchups of the year, writes Dan Rafael.