- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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Four months ago, Antonio Margarito and Paul Williams waged an action-packed fight, and Margarito lost a close decision, just his second defeat in 11 years. Suddenly, the welterweight belt that he had defended seven times was now wrapped around Williams' waist.
Margarito, however, is wasting little time getting back to work as he begins the climb back to main-event, big-money status. Instead of a long road, it might just take one victory to get there.
Margarito (34-5, 24 KOs) will face battle-tested Golden Johnson (25-8-3, 18 KOs) in a 12-round bout on the "Fast and Furious" undercard Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) at New York's Madison Square Garden.
When Margarito's bout is over -- and he's the clear favorite to defeat Johnson -- he figures to return to ringside, where he'll be one of the most interested people in the famed arena watching the much-anticipated main event between welterweight beltholder Miguel Cotto and former champion Shane Mosley.
If Margarito, of Tijuana, Mexico, defeats Texas' Johnson, he'll be sitting pretty to fight the main-event winner.
"If Antonio comes through in this fight, he's certainly right in line to fight the winner of the Cotto-Mosley fight," Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said.
Said Margarito, "I'm very motivated knowing what's out there for me if I win this fight. I know there's a title fight waiting for me out there I'm going to watch the fight with interest. I hope it's a good fight and, whoever wins, I just hope they give me the opportunity. It doesn't matter to me which one of those two guys win, as long as I get the opportunity to fight them next."
When probed a little more on his preference, he gave the nod to Cotto, the Puerto Rican star.
"That's always been the greater rivalry, fights between Mexicans and Puerto Ricans," Margarito said. "And I think in Mexico and Puerto Rico and everywhere else it would be something that people would expect to be a great fight."
Cotto-Margarito is also an easier fight to make. They're both promoted by Top Rank. Mosley is promoted by Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions. If Mosley wins, Margarito could also loom in his immediate future, but Mosley's preference is to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. next year.
Arum said he doesn't think Mayweather will ever fight Cotto or Mosley, which puts Margarito in a nice position.
"Would Floyd Mayweather, the dancing star, fight Miguel Cotto or Shane Mosley? I think the answer there would generally be in the negative," Arum said. "Mayweather's only fighting guys he can beat. Mayweather never would fight Margarito, you know that. He won't fight Mosley -- you know that. He won't fight Cotto. So forget Mayweather. Floyd Mayweather has a choice. He's made an awful lot of money and he can take the $100 bills and keep throwing them away to the public in night clubs. That's his choice."
Margarito, 29, just wants a shot at Saturday's winner.
"I don't really think about [who will win]. I just hope that the winner gives me the opportunity to fight," Margarito said. "I know that Johnson's going to be a tough fight. I know I have to get through that first, get the win, and then get the opportunity."
Margarito had a chance to fight Cotto in June at Madison Square Garden. They had agreed until Margarito surprisingly changed his mind and took less money to make a mandatory defense against Williams.
Cotto went on to knock out Zab Judah in a blazing slugfest on June 9. Margarito faced Williams on July 14 and we know how that turned out -- with Margarito on the losing end of a unanimous decision, 115-113, 115-113 and 116-112.
Margarito said he doesn't regret his choice to fight Williams instead of Cotto.
"The main factor for me was the title. I earned my title in the ring and I didn't want to lose it like that," said Margarito, who would have been stripped of his version of the 147-pound crowd had he faced Cotto instead of Williams. "I had to fight this guy because he was my mandatory. Maybe I should have gone straight to Cotto. There's nothing I can do about it now. I was very confident I could beat Paul Williams. Things didn't turn out the way I had hoped. But I'm right back on track, so I'm looking forward to this fight and then fighting the [Cotto-Mosley] winner and maybe Paul Williams down the road."
A slow start cost Margarito against Williams as he fell behind early and could not make up the ground. He said he won't let that happen again against Johnson, the Cotto-Mosley winner or Williams if they fight again.
"You always learn from every fight," he said. "It's always different things to learn from every fight. I now know that I have to start fast, that I have to throw a lot of punches, and that's what I intend to do in my next fight."
After the Williams fight, Margarito was convinced he had won and was vocal about it. In the months that have passed, he has eased up on the rhetoric after watching video of the fight.
"After watching the tape, I noticed how slow I started," he said. "The guy was throwing punches that were not effective. They were just a lot of punches. So all I have to do is do the same thing -- come out from the first bell and then start throwing punches no matter where they land or how they land.
"At the time when I was fighting the fight, I thought I was doing very well and I thought I was well ahead in the fight. But once I saw it on tape, I can see where people would say maybe the first few rounds I lost because he was throwing a lot of punches. Not that he was doing any damage with them but he was throwing a lot of punches. I can see where the judges would be impressed by that and I got into a hole which I didn't know I was in. I can see why he [won]. I have no problem with that."
Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com.
Tijuana's Antonio Margarito is just one fight away from a shot at a welterweight title. Can the Mexican star put a disappointing loss to Paul Williams behind him?