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Cotto, Margarito win to set up July 26 showdown

4/13/2008 - Boxing

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- While Floyd Mayweather Jr. fiddles, the loaded welterweight division moves on without him. Now, the stage is set for the biggest showdown the 147-pounders -- minus the "Money" man -- have to offer: Miguel Cotto vs. Antonio Margarito.

Circle July 26 on your calendars, site to be determined.

While division kingpin Mayweather is toying with pro wrestling, contemplating a foray into mixed martial arts and looking ahead to a fall rematch with Oscar De La Hoya that would make him millions but prove nothing, Cotto stopped Alfonso Gomez in five brutally lopsided rounds and Margarito knocked out Kermit Cintron in the sixth on Saturday night.

The results in front of a boisterous crowd of 9,427 at Boardwalk Hall set up the winners' summer showdown.

Mayweather has never shown a desire to fight either boxer, but Cotto and Margarito have a history of fighting top opponents. Now, they'll fight each other.

"I thought they were both very good performances, and you couldn't ask for better performances from either guy to set up a big fight," said Emanuel Steward, who was on the losing end as Cintron's trainer. "They both had really impressive performances. They're both rugged, tough guys."

Cotto (32-0, 26 KOs) hammered Gomez (18-4-2, 8 KOs) over five uncompetitive rounds to retain his title. The fight finally stopped with a badly beaten Gomez on his stool at the end of the round.

"Cotto sent a message," assistant trainer Miguel Diaz said. "He will punish anyone who gets in the ring with him."

One can assume that means both Margarito and Mayweather.

In the cofeature, three years after Margarito first knocked Cintron out, Magarito stopped him with a body shot in the sixth round to win a slice of the title.

Cotto and Margarito wasted no time after their blowouts in looking ahead to each other.

"I'm gonna be prepared for anyone, especially Margarito," Cotto said.

Said Margarito: "They promised me Cotto, and they better deliver him."

Neither seemed particularly concerned about Mayweather -- especially not Cotto, who, when asked about Mayweather, quipped, "I'm a fighter, not a promoter."

Even Steward, who also worked the second fight in his normal role as an HBO analyst, wasn't thinking about Mayweather.

"He's just a money fighter now," Steward said. "For welterweight fights, you can't get better than this [Cotto-Margarito]. These are two rough guys and I can't wait to see it."

Cotto was never even remotely challenged by Gomez, the popular first-season star of "The Contender" reality series, who got the fight based on his one-sided knockout of Arturo Gatti last summer.

Cotto could hardly miss. He landed an astonishing 188 of 369 punches (51 percent) while Gomez could only land 63 of 316 (20 percent).

Just seconds into the fight, Gomez's face was already showing redness and swelling under his left eye as Cotto landed punches straight down the middle.

Cotto, coming off a far more competitive victory against Shane Mosley in November, floored Gomez with a right to the body in the second. A left to the body put Gomez down again in the third just as the round ended.

In the fifth, Cotto dropped him again, this time with a mere jab, a sure sign the fight was close to an end. As the round went on, Cotto, 27, didn't even seem to want to dole out any more punishment, backing away and flicking one shot at a time.

"I wanted to work and do it the right way," said Cotto, who made his fourth defense.

Finally, after the end of the round, referee Randy Neumann stopped the fight on advice of ringside doctor Mark Schaber.

"I wanted to continue," Gomez, 27, said. "The doctor said I couldn't see out of my right eye."

"Before the fight, you always worry, but we knew we had the superior fighter," said Evangelista Cotto, Miguel's uncle and trainer. "That was a real beating in there."

Margarito claimed his second welterweight title with a destruction of Cintron that was just as one-sided as their 2005 fight.

In their first encounter, Margarito, then defending a title, took Cintron apart and stopped him in the fifth round.

In Saturday's fight, Cintron entered as the titleholder before Margarito knocked him out with a left to the body at 1:57 of the sixth.

"My hands were up high and he hit me with a left uppercut and I couldn't breath," Cintron said. "I should have tried to box more and stayed on the outside but I wanted to prove something. I'll be back."

Cintron (29-2, 27 KOs), making his third defense, may have lasted a little longer in the rematch but took another serious beating.

"I had Cintron from the beginning," Margarito said. "I am surprised he lasted that long."

Like in 2005, Cintron was never in the fight. That was his first high-profile fight, and he wilted badly under the pressure.

After that, he rebuilt his career and won a title while hooking up with Hall of Fame trainer Steward, who did as much to smooth Cintron's boxing style as he did to help Cintron regain his confidence.

But Margarito (36-5, 26 KOs) apparently has his number.

They waged an inside fight in the early rounds with Margarito getting the better of the action. He started a lot faster than he has in past fights, perhaps learning a lesson from his title-losing effort against Paul Williams last summer. In that fight, Margarito gave away several early rounds before picking up the pace substantially, only to lose a close decision.

"I learned from the Paul Williams fight that I had to put on pressure early in the fight," Margarito said. "The whole training camp was about putting on pressure, pressure, pressure on all of my sparring partners. That's what I did tonight."

Margarito landed 257 of 611 punches (42 percent) while Cintron connected on just 136 of 451 blows (30 percent), according to CompuBox statistics.

"He physically wore Kermit out," Steward said. "He took Kermit's best shots and kept coming."

Cintron, 28, opened a small cut in the corner of Margarito's left eye, but Margarito had a third big round. He almost knocked Cintron down after Cintron turned to the referee to complain about something and Margarito continued to fire punches.

In the fifth round, Margarito, 30, continued to land hard blow after hard blow, and Cintron looked off-balance and had swelling over his left eye. He looked ready to be knocked out when referee Earl Brown gave him a brief reprieve by warning Margarito for a shot behind the head.

In the next round, it was suddenly over.

And now let the hype begin for Cotto-Margarito.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.