Antonio Margarito is 5-foot-11, tall for a welterweight but hardly Shaq-sized. In terms of physical stature alone, the WBO champion from Tijuana, Mexico, hardly resembles the scary behemoth that Godzilla, King Kong, the Terminator and Frankenstein's monster all would cross the street to avoid.
To hear some people tell it -- many of whom draw their paychecks from Margarito's promotional company, Top Rank -- Margarito is ducked more than a low overhang and sidestepped more than clumsy linebackers attempting to tackle Barry Sanders in the open field. He induces such trepidation in would-be opponents, you'd think they might prefer being strapped down in the chair of the tooth-drilling, anesthesia-withholding sadist of a dentist portrayed by Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man.
As he approaches his Showtime-televised Dec. 2 title defense against Ghana-born, Bronx-based challenger Joshua Clottey (30-1, 20 KOs) in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall, Margarito (33-4, 24 KOs) addressed his burgeoning reputation as a major bad-ass unable to lure fearful guys with bigger names (think Floyd Mayweather Jr.) into the ring with him.
"Floyd's seen enough of me to know how good I am," Margarito said. "He doesn't want to fight me. I'm through asking him. I'm done with that. I'm moving forward. If he ever decides to fight me, fine. If he doesn't, that's fine, too. I'm still proving to everyone who the best guy is.
"Throughout my championship reign, I have always expected to fight the best fighters out there. I'm always hoping to make big, entertaining fights with other champions. No one ever accepted my challenge. It's not a question of them ducking me, but they don't seem to want to fight me. What am I supposed to make of that?"
Top Rank founder Bob Arum, as usual, is right there with the explanation.
"Nobody wants to fight [Margarito] because he's just too good, too dangerous," Arum said. "I don't think it's going overboard [to say that]. It takes someone with guts, like Joshua Clottey, to step into the ring with Antonio. I think Antonio poses problems for any welterweight in the world."
And it's not only Mayweather who is steering clear of Margarito, Arum noted.
"Let me give you an example," he continued. "Shane Mosley got hold of somebody who called me. Shane said, through this third party, that he wanted to fight Miguel Cotto, [contingent upon] Cotto beating Carlos Quintana [for the vacant WBA welterweight title]. I told this person that Cotto, if he wins, has an obligation to fight [Oktay] Urkal. So why not have Shane fight Margarito, if he beats Clottey? The money would be the same.
"But the word came back to me that Shane doesn't want to fight Margarito. So there's got to make something there. We're not making this [expletive] up.
"Let's put all the baloney aside. Mayweather was offered $8 million to fight Antonio. He turned it down. When he fought [Carlos] Baldomir, he didn't make anything like $8 million. I don't care what they're saying, nobody guaranteed him anything close to that.
"Mayweather chose not to fight Margarito because he was looking down the line to fight [Oscar] De La Hoya and Margarito was too dangerous. That's the point. Nobody is saying Mayweather is physically afraid of any fighter. But he didn't want to fight Margarito because Margarito was too risky. Period. The end. Don't insult anybody's intelligence trying to hypothesize anything else."
"Floyd's seen enough of me to know how good I am. He doesn't want to fight me. I'm through asking him. I'm done with that. I'm moving forward."
-- Antonio Margarito, on Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Whether Margarito is or is not the best welterweight in the world (it says here that he isn't, not so long as Mayweather, now in possession of Baldomir's WBC belt by virtue of his Nov. 4 unanimous decision over the Argentine, can make 147 pounds) or poses too much of a threat to the superstars for them to sign on the dotted line -- that very well may be -- is not the issue. What really was evident earlier this week, during three teleconferences to hype competing fight cards on Showtime and HBO, is the fast and loose manner in which fact and fiction are juxtaposed for the purpose of attracting viewers and ratings.
It is by now a given that Arum's most enduring utterance -- "Yesterday I was lying, today I'm telling the truth" -- will follow him to the grave, as did W.C. Fields' legendary observance of his anticipated final resting place. "All things considered, I'd rather be in Philadelphia," Fields cracked, the inference being that it is better, if only barely, than to be alive and breathing on the streets of Philly than 6 feet beneath the dirt anywhere else.
Arum, as is the case with every successful promoter, is a bit like the demon in "The Exorcist," in that he mixes lies -- well, let's be nice and call them factual distortions -- with the truth, the better to confuse the public and thus maximize profits.
In a very real sense, Arum is depicting Margarito in such a manner that the Mexican knockout artist not only must oppose and defeat Clottey, but the specter of Mayweather and Mosley as well as a competing event on HBO in which middleweights Winky Wright (50-3-1, 25 KOs) and Ike Quartey (37-3-1, 31 KOs) will duke it out in Tampa, Fla.
The gist of Wright's message, conveyed in association with Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, is that Wright is the ultimate craftsman, a gloved artist whose exquisite performances are not to be missed by discerning fans.
Earlier that same day, Cotto (27-0, 22 KOs) and Quintana (23-0, 18 KOs), with Arum riding shotgun, promised a demonstration of blunt-force trauma, of the sort that made Arturo Gatti a Boardwalk Hall institution. The tune remained more or less the same the following day, with possibly an even greater emphasis on the crushing power presumably possessed by Margarito.
It is a circle dance boxing writers engage in regularly, in which promoters, fighters and pay-cable operators do more spin-doctoring than a room full of spiders with medical degrees. Tales are told and, to be accepted at face value or maybe not, and variations of those tales are passed along by us to readers who hold the economic key to every event. Decide that which is true and what is false at your own risk.
I have sat in on enough of these sessions to have, I believe, a better understanding than most on what can and should be believed. Those with a vested interest in a particular outcome speak in a sort of self-serving code, sometimes presented with passion, sometimes under the guise of cool detachment.
True: Some fighters are loath to risk a blemish on their record, lest it do damage to their image and earning power. Mayweather, to be sure, seems almost paranoid about preserving his undefeated status. Before his June 25, 2005, matchup with Gatti, for instance, "Pretty Boy Floyd" derided the fact that Gatti had lost six bouts. "In 33 fights, I've never shown a weakness," Mayweather said. "I will never show a weakness. He's shown his weakness. He's lost six times, so there are at least six ways to beat him. I'm going to show you the seventh way."
False: A defeat in any bout, if it is entertaining enough, does not diminish a fighter; it can only enhance his popularity. Was Thomas Hearns devalued by losing that toe-to-toe war with Marvelous Marvin Hagler? Would Muhammad Ali have been better off saying, "Oh, I don't need to fight Joe Frazier. I think I'll take a rematch with Jean-Pierre Coopman"?
True: Promoters adhere to the Stephen Stills song lyrics that if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with. A little more than a year ago, Arum, who was then Mayweather's promoter and hoped to remain in that capacity, assured anyone who would listen that PBF was the greatest fighter of all time. Now Arum would have us believe that Mayweather is almost a gutless wonder, hiding in the shadows rather than to find himself in the cross-hairs of Margarito's fists. And we won't even try to get into the 180-degree reversal of Arum's almost paternal devotion to De La Hoya into something akin to unvarnished hatred.
False: Grudges last forever only if you're a Hatfield or a McCoy. This summer, longtime archrivals Arum and Don King, who once described Arum as a "master of trickeration," stood side by side, smiling, and saying in stereo that they were convinced a Mayweather-Zab Judah fight would do bigger business than De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad. Now, that's two masters of trickeration.
True: Antonio Margarito is an exciting fighter, one of the best on the planet, a wrecking ball who might be best known for his four-knockdown stoppage of the previously undefeated Kermit Cintron. It's not unreasonable to assume that some of the welterweight division's elite would choose to stay away from him.
False: He has firmly assumed his place on boxing's center stage and won't be nudged off any time soon. Hey, Margarito-Clottey is not even the main event; Cotto-Quintana, which pits two Puerto Ricans with sizable East Coast followings, is.
In the end, what is said and what is believed beforehand really doesn't matter much. In the ring, where posturing means little, all is eventually revealed.
At which time the postfight analyses begin, which is just an adjusted version of the prefight speculation.