Another chapter to be added to the mother of all rivalries

Updated: July 25, 2008

Juan Alicea Mercado/El Nuevo Dia

Pressure from his passionate fans might weigh heavily on Antonio Margarito's mind, but he hasn't lost focus on the task at hand.

Mexico vs. Puerto Rico rivalry heats up again

LAS VEGAS -- When Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito square off Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena, they'll do battle for Cotto's welterweight title in one of the most anticipated fights of the year. But they are also the latest stars in the ongoing saga of boxing's best rivalry: Mexico vs. Puerto Rico.

The intense national rivalry makes Yankees-Red Sox look mundane. It makes Duke-North Carolina look friendly.

"If you put a Puerto Rican boxer in with a Mexican boxer, you will have a good fight," Cotto said.

Cotto (32-0, 26 KOs), from Caguas, Puerto Rico, and Margarito (36-5, 26 KOs), of Tijuana, Mexico, are well-aware of the famous fights between Puerto Ricans and Mexicans. They know their fight is expected to add another glorious chapter to a rivalry that drips with history. More than 50 times have a Mexican and a Puerto Rican fought for a world championship.

"It's one of the best rivalries, and it's great to be part of the rivalry," Cotto said. "This is another chapter, and it's good for us. We want to make this fight at the level of those in the past. Everybody knows about the rivalry. Now it is me against Margarito. This fight will add another shot to the rivalry."

That rivalry has produced its share of all-time great fights, going back to a 1934 bantamweight championship bout in which Puerto Rico's Sixto Escobar became the first world champion from the Caribbean island when he knocked out Rodolfo Casanova in the ninth round.

The heyday of the rivalry, however, came decades later with such epic battles as Wilfredo Gomez's fifth-round TKO of Carlos Zarate to defend the junior featherweight title (1978); Mexican Salvador Sanchez's thumping of Gomez in the eighth round to retain the featherweight title (1981); Gomez stopping Lupe Pintor in the 14th round to defend the junior featherweight title (1982); and Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez's 11th-round TKO of Edwin "Chapo" Rosario to win the lightweight title (1987), then a defense against Hector Camacho (1992).

Vargas, Trinidad

Al Bello/Getty Images

Felix Trinidad's knockout win over Mexican-American Fernando Vargas, left, had all the makings of a classic.

In more recent years, Puerto Rico's Felix Trinidad outpointed Oscar De La Hoya, a Mexican-American, to unify welterweight titles (1999) and later knocked out Fernando Vargas, another Mexican-American, to unify junior middleweight titles (2000).

"There have been so many great fights between them that everyone gets so excited about it and everyone wants to see it," said Margarito, whose idol was Chavez. "I am looking forward to the fight. I am not looking at it as being against a Puerto Rican. I am just looking at it that it will be a great fight."

But Cotto and Margarito have both seen or heard stories about the past great fights between their countrymen.

"Any time you have a Puerto Rican and a Mexican fight, it makes me think of the Gomez- Sanchez fight and the Pintor-Gomez fight and the De La Hoya-Trinidad fight. Miguel Cotto vs. Antonio Margarito will put this fight at the same level as those," Cotto said.

The Battle
TV lineup for Saturday night's Top Rank/HBO PPV card (9 ET) from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas:

• Welterweights: Miguel Cotto (32-0, 26 KOs) vs. Antonio Margarito (36-5, 26 KOs), 12 rounds, for Cotto's title

• Junior flyweights: Giovanni Segura (19-0-1, 15 KOs) vs. Cesar Canchila (26-1, 21 KOs), 12 rounds, for a vacant interim title

• Junior welterweights: Michael Alvarado (21-0, 14 KOs) vs. Cesar Bazan (48-10-1, 31 KOs), 10 rounds

• Junior featherweights: Bernabe Concepcion (25-1-1, 14 KOs) vs. Adam Carrera (19-3, 8 KOs), 10 rounds

-- Dan Rafael

Nationalism is nothing new in boxing. It has been part of the fabric of the sport for a century.

Top Rank's Bob Arum, who promotes Cotto and Margarito, has seen it for years. But one gets the sense that even Arum, with more than 40 years of experience in the promotion business, is genuinely excited about this match.

"In both countries, they love the sport, and it is a major attraction when you have that many passionate fans as those in Mexico and Puerto Rico," Arum said. "And when you have two great fighters, you are going to get that type of a reaction. It's the same as when we had Italians and Irish and the Jews fighting each other in New York. It went on for years. There were fierce rivalries, and fans loved to watch those fights. It was natural.

"Now, a lot of people don't have a rooting interest in one or the other fighter. When [Sugar Ray] Leonard and [Thomas] Hearns fought, it was Washington, D.C., against Detroit, and when [Marvelous Marvin] Hagler fought Hearns, it was New England against Detroit. They were popular, and they had a lot of fans. We don't have matches now where fighters have big followings.

"Now we have a top fighter from Puerto Rico, Cotto, and a top fighter from Mexico, Margarito, so that rivalry is rekindled. It adds tremendous buzz and spice to the matchup. This fight is something special."

Although Cotto and Margarito have tried to play down the nationalism involved in the fight as it grows closer, each has had his fans approach him and tell him how important the fight is to them because of the rivalry.

"The people come to me and say, 'This fight is very important, please make us proud.' These people bring me support and give me good feelings," Cotto said.

Said Margarito, who figures to be the crowd favorite with so many Mexican-American fans expected to make the trip from the California and the Southwest for the fight, "I have people coming up to me all the time to talk about it. It's a thing of pride, which I feel myself. But the important thing is the fight between us. We'll be up in the ring and, yes, we carry our countries behind us and, yes, people come up to me and say, 'Hey, do this for the country.' I feel it. I say I will take this belt back to my country."

Ruiz on the road again

Former heavyweight titlist John Ruiz (43-7-1, 29 KOs) is headed back to Germany for a rematch with Nikolai Valuev (48-1, 34 KOs) for a vacant title on Aug. 30 in Berlin, the same place where he lost his belt via majority decision to the 7-foot Russian in December 2005. Although Ruiz said he likes Germany, he's not big on fighting there, having lost both of his bouts there.

Valuev, Ruiz

Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images

John Ruiz, right, is headed back to Germany for a rematch with Nikolai Valuev.

"It was more like a robbery than hometown decision," Ruiz said of his first fight with Valuev. "Boxing is the only sport you can get robbed without a gun. I really enjoy the German people. They've been very hospitable to me. I love going back, just not for a fight. But I'm happy to have an opportunity to fight for my third world title.

"I'm going over there to slay the giant, really re-slay him because I definitely won the first fight. They just gave him the decision. After that fight, I realized I needed a real trainer, and I've learned so much working with Manny Siaca Sr. in my last three fights. He's taught me a lot, and we've continued working on the fundamentals."

Ruiz gave up 10 inches in height and close to 100 pounds to Valuev yet made it very competitive.

"I beat Valuev to the punch all night," he said. "There's no way he won a decision. I just have to do the same thing only this time make a statement each round, not let there be any close rounds. I outworked him the last time and will do that again. Only no close rounds that they can give him, just clear rounds scored for me."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.

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QUICK HITS

Clottey

• Not that Top Rank promoter Bob Arum wants to get ahead of himself, but he's already thinking of the next move for Miguel Cotto if Cotto beats Antonio Margarito on Saturday: a possible November unification bout in his native Puerto Rico against Joshua Clottey if Clottey also wins his next fight; he'll be vying for a vacant belt against Zab Judah on Aug. 2 (HBO) in Las Vegas. Arum told ESPN.com that the proposed fight would take place in November, although there is yet another problem brewing between Top Rank and HBO over dates. "If Cotto and Clottey both win, it will be easy for me to make that fight since both fighters are with Top Rank," Arum said. "I know Miguel would like to fight again in his country and Clottey has no fear about fighting him in Puerto Rico. Of course, both Miguel and Clottey have tough fights." That plan is, of course, if Oscar De La Hoya opts to fight someone other than Cotto on Dec. 6.

Taylor

• Although former super middleweight titlist Jeff Lacy struggled to a majority decision win against Epifanio Mendoza on Wednesday, he will face former middleweight champ and 2000 U.S. Olympic teammate Jermain Taylor on Nov. 15 (HBO) at a site to be determined, Taylor promoter Lou DiBella told ESPN.com. DiBella said he and Lacy promoter Golden Boy made a deal earlier Wednesday. The winner of the elimination bout will get a chance a to fight for the WBC title, which is vacant but will be filled by a probable match between Carl Froch and Jean Pascal. Taylor-Lacy originally was slated for Nov. 8, but HBO bumped the fight to make room for the Joe Calzaghe-Roy Jones light heavyweight championship fight on HBO PPV, a move that angered DiBella. The light heavyweight bout had been scheduled for Sept. 20 until Calzaghe's wrist injury delayed it until Nov. 8.

Berto

• DiBella is also not happy about one of his other fall fights facing a date change by HBO. DiBella hoped to have welterweight titlist Andre Berto make his first defense against Steve Forbes in an Oct. 4 main event, but it's moving because promoter Gary Shaw already has the HBO date for fights involving hot prospects Yuriorkis Gamboa and Alfredo Angulo. He and DiBella do not want to share the card, so Berto-Forbes is moving to the Sept. 27 undercard of the Shane Mosley-Ricardo Mayorga junior middleweight fight.

Green

• Promoter Tony Holden's frustration with super middleweight Allan Green (26-1, 18 KOs) has boiled over, and he is working on a deal for DiBella to take over his contract. DiBella told ESPN.com that he and Holden have discussed it and he is waiting for paperwork from Holden. There have been problems between Holden and Green for several months, but they came to a head in the past few weeks when Green blew a $450,000 offer to fight middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik in the fall.

Mora

• Junior middleweight titlist Sergio Mora (21-0-1, 5 KOs), who outpointed Vernon Forrest (40-3, 29 KOs) to win a belt June 7, will face him again in a contractually obligated rematch Sept. 13 in Las Vegas, Mora promoter Jeff Wald of Tournament of Contenders told ESPN.com. Wald said he's finalizing a deal with Golden Boy Promotions for the fight to be the co-feature on the HBO PPV card headlined by the Joel Casamayor-Juan Manuel Marquez lightweight championship fight. Mora, first-season winner of "The Contender," missed out on potential fall fights with Mosley and Pavlik because Forrest pressed the issue of his rematch clause. "We're honoring our obligation to the rematch," Wald said. "He gave Sergio a chance to win a world championship. Sergio can cement his reputation by beating him for a second time. Hopefully, it will be a more exciting fight. I'm excited that he's fighting on Mexican independence day. We want to build that audience for Sergio, and we like working with Golden Boy." Mora also faces a due mandatory defense against Sergio Martinez, but the status of that fight remains up in the air.

Lopez

• Top Rank and Golden Boy are in the preliminary stages of planning the undercard for the Oct. 18 Pavlik-Bernard Hopkins HBO PPV fight in Atlantic City, N.J. The companies will share the undercard. Top Rank's Bob Arum said that junior featherweight titlist Juan Manuel Lopez, who knocked out Golden Boy's Daniel Ponce De Leon in the first round to win the belt June 7 on Pavlik's last undercard, will make his first defense on the show. Arum said he could face Antonio Escalante, a Golden Boy fighter. Arum said that featherweight titlist Steven Luevano, a staple on Top Rank PPV undercards, also might defend on the card.

Haye

• As expected, David Haye has relinquished the last of his cruiserweight belts, officially vacating the WBO belt this week in anticipation of his full-time move to heavyweight in the fall. Adam Booth, Haye's manager and trainer, sent WBO president Paco Valcarcel a letter outlining his plans: "I would like to inform both you and the WBO that David Haye now wishes to formally vacate the WBO cruiserweight championship. He now wishes to fulfill his ultimate ambition and dream by putting himself into position to challenge Wladimir Klitschko for the WBO world heavyweight championship at the first opportunity." To fill the vacant belt, a fight between former titleholder Enzo Maccarinelli (28-2, 21 KOs), coming off a second-round knockout loss to Haye, will face Johnathon Banks (20-0, 14 KOs), who is trained and managed by Emanuel Steward. A purse bid is scheduled for Tuesday.

Ward

• Super middleweight Andre Ward (16-0, 11 KOs), a 2004 U.S. Olympic gold medalist, might face Brian Vera, a participant on the third season of "The Contender," Oct. 3 in Ward's native Oakland, Calif. Ward promoter Dan Goossen said he's been working on the fight with Tournament of Contenders promoter Wald and is talking to Showtime about doing the fight on "ShoBox," although Showtime has not committed to the bout. Ward looked good in his last fight, stopping Jerson Ravelo (who was promoted by Tournament of Contenders) in the eighth round on "ShoBox." Vera (16-1, 10 KOs) is coming off a major upset win in March, when he stopped heralded prospect Andy Lee in the seventh round on ESPN2.

Cunningham

• Cruiserweight titlist Steve Cunningham's mandatory defense against ex-light heavyweight titlist Tomasz Adamek of Poland is due by Sept. 29, and Cunningham (21-1, 11 KOs) said he's eager for the fight even if he might not get it that soon. "I was ringside in Chicago for his second fight with Paul Briggs, and I know he can really fight," Cunningham said of Adamek (35-1, 24 KOs), who stopped former undisputed champion O'Neil Bell in an April eliminator. "He was the world champ at 17, and he really proved himself to me that night. He's my mandatory, and I want to fight him as soon as possible." However, Cunningham might not get what he wants. Promoter Don King, who had an acrimonious split with Adamek, might try to secure an exception to the mandatory and match Cunningham with former unified titleholder Jean-Marc Mormeck in Mormeck's native France. Mormeck was knocked out by Haye in his last fight, in November. If the fight happens, Cunningham would have to go overseas to fight for a fourth consecutive time.

Spadafora

• Former lightweight titlist Paul Spadafora (41-0-1, 16 KOs), whose career has been stalled by legal problems and injuries, resulting in just three fights since 2004, is back in the gym training. Spadafora returned after undergoing knee surgery June 3 to remove floating cartilage. "The surgery was a success and Paul's knee has responded very well to the surgery and rehabilitation," Dr. Keith Lustig said in a statement. Spadafora injured his knee Jan. 17, although he won a fight in April. "I thought that the conditioning and rehab would work, but it was temporary," Spadafora said. "In my last fight, I experienced too much pain and inability to move my knee and just couldn't perform the way I can." Promoter Mike Acri hopes to schedule Spadafora to fight by early September.

QUOTABLE

Cotto

"If you ask me who's the best fighter in the world, I'm going to say Miguel Cotto. Everybody wants to be the pound-for-pound champion, but it's not my job to make such a list. That is up to the press. I'm focused on defending my WBA welterweight title. But I check the pound-for-pound list. Would I like to be the pound-for-pound champion? Every fighter would." -- Miguel Cotto, when asked whether a definitive victory against Antonio Margarito on Saturday night should vault him into the No. 1 spot in the pound-for-pound rankings.