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Bill Dwyre

Boxing's biggest draw awaits

July 26, 2008|Bill Dwyre

All eyes in the boxing world will be focused tonight on Cotto versus Margarito at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Well, except those eyes belonging to promoters Bob Arum and Richard Schaefer. They may be sneaking a peek or two into the future.

That's because when Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico fights Antonio Margarito of Mexico in a welterweight title match that has people talking about a fight of the year before anybody throws the first punch, the result is closely connected to something even bigger.

That would be the sport's next mega-fight. Boxing tries to label its better matchups with this sort of hyperbole. This time, the label would be justified.

This is what is going on:

Oscar De La Hoya, 35, wants to fight one more time. Despite losing three of his last six fights and correctly toying with retirement for several years, he remains the box-office bonanza for his sport. If he fights, it is a huge deal. If he fights somebody really good, they start throwing around the word "mega."

Add to that all the farewell schmaltz that can be trotted out, and boxing has a real gem to sell.

The date and site have been chosen: Dec. 6 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Mark it down. Christmas comes early for fight fans.

All that's left is to choose an opponent, and that's where the story gets interesting.

De La Hoya has lost mega-fights to Felix Trinidad and Floyd Mayweather Jr., so there is incentive to try to avenge either of those, especially in the case of Trinidad, who handed De La Hoya his first defeat in a controversial decision in 1999 that still irks De La Hoya.

Arum answers both of those scenarios.

"Mayweather is retired, and Trinidad walks around weighing 200 pounds," he said.

That leaves the winner of Cotto-Margarito as the obvious next one up. Except for one thing -- De La Hoya's uncanny sense of his fan base and the marketplace, an issue that looms much larger for him because his life after boxing is the already-booming Golden Boy Promotions company he runs with Schaefer.

"If Margarito wins, Oscar won't fight him," Arum says. "He won't fight another Mexican in his last fight. I tested him on that. I asked about [Julio Cesar] Chavez Jr., which would be his easiest test. He said no. The Mexicans would hate him."

De La Hoya, from East Los Angeles and of Mexican descent, has carried the perception throughout his career that he is more American than Mexican. Mexicans rooted heartily against him several years ago when he fought and beat the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez.

Interestingly, even though he would be missing out on a huge payday, Margarito seems to understand De La Hoya's predicament and even agrees with his decision.

So, if Cotto wins, he would appear to be the choice, even though there was some recent talk that De La Hoya didn't like that matchup much either, because he lives in Puerto Rico much of the time now and his wife is Puerto Rican.

The wild card in all this is Filipino sensation Manny Pacquiao, who has won impressively in his recent fights and is now more interested in a matchup that would require him to fight at 10 to 12 pounds heavier than he was in his last match, which was at 135 pounds. Pacquiao actually started his pro career at 112, and his recent fight against David Diaz was his first at as much as 135. De La Hoya is best around 147 to 150. A catch weight would be part of the fight contract.

Were Cotto, a 2-5 favorite, to lose tonight, or if De La Hoya ponders the possible beating he could take from Cotto and considers how much he likes to be the bigger man in the ring, Pacquiao might be the choice, no matter what.

Arum says he has it on good authority -- Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach -- that Pacquiao is willing and able.

"Freddie says he thinks Pacquiao can knock Oscar out," Arum said.

A Pacquiao-De La Hoya matchup was first bandied about more than a year ago by broadcaster Larry Merchant, a once-brilliant sports columnist who lost his way into television. Lots of people laughed at the idea then. They aren't laughing now.

Arum and his Top Rank Promotions have been at the forefront of the game for more than 40 years and have handled most of the game's big names, including Muhammad Ali, as well as De La Hoya for most of his career before he struck out on his own. This time, Arum has all three players, Margarito, Cotto and Pacquiao.

"I'm not in the catbird's seat, but I'm in a seat," he said. "Oscar is in the catbird's seat. He will determine the financials, because he is Oscar."

Schaefer, De La Hoya's business partner, would certainly agree with that. Reached in Europe, where he is on vacation, Schaefer played it closer to the vest than Arum, saying he didn't want to mess up any deal with public statements. But he said the deal will be done quickly, probably within 10 days, after talks with De La Hoya and then Arum.

Then, we'll have the big announcement of the big night. Boxing likes to name these things. This one is easy.

Break the Bank Night.

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Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

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FIGHT FACTS

Who: Miguel Cotto (32-0) vs. Antonio Margarito (36-5).

When: Tonight, 6

Where: Las Vegas.

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RELATED STORY

In his dreams: The memory of his late brother helps motivate Antonio Margarito. D9

ON LATIMES.COM

Margarito wants more than Cotto's belt. He craves respect.

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