January 31, 2003

Antonio Margarito: “Vernon Forrest Lost His Head, So He Lost His Fight!”

By Fiona Manning

Remember the kids’ cartoon character Underdog? WBO welterweight champion Antonio Margarito says it’s that cartoon character with whom he most identifies.

With his catch-phrase of “There’s No Need To Fear, Underdog Is Here!” Margarito believes that along with him, a whole new breed of champion is rising in the world of boxing.

“We’re tough guys who grew up poor and we respect the sport of boxing,” said Margarito who is 27-3, 18 KOs. Currently preparing for the most career-defining fight of his life, he takes on Andrew “Six Head” Lewis on Saturday, February 8 at Mandalay Bay Hotel And Casino in Las Vegas.

“It’s going to be a big night,” said Margarito, whose bout with Lewis is the main supporting event to “Sugar” Shane Mosley vs Raul Marquez. “I’m very excited to be a part of it.”

Margarito, who was ringside for the Ricardo-Mayorga vs Vernon Forrest fight on Saturday night said the fight he most wants next is a unification bout with Mayorga.

“You have to hand it to him, that little guy is a rumbler,” said Margarito via translation by manager Francisco Espinoza.

“I could not believe the way Forrest fought him. I think we were all expecting Mayorga to rush at him but I thought Forrest would recover his composure and handle him right. I did not believe in a million years Mayorga could knock him out in three rounds, but he did.

“Forrest had a bad first round, a better second round and in the third, he was seeing birdies in that knockdown. I don’t care what he said after the fact, but the referee made a good call to stop the fight.

“Vernon Forrest lost his head, so he lost his fight. With his height and reach he should have fought a different fight. Instead his corner gave him bad advice.

“I don’t want to say he underestimated Mayorga because as a professional fighter, you shouldn’t underestimate anybody, but it looked to me like he didn’t know how to handle Mayor-ga when he attacked him.”

Los Angeles born but Tijuana-based Margarito believes he too will have his hands full with Lewis, the deposed WBA champion who lost his title to Mayorga in a ferocious one-sided fight in March last year.

Though Lewis went on to an easy KO victory over Oscar Delgado, Margarito said Lewis will undoubtedly come in well prepared and wanting to redeem himself.

“I think people are starting to realize I have some power. I have fought very tough opponents and I believe I am stronger than ever. I’ve head all the jokes about Lewis, that he has six heads and one chin but in boxing you must be prepared,” said Margarito who knows all about being the underdog.

When he faced Antonio Diaz last year for the vacant WBO title, opinion was divided on who would win. Margarito dominated most of the fight before ref Jay Nady stopped the action in the 10th round.

For the Diaz clan, it was painful to see Antonio taking as much punishment as he did. When his brother and trainer (and former fighter), Joel, got up on the ring apron and threw in the towel, Margarito said he “immediately thanked God for letting me win the title this time.”

The first time Margarito fought for it, he challenged then-WBO welterweight champion Daniel Santos on July 21 in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. The bout ended in a no-contest in the first round when Margarito suffered a cut on his right eyebrow because of an accidental head butt.

“It is frustrating for the fight to finish that way,” he said. “When you have trained for months and you’re ready to fight, nobody wants a first round no-contest.”

Ironically, the first time Lewis and Mayorga fought, the fight was stopped in the second due to a bad cut over Lewis’ eye.

“I didn’t think he was impressive in either fight, but we shall see,” said Margarito.

Shortly after fighting Santos, the Puerto Rican superstar relinquished the WBO title to move up in weight, leaving the title vacant.

“Antonio and I fought hard for it,” said Margarito. “He wants a rematch but I don’t see the point. Right now, after Lewis, my eyes on Ricardo Mayorga. The best must fight the best. Then we can unify the division. Things are being shaken up in boxing.”

Margarito, who has been training out of the LA Boxing Gym with trainer Jose Valdez feels his time has come at last.

As he prepared to leave the interview, JC Candelo (who fights Winky Wright on March 1) approached him. He hugged Margarito who hugged him back and kissed his cheek.

“You are the best,” said Candelo.

“You are too,” said Margarito. “You’re a bad man. Good luck to you.”

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