DALLAS If Antonio Margarito had the slightest bit of humility, class, or respect, he would be thanking his lucky stars this week.
If he lost his sense of entitlement (which seems to be backed by the money-first sport of professional boxing) he would go out of his way to relate to fans, or at least to not sicken them.
But that's not in his nature. Margarito has a second chance that the common man could never fathom. Tonight he takes on Manny Pacquiao, generally considered as the best pound-for-pound boxer on the planet. At stake is the WBC super welterweight title. But he seems unaffected, almost portraying a "so what" attitude.
For more than five years, beginning in 2002, Margarito held the WBO welterweight title. His 5-foot-11 frame made him somewhat of a freak at that weight. He would occasionally draw comparisons to Thomas Hearns (a stretch), as he had speed, strength, skill and a good chin.
But there always seemed to be something missing, something that kept him out of the conversation of the pound-for-pound greats. His reluctance to step up in weight for several possible lucrative paydays - such as Oscar De La Hoya or Fernando Vargas - hurt his reputation.
When he lost his title, via unanimous decision to Paul Williams, the naysayers came out in full force. He appeared to be just another overhyped fighter who would never reach his true potential.
He surprised most critics a year after the Williams loss by taking on WBA champion Miguel Cotto. In what proved to be one of the great fights of 2008, Margarito was way behind on the cards early before becoming the aggressor. He took the fight to Cotto and eventually stopped him in the 11th round.
Many, myself included, thought Margarito may have finally found that something. Was it heart? Was it an improved work ethic?
Was it calcium and sulfur? When combined with oxygen, those two ingredients form Plaster of Paris.
So now, a man who had avoided the better fighters throughout his career, had suddenly agreed to follow the Cotto victory with a fight against megastar Shane Mosley.
Urged by Mosley's people, the California State Athletic Commission confiscated Margarito's hand wraps prior to the fight. Mosley destroyed Margarito throughout the bout before defeating him in the ninth round.
The hand wraps were found to contain plaster as hard as that used in casts. Suspicion arose as the wraps he used in the Cotto fight had similar stains to those he was wearing prior to the Mosley fight.
The CSAC suspended Margarito for a period of at least one year. Since other state commissions usually honor those rulings, he was unable to fight in the United States for that period of time.
Sixteen months after the Mosley fight, he returned to the ring, unimpressively winning a unanimous decision over equally unimpressive Roberto Garcia.
So the end result for one of the vilest acts possible by a pro athlete, and a lackluster return to the ring, is a shot at a world title and a ridiculous check. Margarito is guaranteed to earn at least $3 million. The contract has plenty of incentives and the payday could be much higher.
"He can go to bed knowing he will get at least $6 million," said Top Rank promoter Bob Arum.
What Margarito did is much worse than point shaving or taking steroids. It is cheating with the intent to cause physical harm. In 1983, Luis Resto upset Billy Collins Jr. The light-hitting Resto pummeled Collins throughout. It was later found that Resto's gloves had been tampered with. They were made lighter so that Resto's punches were harder and quicker. Collins suffered eye damage in the bout and retired. He died in a car accident a year later.
You can only imagine what damage hard plaster could do during the course of a fight. Margarito said he didn't know what was in the hand wraps prior to the Mosley fight. Instead he threw his trainer, Javier Capetillo, under the bus.
I'm all for second chances. People make mistakes and turn their lives around.
Yet, it's difficult to believe that Margarito has done that. A video surfaced recently of Margarito shaking his hands and tilting his head while trainer Robert Garcia says, "There's Freddie Roach." Roach, Pacquiao's trainer, has Parkinson's disease.
Again, Margarito claimed innocence, saying he did not know Roach was battling the disease.
In the ring, Margarito could pose a big challenge for the champion. He is nearly five inches taller, has a seven-inch reach advantage, and will likely weigh 20 pounds more when they step into the ring. Margarito weighed in at 150 pounds. Friday while Pacquiao tipped the scales at 144.6.
That size difference has Pacquiao backers concerned. The average boxing fan should be also.
Pacquiao exudes class in every aspect of his life. Margarito is the exact opposite. In a classic battle of good vs. evil, very good vs. very evil, it would be a shame to see evil triumph.