(Believe it or not, the horrific episode above has nothing to do with this.)
Manny Pacquiao should be fighting Floyd Mayweather. It’s the most obvious fight in the history of mankind. As a fan of the sport and a vocal critic of the business model, I for one cannot understand how any boxing fan is all right with the repeated delays, conflicting excuses and flat-out refusals surrounding a Pacman-PBF match-up. I swear, it’s enough to want all of the top talent in the sport under the same promotional umbrella. But I digress.
From a practical fan point of view, I suppose I can understand not starting a revolution over it – they are not the only two boxers in the world, I just want to see them fight, Pacman/Floyd has nothing for Floyd/Pacman anyway, etc. However, I can only question the depth of the sport’s talent pool when Manny Pacquiao is forced to fight Antonio Margarito in Texas while waiting for a massive, career-defining payday that may well never come – especially when Margarito should never be allowed to compete in professional sporting competition again. Ever.
I’d argue that MMA fans have a slightly more lenient opinion towards cheating than fans of traditional stick and ball sports. I am not one of those MMA fans that believes that half or more of the UFC’s roster is using steroids. I don’t think that dodging the testing is that easy. I don’t believe, for instance, that Chael Sonnen was responsibly cheating up until the biggest fight of his career, and then got sloppy – makes no sense to me. Thus, since I don’t think everyone is doing it, I take steroid usage seriously, and hope to see the current independent (of the promotion) drug testing regime kept intact, with more/better testing. Then again, more mundane examples of “cheating” – ie, a well timed grab of the cage, George Sotiropolous’ exploitation of the rules related to attire, milking a grazing knee while your thumb is touching the mat, running out the clock on a sure decision victory – are routinely defined as acceptable within the rubric of what is ultimately most important: winning the fight. It’s been said that “if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying” – a quote occasionally attached to the late Eddie Guerrero – and, given that you’re in a cage with a man/woman legally obliged to assault you, we correctly give certain leeway to exploiting the rules as it.
What Margarito did is infinitely worse. It is another planet of cheating and must be identified as such.
In the hours before Margarito’s bout with Shane Mosley in January of 2009, Sugar Shane’s trainer noticed a pasty white substance on Margarito’s hand wraps. Upon the Mosley camp’s insistence, Margarito’s hands were wrapped anew, and the offending pads contained in the original wrapping (in addition to another pad the CSAC confiscated from the locker room) were placed in a seal box for further investigation. Later tests concluded that the wet wraps contained sulfur and calcium. These elements form the basis of Plaster of Paris. When combined with oxygen over time – say, the course of a 12 or 15 round boxing match – the three combine into a hard shell. It’s about as close as one can come to just placing a horse shoe within one’s glove.
With freshly (legally) wrapped hands, Margarito was brutalized by Mosley en route to a TKO loss in the 9th.
Margarito was promptly suspended by the CSAC pending investigation and immediately plead ignorance, allowing his trainer to claim “a big mistake” was made. What was that, exactly? Misplacing your daughter’s art project supplies? How does one end up with a number of hand wraps illegally tainted by a hardening agent in the locker room of a major boxing bout? Were they used for sparring or something? And even if we omit the rumors that evidence of similarly tainted wraps was seen after Margarito’s comeback win against Cotto (in which his punches seemed to do more damage as the fight went on) – who’s to say how many times he got away with it? Is it impossible that Mosley’s trainer was merely the first to notice?
What does one have to do to get a lifetime ban in boxing? In baseball, you can bet money on your own team and get booted for eternity, even if you happen to be the greatest hitter in the game’s history. Boxing is a sport about two men punching each other – when you’re deliberately and secretly tinkering with your fists… I can’t imagine a more fundamental circumvention of the very essence of competition. Agreements on terms, conditions, rules and regulations aren’t what stand between us and combat sports – they are what make combat sports possible. To intentionally doctor your equipment in order to hurt another human being is unforgivable.
It’s cheating. It’s dirty. It’s dangerous. I am sure I am opening myself to accusations of being a moral zealot, but that hasn’t stopped me before and it certainly won’t now. The true shame of this is hardcore boxing fans – they now jump in front of arrows fired at their beloved sport as a reflex, without bothering to interpret the start point or content of the arrows themselves. In boxing’s heyday, anyone caught using Plaster of Paris in their gloves would have been disgraced, because there were others to take his place in marquee bouts. No mas, apparently. Antonio Margarito disrespected everyone that has ever signed a fight contract. He endangered his opponent(s?)’s well being. He should never be sanctioned to fight in the United States ever again. If this isn’t unforgivable, I don’t know what is.