Monday, November 8, 2010
If Antonio Margarito is the villain in Saturday's title fight against Manny Pacquiao, someone forgot to give the screenplay to boxing fans.
Fort Worth's Eric Reyna, 29, gathered with about 1,000 fans Sunday at La Gran Plaza Mall to listen as Margarito took questions and signed autographs in what morphed into more of a pep rally than a public appearance.
For fans such as Reyna and older brother Jose, a sports hero can do no wrong even if he does wrong. Such is the case of "The Tijuana Tornado," who was found to have plaster on his hand wraps before a 2009 fight with Shane Mosley. Margarito served a one-year suspension. Yet, Margarito was handpicked by promoter Bob Arum and Jerry Jones to help boost attendance for Saturday's bout at Cowboys Stadium and stands to make around $5 million.
Sports history is filled with athletes or coaches who've looked to take shortcuts, whether with performance-enhancing substances or other schemes, and the results have been mixed in how they recover from these scandals.
Certainly, Margarito appears to have recovered from the controversy.
The Reyna brothers buy into the notion that Margarito's former trainer, Javier Capetillo, could have doctored the gloves and wraps without Margarito's knowledge.
"I honestly try to ignore it because I don't want to look at him as a bad guy if he didn't know about the wraps," Eric Reyna said. "Either way, I liked him before. If he knew about it, I doubt he wrapped his hands like that all the time. Maybe he just did it for that fight if that is what happened.
"I don't want to look at him as the bad guy. I'm willing to give him a second chance and, hopefully, he wins or gives Pacquiao a good fight at least."
Based on the enthusiastic reaction Margarito received during two local public appearances Sunday, his fans aren't just standing beside him but are ready to hoist him upon their shoulders.
Margarito's fan base includes Milwaukee Brewers pitcher and Fort Worth product Yovani Gallardo, who presented Margarito with a customized Brewers jersey.
"[Fan support] means a lot; any professional athlete can tell you that," Gallardo said. "The fans are going to be behind you. They're going to support you and it means a lot."
The HBO series 24/7 has certainly painted Margarito as more than a shady figure, but as a mentor to young fighters and a devout family man.
Trainer Robert Garcia said the personal look at Margarito has won the boxer even more fans.
"I think it did [help his image]," Garcia said. "They see the way we do training camp. They see we have fun. They see we joke around. They see we train hard. They see things that Margarito is doing with the kids, the amateurs, and I think it's helped a lot."
While fans may have forgiven or believe Margarito's claims of innocence, Pacquiao trainer Freddy Roach isn't that trusting.
He said last week he will personally oversee the wrapping of Margarito's hands before the fight.
"It helps the fight in general because of the press and the notoriety of the fight," Roach said. "But it doesn't change the fight at all; it will be on the up-and-up. Both will be equal in hand wraps and that's the way it is."