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Cotto, Margarito set to share center stage

The stars appear to be aligned for what could be the biggest fight of 2008: a showdown between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito.

The two welterweights will meet Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden with Cotto’s WBA title at stake. With Floyd Mayweather Jr. in retirement and Oscar De La Hoya’s farewell tour in a holding pattern, Cotto and Margarito have the sport’s grand stage to themselves.

“People who follow boxing say it’s the fight of the year because of the matchup, and that’s true,” Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said. “But it’s also true that some of the people who were involved in boxing when we made the fight are no longer involved.

“Ultimately, it’s a tremendous fight on it’s own merits. These two guys have the entire stage to themselves this week with no other fights to distract the promotion. Everything has fallen into place beautifully.”

Both Cotto (32-0, 26 knockouts) and Margarito (36-5, 26 KOs) acknowledge this is the biggest fight of their careers. They know the entire boxing world will be watching.

“I think this is going to be a huge time for boxing.” said Cotto, who is a minus-270 betting favorite at MGM Mirage properties. “When you have two fighters who are warriors, you’re going to see a real battle.”

Said Margarito, a plus-230 underdog: “Winning this fight will move me to another level, as a Mexican fighter and as a Mexican idol. I think it will fulfill some promises in my career.”

The buildup for this matchup started months ago. Arum, who promotes both fighters, had them on the same card in separate fights on April 12 in Atlantic City, with his master plan to pit them against each other eventually.

Both fighters performed spectacularly.

Cotto, 27, scored a fifth-round technical knockout against Alfonso Gomez, and Margarito, 30, stopped Kermit Cintron in the sixth round.

Arum brought the fight to Las Vegas after the Nevada Athletic Commission approved the use of 8-ounce gloves, waiving the rule for the use of 10-ounce gloves for all fights above 135 pounds. Cotto and Margarito will be fighting at 147 pounds. Had the NAC not allowed the 8-ounce provision, the fight would have gone elsewhere.

Both fighters acknowledge they had their sights set on Mayweather. But with Mayweather retired — at least for now — they’ve moved on.

“I am sure he’ll be watching,” Margarito said. “He will want to see how real fighters fight. I am sure there are a lot of guys that haven’t wanted to fight either one of us that will be watching.”

Said Cotto: “I think Mayweather retired because he thought that would be the best for him. I can’t be upset that he retired because my career is great. I’m going to fight whoever my company puts in front of me.”

As for whom he is rooting for, Arum said he’s going to remain neutral.

“Each came to us in a completely different way,” he said. “Miguel, we had from the beginning, right out of the (2000) Olympics, and Antonio had quite a few fights before coming to us.

“Each is treated like a true champion, and I’ll be sitting at ringside with the outcome having absolutely no affect on me. That’s how I like it.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2913.

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