January 16, 2004

Antonio Margarito: Dark Shadows of a Champion

By Fiona Manning

WBO welterweight champion Antonio Margarito has often been overshadowed by some of his flashier counterparts.

The talented Tijuana-based, LA-born fighter 29-3, 20 KOs who defends his title against unbeaten Canadian slugger Hercules Kyvalos 22-0, 11 KOs on Saturday January 31, looked finally to be getting his props. That was until his promotional company Top Rank became the intense focus of an FBI raid last week.

Margarito, who held a press workout at the LA Boxing Club on Tuesday was happy to talk about anything and everything. However the media – of which there wer few - were warned that he and Top Rank personnel were not permitted to discuss the scandal.

Once again the quiet man of boxing has been overshadowed.

While Margarito can only hope nothing derails his fight scheduled for the “HBO Boxing After Dark” card to be held at the Dodge Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona, the facts surrounding the FBI probe cannot be ignored.

The facts are these: last Tuesday, the FBI swarmed Top Rank’s Las Vegas headquarters and seized computers, financial documents, contracts, medical records, and videotapes.

Rumors flew that it was the Oscar de la Hoya versus Shane Mosley fight from September last year (in which Mosley won a questionable decision) was being investigated.

Antonio Margarito, overshadowed by outside events. Photo by German Villesenor

At the time promoter and Top Rank CEO Bob Arum accused the state of Nevada of fixing the fight. Boxing insiders assumed his claims were finally being examined.

When it was discovered the retried fighter Joey Torres was an official informant, it was assumed it was his April 22, 2002 debacle against Perry Williams that was under scrutiny.

Torres, 44, who had served over 20 years for murder was released and signed with Top Rank in a big, splashy campaign. His first fight was against Williams who appeared to take a dive in the second round. His purse was withheld pending an investigation but Williams was eventually paid. Neither fighter has fought since.

ESPN2 boxing analyst Teddy Atlas said on the air Friday night that his sources tell him the FBI probe actually revolves around a September 2001 Jorge Paez KO3 win over Verdell Smith in Mexico, not De La Hoya-Mosley.

Interestingly, no other media outlet seems to realize the corner man for this fight was none other than Verdell Smith.

Promoter Bob Arum returned from vacation in South Africa to a hornets nest after the FBI raid and issued the following statement: “Upon Mr. Arum’s return to Las Vegas, he stated that Top Rank has done nothing wrong.

“Top Rank does not know the scope of the government’s investigation. Top Rank is lawfully cooperating with that investigation. Top Rank will not comment on or respond to the rumors, speculations, and unverified allegations appearing in the media.

Top Rank will continue to focus on its business of promoting its boxers and fights and appreciates all the support it has received from the boxing industry.”

This week, it emerged that the probe actually began in 2001 after former world champion Paez and journeyman Smith fought.

Sources close to the investigation say that underworld figures were notified of an alleged fix in the bout. The New York Daily News reported this week that an undercover NYPD detective posed as a ‘wiseguy’ to infiltrate the Las Vegas underworld.

Paez won the September 7 bout with Smith via third round TKO. It was the second match between the two, with Paez, a television ratings juggernaut, winning a close decision over Smith in April of 2001.

Smith, who appeared on Top Rank cards before and after the bout, would later take on Julio Diaz, Jose Luis Castillo, and Dmitriy Salita, though as of yet, there is no indication that these fights are part of the FBI probe.

Oklahoma City’s Smith, with a lifetime record of 44-84-4, with 17 KOs, has also fought under the aliases of Tim Brooks and Tommy Bowles. Smith, who lost 12 out of 13 times (one no contest) to Indiana’s Marty Jakubowski, was part of a slew of fighters written about in 1997 by Katherine Dunn.

“The demand for bi-pedal punching bags is so great that some booking agents, often called “Meat Packers,” specialize in providing guaranteed losers in all sizes,” wrote Dunn in the newspaper PDXS.

“An investigation published in February, 1997 by Oklahoma state boxing regulators reported that an Oklahoma meat packer named Sean Gibbons—a cousin of former lightweight champ and ex-USA cable boxing commentator Sean O’Grady —ran a revolving stable of bad-to-mediocre boxers who traveled the mid-west pretending to fight each other under phony names, creating fraudulent wins for fictitious fighters with “respectable” records, who could then fall down in front of protected boxers, often on televised cards.”

Ironically, Gibbons, a long-time affiliate of Top Rank, was implicated in a 1999 article about fight fixing written by Ken Rodriguez in the Miami Herald.

As Rodriguez wrote, “Two former heavyweights, Andre Smiley and Mike Smith, threw fights at the behest of Sean Gibbons, a matchmaker with Top Rank Inc. Smiley told The Herald that Gibbons offered him bonuses during fights to fall down. Smith told the Oklahoma Department of Labor that Gibbons routinely asked him to throw fights.”

Gibbons denied the fighters’ charge, calling it ‘A complete lie.’

On Tuesday, he was terminated from Top Rank – again overshadowing what should have been Margarito’s big day.

Very few boxing media turned up to the workout but Margarito and his merry band of men including trainer Jose Capetillo - who only goes by Capetillo – were still in the gym, business as usual.

“I was never in a fixed fight,” said Margarito quickly. “It must be very difficult for the fighters concerned to have all this going on. For me, it’s very distracting because I am fighting for my life.”

Margarito feels he is finally getting the big fights, the big names and wants nothing to prevent his ascension to greatness.

“I hope the fans can wait and see what happens and I hope that this does not ruin the sport of boxing,” he said. “There are many good people and many good things which have come from this sport.”

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