BY MIKE HOUSER
Appeal Sports Writer
While it may not have matched the fury of Marvin Hagler's three-round destruction job of Thomas Hearns in their 1985 middleweight war, Antonio Margarito's 11-round beatdown of vaunted WBA welterweight titlist Miguel Cotto Saturday at MGM Grand in Las Vegas mirrored the same kind of popular seek-and-destroy approach that will be remembered for years.
The 30-year-old Margarito, 37-5 with 27 knockouts and 1 no-contest, was not to be denied. He was a man on a mission, a 5-foot-11 terminator that walked through the valiant Puerto Rican's best punches to deliver his own lethal payload and vaulted himself to the top of the 147-pound food chain.
Margarito's emphatic triumph over the formerly undefeated Cotto, now 32-1 (26), was reminiscent of another Hagler fight " a vicious 1986 contest with then-unbeaten knockout artist John Mugabi, who had won all of his previous 25 fights by knockout.
Like Margarito, Hagler soaked up all the punishment his powerful foe could dish out while systematically breaking down his rival for an 11th-round stoppage. So brutal was the punishment " both physical and psychological " that Mugabi was never again a real force to be reckoned with.
It remains to be seen if the 27-year Cotto can overcome the effects of seeing his best punches bounce off Margarito like tennis balls off a tank " not to mention having his face and spirit beaten to a pulp.
But that's Cotto's cross to bear. More important to Margarito, who lived up to his "Tijuana Tornado" nom de guerre, is that he can now cash in and take full advantage of his breakout performance.
Though a rematch with WBO welterweight strapholder Paul Williams, who scored a 2007 win over Margarito, is certainly in order, there are two potential superfights awaiting Mexico's latest superstar, who turned pro when he was 15.
By far, the most lucrative matchup for Margarito is one against Oscar De La Hoya, who should be engaging in his farewell fight in December.
Rather than choosing the path of least resistance, as he did against Steve Forbes, "The Golden Boy" now has a golden opportunity to cap off his illustrious career by facing if not the biggest welterweight in the division (Williams is 6-foot-1), at least the most dangerous one in Margarito.
While Top Rank boss Bob Arum is keeping his fighter's options open, there is no dancing around the fact that it would be Margarito's richest opportunity " literally and figuratively " as Hispanic fans alone would show up to the fight en masse and generate enough Pay-Per-View buys to permanently secure the financial future of the Mexican scrapper (the well-heeled De La Hoya already has that base covered).
In his book "American Son," De La Hoya constantly bemoans his lot as a Mexican-American who can't seem to please neither fans across the border in Mexico nor Mexican-Americans in his own country.
So it would seem to make the most sense if De La Hoya chooses to go out the right way, to secure his legacy and win over fans of all ethnic backgrounds by taking on such a lethal opponent in his swan song.
Although one can argue a fight against lightweight titlist Manny Pacquiao would likely be a bigger box-office bonanza, deep down De La Hoya " and any right-thinking boxing fan " knows that a bout with Margarito presents more risk than one with a fighter who started his career as a junior flyweight and would need to gain 12 more pounds in order to get in the ring for the proposed showdown at 147 pounds.
Maybe the monetary reward of meeting Margarito wouldn't be as great for the Golden Boy as facing the "Pac-Man," but it would garner him far more prestige and respect from the boxing community, something that is even more valuable than yet another title belt, in this case, Margarito's.
As far as Margarito is concerned, a victory over De La Hoya could possibly present a big enough threat to unretire the mercurial Floyd Mayweather, who may begin to feel even more forgotten as he daily fades into oblivion after his sudden departure from the sport.
In either case, for his own peace of mind, Margarito could then step back in for revenge against Williams and remove all doubts as to who is really in charge of the 147-pound division.
The welterweights may not be the biggest weight class out there, but thanks to Cotto's unpleasant experience in Margarito-ville, it presents the most intriguing matchups with the biggest consequences in the sport today.