This past Saturday night on HBO Boxing, there was a bigger story than Antonio Margarito losing his welterweight championship to Shane Mosley- the illegal hand wrapping attempt by Antonio Margarito and his corner. The California State Athletic Commission immediately began an investigation into the hand wraps and what was contained in them or placed on them.
At the time of this article, no conclusion has been reached by the commission, although they promised a prompt finding. According to a press release from California State Athletic Commission Chairman Tim Noonan, Antonio Margarito and his chief corner man, Javier Capetillo have had their licenses temporarily suspended and a preliminary hearing has been set for February 10th. The hand wraps are being analyzed by the California Department of Justice.
Before every professional boxing match, a fighter gets his hands wrapped. Hands can be wrapped in an endless amount of ways, and indeed, different fighters hire particular trainers or specialists who have perfected their own styles and techniques purported to maximize hand protection. You don’t have to follow rigid guidelines for how to wrap hands in boxing, but you do need to avoid certain illegal techniques.
These illegal hand wrapping techniques are generally done for one reason, to increase the impact of a fighter’s punches. This is an extremely dangerous tactic, which can and has led to serious injury in the ring.
The most infamous controversy involved the Billy Collins and Luis Resto fight in June of 1983. Resto trainer Panama Lewis removed all of the protective padding from Resto’s gloves prior to the fight. Resto, who had only eight knockouts amongst his 20 victories suddenly had dynamite in his hands. He battered a bewildered Collins, ultimately ending his career and permanently impairing his vision. Resto and Lewis both served jail time and ended up banned from boxing.
Throughout boxing history, other famous fighters have been accused of illegal hand wrapping techniques. These fighters range from contemporary welterweight great Felix Trinidad to heavyweight legend Jack Dempsey.
The degree to which you can cheat with illegal hand wraps varies. Margarito and his corner have been accused of adding a plaster like substance to the fighter’s hand wraps. This plaster would have hardened underneath his gloves, turning protective hand wraps into rock hard clubbing weapons.
While what Antonio Margarito and his corner are accused of is not as severe as what Panama Lewis and Luis Resto did, it is still a serious infraction on sportsmanship (not t mention general human decency) that could have led to an opponent being seriously injured.
On Saturday night, this was of no consequence, as Shane Mosley expertly moved inside Margarito’s looping power punches and launched his own pinpoint counter shots and combinations. (Ironically, Shane Mosley’s name has been back in the news recently regarding his testimony around the BALCO case, and his admittance to using banned performance enhancer EPO). It was Margarito who ended up battered in this contest, and no amount of illegal hand wrapping would have changed that.
However, Margarito has made his career based upon the accumulation of punishment that he doles out to opponents. Most notably, he launched a devastating and brutal attack on former champion Miguel Cotto that left Cotto’s face a bloody pulp. While no wrongdoing has been proven in that fight or in any other Antonio Margarito contest, the cloud of doubt has to be cast over all of his in ring accomplishments.
If this was the first case of Margarito illegally altering his hand wraps before a match, one has to ask why? He was a successful fighter and a champion without doing so before. And now all of his wins must be questioned. If Margarito and his corner did this for years before, one has to ask how did he get away with it for so long?
The boxing commission of the state where a bout takes place has to sign off on every fighter’s hand wraps before every match. And opposing trainers are given the opportunity to view the hand wrapping process as well. This weekend, it was Mosley trainer Nazim Richardson who spotted something amiss with Margarito’s hand wraps and complained. The commission agreed, and forced Margarito to rewrap his hands.
Still unknown is whether Antonio Margarito knew about the illegal hand wrapping or what, if any, his involvement was. Also left unknown is how many times Margarito went into the ring with altered hand wraps and whether or not any past opponents will try to take action against Margarito. A lawyer for Kermit Cintron, a fighter Margarito knocked out twice, has already contacted the California State Athletic Commission.
Pending the results of the California State Athletic Commision’s investigation into the illegal hand wraps, Margarito could end up officially suspended from boxing for a year or more, and would likely face serious fines.
Sources: HBO World Championship Boxing Telecast, www.boxrec.com, California State Athletic Commission Press Releases