The Washington Times - July 29, 2008, 12:29AM

Over the weekend, the boxing world was treated to a surprising upset when underdog Antonio Margarito stopped favorite Miguel Cotto in 11 rounds for the welterweight title in what was a classic bout.

Cotto had been considered a step up for Margarito, but wilted under the attack of Margarito in the later rounds. It was a great fight, which is good for boxing, and it was a fight where the outcome surprised people, which normally is also good for boxing.


The problem: What now?

Cotto had built up some name recognition as a star in the sport and now that has been damaged. Margarito was not nearly as well known, so while he may be a worthy champion, he is not box office. What would be good for boxing if there was a box office fighter for Margarito to face next — Floyd Mayweather. One problem — Mayweather is retired (supposedly). I don’t buy it. Unless there is some kind of overwhelming personal reason for him to step down — and it would have to be a doozy, given the train wreck that is the personal life of the Mayweather clan — his retirement is nothing more than a negotiating ploy in the talks for a rematch against Oscar De La Hoya. The two were expected to fight again this fall (Mayweather won a decision handily the last time they fought in May 2007), but then Mayweather announced his retirement — leaving De La Hoya scrambling for an opponent for his so-called swan song of a fight.

I believe the issue is who gets the higher split in their return bout. Mayweather remains convinced he sold much of the first fight through his appearances on the HBO reality show that promoted the fight. He also engineered a publicity campaign — his “Dancing With The Stars” appearance and the WWE wrestling farce — to make himself even more marketable and put him in the position to demand more money than De La Hoya in their rematch. This was the whole idea. I had lunch in May with his manager, Washington native Leonard Ellerbe, who told me they intended to be the top dog in the negotiations, not De La Hoya.

But the reality is that De La Hoya is the bigger driving financial force, right or wrong. Mayweather creates interest, but it is De La Hoya who sells the tickets. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. Mayweather has certainly left De La Hoya hanging. De La Hoya has been trying to come up with another opponent for what is supposed to be the last fight of his career — now there is talk of him fighting the explosive and popular lightweight champion Manny Pacquiao, who fights at 135 pounds and would have to face an opponent in De La Hoya who fights in a weight class nearly 20 pounds heavier.

Meanwhile, boxing continues to chew itself up on other fronts. The best fight out there would be undefeated and popular middleweight Kelly Pavlik against super middleweight Joe Calzaghe. But Calzaghe wants no part of Pavlik, instead opting for a big payday against a washed-up Roy Jones (the fight was supposed to take place in September, but now has been delayed until November because of a hand injury to Calzaghe during training). Pavlik, meanwhile, will now fight an over-the-hill Bernard Hopkins.

So where does Antonio Margarito fit in all this? Probably a Cotto rematch.

- Thom Loverro