Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Two legitimate title claimants. Complementary ring styles. And a fierce natural rivalry.
It was a perfect recipe for welterweight greatness 27 years ago, but the winner that night in Las Vegas thinks this weekend's Cotto-Margarito follow-up at the MGM Grand Garden will require a dash of something extra to remain salient 147-pound conversation come 2035.
"They need to provide a defining moment somewhere along the way," said Ray Leonard, who rallied dramatically to stop Thomas Hearns in the 14th round of their WBC/WBA showdown on Sept. 16, 1981. "That's what boxing doesn't have so many of anymore, and that's what this fight will need.
"You remember my fight with Tommy because of a moment. You think of Tommy's fight with Marvin Hagler and you remember a moment. And you think of Ali and Frazier and Ali and Foreman and all of the other legendary fights because they had moments. This fight has to have one, too, and I think it will."
Miguel Cotto will risk his WBA welterweight crown for the fifth time when he faces Margarito.
Already a former champ at 140 pounds, the 27-year-old Cotto will risk his WBA welterweight crown for the fifth time when he faces Margarito, now 30, who made seven defenses of the WBO title from 2002-06 and recently captured the division's IBF belt with a sixth-round stoppage of Kermit Cintron, a trinket he's since relinquished.
Saturday's winner will ascend to 147-pound kingpin status made available when WBC champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. abruptly retired in early June.
Additionally, he'll stake a legitimate claim to the No. 1 pound-for-pound ranking that's already being pursued by names like Pacquiao, Pavlik, Calzaghe and Klitschko.
Then 25 and 27, Leonard and Hearns were on equally elite career tracks nearly three decades ago.
Hearns won the WBA welterweight belt from Pipino Cuevas and defended it with three straight knockouts in 1980-81, while Leonard won the WBC title in 1979, lost it to Roberto Duran in 1980 and regained it five months later. He stepped up seven pounds in a final Hearns tune-up to down WBA 154-pound champ Ayub Kalule.
"The build-up seems to be the same, so there won't be any problem creating excitement about the fight," Hearns said, in a Monday FitzHitz interview. "But you're comparing it to one of the greatest fights of all time, whether you saw it on TV or were there in person. So they're both going to have to bring their 'A' games in order to match it.
"And dont forget, even though I'm a little biased, the division now is nowhere near as loaded. You had Leonard then. You had Duran. You had four, five, six guys who were all very good. If you beat Ray, you had to fight Duran and then you had to fight Pipino. And then you had to come see me, and I wasn't the easiest guy in the world."
Hearns won titles at four more weights after the 1981 loss, while Leonard defended his dual welterweight belts just once prior to a two-year hiatus prompted by eye injuries. He returned for one fight at 147 in 1984, upset Hagler in 1987 and fought five more times -- including a draw in a 1989 rematch with Hearns -- before retiring for good in 1997.
He laughed off talk of a third fight with the Michigan-based "Hitman," who left the sport due to injury in 2000, scored KOs in a pair of comeback bouts and insists that he's not through campaigning for another world championship bout, even though he'll turn 50 in October.
"I saw Tommy a couple months ago and he said we needed to go for a third round together," Leonard said Tuesday, "But it's a total 'No way' for me. I appreciate that he thinks of me and wants to continue our rivalry, but I'm a grandfather now. That pretty much puts it into perspective for me. I'll be satisfied with the flashbacks."
Flashbacks, yes -- but not predictions.
Though both plan to attend Saturdays show and both expect a competitive main event, neither of the ex-champs was prepared to make a bold statement on a winner.
Hearns claimed a lack of sufficient exposure to Cotto or Margarito to hazard a respectable guess, while Leonard played the "too close to call" card with the Puerto Rican and Mexican fan favorites.
"This is one of those fights that has people very intrigued for a good reason," he said. "There's the power of both guys and the body shots of both guys. And when theyre trying to get to the next level, anything can happen. This reminds me of the fights from back in the day where at any given moment, either guy can win."
FitzHitz says: Cotto in 10.
Five other championship bouts round out a busy week in the ring.
In the final run-up to Cotto-Margarito on Saturday, unbeaten Giovanni Segura meets Cesar Canchila for the WBAs interim light flyweight title and the chance to eventually meet the sanctioning body's recognized "champion in recess," Brahim Asloum.
The No. 1-ranked challenger at 108 pounds, Segura is 19-0-1 with 15 KOs and was most recently active last October, when he stopped Wilfrido Valdez in one round.
Canchila, ranked No. 2 by the WBA, is 26-1 with 21 KOs and hasn't lost since 2003. He's scored stoppages in 10 straight wins, including a second-rounder against Deivis Narvaez three months ago in his native Colombia.
FitzHitz says: Segura by decision.
Elsewhere on Saturday, at 115 pounds, No. 4 contender AJ Banal meets No. 7 ranked Rafael Concepcion for the WBAs interim super flyweight crown at the Cebu Coliseum in Cebu City, Philippines.
Cristian Mijares, who also holds the WBC's title, is recognized by the WBA as a "unified champion." He's next scheduled to defend his belts in late August.
Banal, who'll turn 20 in December, has won 17 straight fights since a two- round technical draw in his pro debut back in 2005. He stopped previously unbeaten Caril Herrera in his last fight, an IBF title eliminator on April 6 in Manila.
Concepcion is 10-2-1 over a six-year pro career and rebounded from two knockdowns to stop Jean Piero Perez in three rounds in his last fight on March 27 in Panama City. Hes won seven straight overall, including four by KO.
FitzHitz says: Banal in 4.
On Sunday in Indonesia, hometown favorite Chris John risks his WBA featherweight crown for the 10th time when he faces Ugandan-born and Australian-based contender Jackson Asiku at the Dunia Fantasi Amusement Park in Jakarta.
Now 41-0-1 with 22 KOs, John stopped Roinet Caballero in seven rounds in his last defense on Jan. 26, though he's still probably best known for a controversial decision win over Juan Manuel Marquez in 2006, during which Marquez was twice penalized for low blows.
The 29-year-old Asiku will be making his third appearance in Jakarta and fighting for the first time since a fourth-round TKO of Matt Powell in Australia last December. He is 22-3 with 12 KOs in a career that began in 2000.
FitzHitz says: John by decision.
And finally, on Wednesday, dueling flyweight champions take the stage at the Yoyogi First Gym in Tokyo, in the 112-pound boxing version of Japanese cable TV staple "Ninja Warrior."
WBA title-holder Takefumi Sakata makes his fourth defense when he faces off against No. 3-ranked challenger Hiroyuki Hisataka, while WBC incumbent Daisuke Naito risks his crown for the third time against No. 13 contender Tomonobu Shimizu.
Sakata has reigned since a third-round TKO of Lorenzo Parra in March 2007 and has since improved to 32-4-2 with 15 stoppages. Naito was beaten by Pongsaklek Wonjongkam in his initial title try in 2005, but returned to beat the Thai southpaw two years later.
He's defended with a unanimous decision over Daiki Kameda last October and followed up with a draw against Wonjongkam in their fourth career go-round in March.
Hisataka ended a three-fight skid and improved to 16-6-1 overall with a 10- round defeat of Australian veteran Hussein Hussein in December. Shimizu is 15-2 and has won three straight since suffering a broken nose and losing via seventh-round TKO to Wonjongkam in April 2007.
FitzHitz says: Sakata in 9; Naito by decision.
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He provides "In The Ring" commentary for Speeding Bullet Network (speedingbulletnetwork.com), is a periodic contributor to "The Drive with Dave Smith" on KLAA radio (am830klaa.com) and can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.