By Jake Donovan
One way or another, Top Rank’s stacked pay-per-view card will still go on as planned for December 3.
The greatest question at the moment is where the show will be held.
“Can you believe this? We’re 2,000 tickets away from a complete sellout, and the New York State Athletic Commission wants to pull this nonsense,” stated an enraged Bob Arum when approached by BoxingScene.com on Thursday afternoon over the status of Antonio Margarito’s license for his rematch with Miguel Cotto.
Original plans called for the highly anticipated rematch to their July ’08 thriller – won by Margarito via 10th round stoppage – to take place at the world famous Madison Square Garden in New York City. The promotion began in early October, and was also used as a platform to help draw more attention to bantamweight champ Nonito Donaire in his own NYC debut a few weeks ago.
Donaire’s showcase was a rousing success at the box office, drawing over 5,000 fans into The Theatre at MSG for his October 22 win over previously unbeaten Omar Narvaez. The fight itself was largely forgettable, but the buzz was a sight to see (and hear), serving as a preview for the big show to come to town six weeks later.
Those plans are now in serious jeopardy, however, as the vibe Top Rank received upon Wednesday’s hearing was that Friday’s announcement will reveal that Margarito will be denied a license to fight in the state of New York.
The troubled Mexican has struggled to pick up the pieces in his career following the fallout from his handwrap scandal prior to his January ’09 loss to Shane Mosley. In addition to catching what was then a career-worst beating and a humiliating stoppage loss, Margarito subsequently had his license revoked by the California State Athletic Commission, along with a minimum suspension of one year before he could apply anywhere else.
Margarito’s efforts to have his license renewed in Nevada and California last year were well publicized. His request was denied by the California commission, though he was still free to apply elsewhere. Nevada – which was the site of his first fight with Cotto – tabled his application pending further review from California, but Margarito never bothered to head back to the state since it was decided that his pursued fight with Manny Pacquiao would not land there.
He eventually received his license in Texas – which had initially rejected his request earlier in the year – and faced Pacquiao at Cowboys Stadium last November. He suffered a brutal beating in the fight despite lasting all 12 rounds, and has since been forced to visit an ophthalmologist for eye surgery.
It was the surgery and not the hand wrap scandal that had the New York State Athletic Commission concerned, which led to Wednesday’s closed doors hearing.
The hearing was attended by several members of Top Rank, as well as Margarito and two separate leading ophthalmologists to provide testimony. According to Arum, their statements were challenged by NYSAC Commissioner Melvina Latham, suggesting that stories were being told in the hopes of improving the chances of Margarito receiving his license.
“It’s a complete kangaroo commission up there,” Arum said. “We had the hearing (Wednesday), where they were to hear testimony from two of the best ophthalmologists in the country. The commission completely sandbagged us.
“During their testimony, Melvina Lathan – the commissioner – turns around and says, “Don’t believe them; they’re lying.” This woman who knows nothing says that the two leading ophthalmologists are lying. A building that is 90% sold out and they’re going to pull this.”
The incident caused the Hall of Fame promoter to take in the reality that a location in another state would have to be sought in order to keep the show alive and on schedule for December 3. There still remains the chance that Margarito is licensed and things move as planned at Madison Square Garden, but Top Rank prefers to get ahead of the curve.
“The official hearing will be held tomorrow. I don’t know what will occur, but regardless, the government should throw them all out of office,” Arum insisted.
In the event that Margarito’s license is rejected, Top Rank will search for locations in states where he is already cleared to fight. This means having to put tickets on sale in a microwaved promotion which will now go up against the Thanksgiving holiday season.
Fortunately, finding a new home should prove to be a less daunting task than waiting out the ruling from the NYSAC.
“Margarito is licensed in Texas, Mississippi and Colorado,” Arum reveals. “In fact the Texas commissioner just called me to ask about the possibility of bringing the fight here. New York will make an official ruling tomorrow, and we’ll just have to take it from there.”
Arum is currently in Houston to promote this weekend’s middleweight bout between unbeaten titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and veteran Peter Manfredo Jr. The bout will be televised by HBO and the soon-to-be 80 year old promoter would prefer to focus solely on this event, but is forced to contend with this latest development.
Should the fight be forced to move, any of the locations in which Margarito is licensed removes hometown advantage for Cotto.
The wildly popular Puerto Rican, who has won titles in three weight classes, was looking forward to returning to New York for the first time since last summer’s 154 lb. title win over Yuri Foreman at Yankee Stadium. The backdrop of a rabid crowd filled with Puerto Ricans and Nuyoricans would be a fitting contrast to the West Coast setting of Las Vegas where the first fight took place.
But with the priority now on making sure the fight happens on schedule, Cotto will be forced to make due with the hand he is ultimately dealt.
“We’ve kept Miguel up to date on all of this,” Arum stated. “He’s not happy, but what is he supposed to do? The show has to go on.”
Where exactly the show will go will be revealed sometime after Friday’s anticipated hearing.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]