NYSAC chairwoman Melvina Lathan (above) attended a Sept. 20 press conference announcing Cotto-Margarito II. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
HOUSTON -- The Dec. 3 show headlined by the rematch between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito may end up at Madison Square Garden after all, this after the New York State Athletic Commission on Friday elected to table a vote on Margarito's license and asked that Margarito submit to an exam by a doctor approved by the commission.
And if you think that not knowing whether or not to license the headliner of a multi-million dollar promotion just over two weeks before the fight is a little bizarre, well, you're right. A little context:
After a three-hour meeting with the NYSAC on Wednesday, Bob Arum, who promotes both Cotto and Margarito, was prepared to take the Cotto-Margarito show out of New York. Despite flying in two top eye doctors who testified that Margarito -- who had an artificial lens inserted in his right eye to correct a cataract problem that resulted from his brutal 2010 loss to Manny Pacquiao in November 2010 -- was fit to fight, Arum knew he had lost. The commission appeared disinterested in his doctors and Arum left the room resigned to the fact they were going to vote against him.
On Thursday, SI.com confirmed that was indeed the case. Arum was prepared to lock down Cowboys Stadium as an alternate venue and talked about possibly putting 40,000 people in a scaled-down building. Margarito had submitted all the proper paperwork for a license in Texas, and was expected to get it. They were moving on.
Then all hell broke loose.
According to sources close to the process, the NYSAC has been under enormous pressure in the last 24 hours to approve Margarito. Cotto-Margarito means big business in New York. Tickets for the Dec. 3 show were more than 90 percent sold. The influx of cash from ticket sales, concessions and revenue generated by businesses around the Garden would be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more. Not to mention that the impact of the NBA lockout has already caused the Garden and the surrounding businesses a lot of money. Since Thursday night, sources say, representatives from the city, state and MSG have lobbied the commission to push the license through.
The pressure put the commission in a precarious position. Politics was suddenly a major factor. Their doctors believe Margarito should not be licensed, that his cataract injury puts him at risk for greater, possibly permanent, damage. So they compromised, essentially saying that if an independent, NYSAC-approved doctor clears you, so will we.
Conversely, this exponentially increases the possibility that Margarito will ultimately be licensed. At breakfast this morning, Arum, Lou DiBella and Ron Rizzo, who were all in town for Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.'s middleweight title defense against Peter Manfredo on Saturday, sat restlessly for three hours waiting for a decision. When it came down Arum told me Margarito would submit to an exam by a doctor, with the condition that it be a doctor both his doctors and the NYSAC approve.
In all likelihood, they will find one who will rubber-stamp the license. Now, doing so probably puts this doctor at significant risk. If he approves Margarito and Margarito suffers permanent damage against Cotto -- a strong possibility given the fact that Cotto hates Margarito because he believes he fought their first fight with loaded gloves -- he could open himself up to a potential lawsuit. But two presumably qualified, high-skilled doctors already said Margarito was OK. Finding a third should not be too difficult.
This would be great (and unexpected) news for Arum, who has been beyond frustrated since Wednesday. The cost of canceling the hotel rooms alone, Arum said, would have set Top Rank back $500,000. Beyond that, a Cotto-Margarito fight in New York, where Cotto is enormously popular, would create an incredible atmosphere. While Arum was confident sites in Texas, Colorado and Mississippi would provide solid alternatives, his team had put a lot of work in marketing the fight in New York. He wanted it to stay there.
Will it? We should know for sure in the next couple of days. Right now, it says here, the chances are pretty good.
-- Chris Mannix