Miguel Cotto Vs. Antonio Margarito II Is A “Go,” But Only After A Near-Meltdown

(Antonio Margarito’s eye; picture via)

Boxing fans, Top Rank Promotions and the New York State Athletic Commission can all breath a big sigh of relief. This afternoon junior middleweight Antonio Margarito was given the all clear to fight in New York after an eye exam by an independent doctor. Miguel Cotto vs. Margarito II will happen at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 3.

Make no mistake, this was nearly a meltdown of the highest level. Nearly 15,000 tickets had already been sold, for a live gate approaching $2.5 million. Add to that the hotels and airfares of traveling fans and you are starting to look at a major economic disaster for all involved.

That was even before Cotto this morning refused to fight anywhere but New York. That caused Top Rank to freak out and end a media call. But if Margarito hadn’t been licensed and Cotto kept up his refusal, things would have gone Fukushima, with emphasis on the first syllable.

Cancelling the pay-per-view could have been the result. No one would have got paid. Not Top Rank. Not HBO. Not Cotto. Not Margarito. Not the undercard boxers, including lightwiehgt Brandon Rios and junior middleweight Pawel Wolak, who would have slaved in training camps only to have the rug pulled from under them at the last minute. It might have ruined New York’s reputation as a fight town for years.

In short, it would have been one of the worst debacles in this history of a sport famous for them. The disaster has been avoided, but the questions of who is culpable for the mess should remain. At the very least, so that something like this will not happen again just two weeks out from a major pay-per-view. Or any boxing event, for that matter.

Cotto was well within his rights to refuse to move with the show. He signed on the basis that it would take place in the Garden, a Puerto Rican stronghold. Moreover, as he stated, if Margarito wasn’t licensed in NY then he probably shouldn’t be fighting anywhere. None of this had anything to do with him. Some suggested Cotto’s stance was a play for more money or a way to avoid a fight that he never wanted in the first place. That’s pure speculation, and I’d suggest that if he didn’t want the fight, he would have chosen not to be involved from the get go.

The question of who should shoulder the guilt between Top Rank Promotions and the NYSAC has already been debated, almost ad nauseum. TQBR suspects that when the smoke clears, there will be plenty to go around. There are those scribes and fans who have already jumped to favour one side or the other.

Maxboxing’s Steve Kim for instance, who was early to point the finger at the NYSAC, suspects that the commission was playing chicken with Top Rank, hoping that they’d sub out Margarito for another opponent. In his view, Top Rank has bravely stood up to the “Kangaroo Court of Gotham City.” He then quotes an anonymous “insider” at length who largely contradicts that theory, but does shed light on some of the political pressures involved. Kim goes on to say that “We can all act like concerned citizens,” but if medically damaged fighters want to fight, we should be able to watch them. Not even enough time to address that worrying viewpoint here.

It’s also clear that the NYSAC’s handling of the whole issue means that there are still huge question marks hanging over Margarito. As friend of the site @linusesq points out, in the end it wasn’t up to the doctor, he merely advised the commissioners, who made their decision. We don’t know whether he actually said that Margarito is ready to fight, merely that he “passed.” And we don’t know what the test was.

It all may hinge on whether Top Rank submitted Margarito’s paperwork when the NYSAC requested it, which they say they did, or whether it arrived much later, which is what the NYSAC claims. It’s pretty obvious that the commissioner shouldn’t have been at a press conference for an event that didn’t have all the wrinkles ironed out of it yet. Either way, both sides should have been much more aware of the baggage and medical issues that Margarito was bringing into the fight.

Even if the all the facts are never revealed, one thing is clear: Fights should not continue to be organised in this way and this should never happen again. Especially when fighters are bringing preexisting medical conditions into combat. “It’s always been done this way” is not a justification for bad practice. Where possible, medical exams and licensing should be done well ahead of time. That might not be practical for all fights, but for fights of this magnitude it is.

If some modicum of reform is this result of all this mess, then we’ll get more than just a great night of fights on the 3rd of December. We’ll have a safer, better organised sport. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.