It's hard not to take the cynical view that the licensing process for Antonio Margarito in New York was orchestrated to drive ratings for HBO's 24/7 series to promote Saturday's fight against WBA super light-middleweight champion Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden.
But the fact is that Cotto-Margarito already was within 1,400 tickets of a sellout, and on the day when the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) promised to render a decision on Margarito's license, the Garden sold another 95 tickets to a fight that still was up in the air.
"I assumed there's going to be zero tickets sold," Todd DuBoeuf of Top Rank Promotions said on Tuesday minutes after Margarito was licensed. "Who [is] buying a ticket? They said 95 tickets sold [on Monday]. I said, 'What? Do they know something I don't know?' "
The New York commission ultimately approved Margarito to fight after he underwent surgery in May to remove a cataract in his right eye and implant an artificial lens. In the past, cataract surgery was automatic grounds for disapproval in New York. That's why Margarito's license was denied on Oct. 31 at the original hearing.
NYSAC reversed that decision only after listening to an appeal on Nov. 16 that included testimony from Dr. Alan S. Crandall of the John Moran Eye Institute in Salt Lake City, who performed the corrective surgery. It then had Margarito break training camp to fly to New York from Mexico City to be examined on Monday by Dr. Michael Goldstein, who was approved by NYSAC.
The fact NYSAC reached the right decision is good, but the process was flawed. When the fight was announced in September, NYSAC, along with the boxing media, was well aware Margarito had undergone eye surgery. That was the time to raise safety questions.
It's troublesome that the commission, which is chaired by Melvina Lathan and includes retired judge Edwin Torres and former boxer Tommaso Santino, waited until the 11th hour to raise its questions. A final decision was reached just 11 days before the fight was scheduled to take place.
"No, it should not have come to this," said Los Angeles-based attorney Daniel Petrocelli, who represented Margarito in the hearing. "I understand the commission was determined to get to the bottom of the health of Mr. Margarito's eye, but this process should have been expedited and streamlined in a way that would not have brought us to the eve of this fight.
"I find that the process in this commission needs some re-examination. The procedures need to be more clear and formalized to allow for a greater opportunity to be heard and to present the case. I don't think it's an advisable or fair procedure."
Petrocelli has extensive experience with the top boxing commissions across the country. He said other commissions follow a more formal, structured procedure that is similar to how a court case would be handled. Petrocelli suggested the New York commission might have been influenced by the Association of Boxing Commissions, which has a policy that says all states should uphold suspensions in other states.
Margarito still is under suspension in California, where a former trainer was found to have used "plaster" in his hand wraps before his fight against Sugar Shane Mosley. The wraps were corrected, and Mosley won the fight. But Margarito remains under suspension because the California commission wanted to see further evidence of rehabilitation.
Petrocelli called that decision "piling on."
Regardless of that situation, it's disturbing that NYSAC made its decision 11 days before the fight. The process was anything but transparent. None of the commissioners answered a single media question, communicating only through news releases.
New York is accustomed to staging big-time fights, but the New York State Athletic Commission is less accessible than the governor of the state. That's a situation that needs to be corrected by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who should appoint a new commission.