After days of uncertainty, the New York State Athletic Commission on Tuesday granted Antonio Margarito a boxing license, ensuring that he will challenge junior middleweight titlist Miguel Cotto in a much-anticipated rematch Dec. 3 at Madison Square Garden.
"There is a fight. This gotta be a chapter in my book," Top Rank promoter Bob Arum exclaimed after watching the commission hearing on a live webcast.
The commission had reservations about licensing Margarito because of a serious eye injury he suffered in a lopsided decision loss to Manny Pacquiao last November. Margarito suffered a badly broken orbital bone in his face and developed a cataract in his right eye.
"We went through a lot and Antonio saw every doctor he was asked to see and all of them gave us the same news -- that everything was great and that there was no reason for him not to be approved," Sergio Diaz, Margarito's co-manager, said. "When we told Antonio he was licensed, he was screaming and he was happy. Now he is saying he has to take care of business come Dec. 3."
Margarito and his team at first considered the injury to be career ending. However, he eventually had cataract surgery and an artificial lens placed in his eye by renowned specialist Dr. Alan Crandall -- who had previously performed cataract surgery on Arum and his wife, Lovey -- in Salt Lake City this past spring.
But as a matter of policy, the New York commission -- chairperson Melvina Lathan, Edwin Torres and Thomas Santino -- denies applicants with the kind of eye issues Margarito has, although it is within its rights to give a license.
The commission denied Margarito a license in early November but granted him a hearing to make his case. It took place last Wednesday during which Crandall and Dr. Rolando Toyo, who has worked as an eye doctor for multiple professional sports teams, testified that Margarito was fit to fight. The commission doctor and a member of its medical advisory panel disagreed.
On Friday, rather than voting on the application, the commission ordered Margarito to leave his training camp in Mexico and fly to New York to be examined by a doctor of its choosing.
Margarito broke camp Sunday night and flew on a Top Rank-charted private plane to New York. He spent Monday seeing doctors.
"We understood New York was trying to cover themselves and get assurances from the doctor they picked. But we felt confident all this time," Diaz said.
In order to be armed with yet another opinion, Top Rank first brought Margarito to see Dr. Kenneth Rosenthal, who is the president of the New York Intraocular Lens Implant Society. According to Top Rank's Carl Moretti, who was with Margarito at the appointment, Rosenthal's opinion was that Margarito was "fit to fight and it was like a travesty if he wouldn't be cleared to fight."
Later Monday, Margarito was examined by commission-selected ophthalmologist Dr. Michael Goldstein, whose report supported those of Crandall, Toyo and Rosenthal.
Margarito returned to Mexico Monday night and the commission convened Tuesday afternoon more than an hour late, and then immediately went into executive session to deliberate. When the commissioners reappeared more than 90 minutes later, Torres, speaking in place of Lathan, who said she had laryngitis, made the announcement.
It included the fact that as part of its decision to license Margarito it had also considered the hand-wrapping scandal that saw him have his license revoked in California for trying to enter the ring with loaded wraps for a January 2009 fight with Shane Mosley and a subsequent 16-month suspension.
"Evidence has been introduced, including an affidavit from the applicant himself, detailing the rehabilitation steps taken to ensure that all of the rules of the commission will be followed," Torres said. "After due consideration of the evidence of rehabilitation the commission finds the issuance of a license to the applicant not to be contrary to the best interests of boxing."
That was never expected to be an issue in Margarito's licensing, but then Santino turned to the eye issue.
"Further, following the thorough examination performed by Dr. Goldstein and his testimony that it is his opinion that the condition of Mr. Margarito's eye is such that he is fit to be in the ring, the commission rules that Mr. Margarito's petition for licensure in New York is granted."
Moretti, who was at Tuesday's meeting with Top Rank president Todd duBoef, and Margarito's attorneys, David Moroso and Daniel Petrocelli, said they were all pleased with the commission vote.
"The tension in the room, you could cut it with a knife," he said. "I'm drained because all Todd and I wanted, and what all of us wanted, was for this fight to happen in New York because it's important for the sport. You have a Madison Square Garden that is almost sold out -- and I bet it will be sold out in the next day or two -- with electricity running through it. If we had to move the show, it wouldn't have had the same impact. Just the fact that we got the license and it came down to the 11th and half hour, it's unreal."
Said Diaz, "It's been a real pain in the neck but it was something we had to go through. We couldn't run. Antonio has been fighting for this. There wasn't anything any of us were trying to hide about his injury. We were open to any kind of exam."
Arum was glad the saga was over.
"I think you got to commend the commission that they were thoughtful and deliberative and that having Margarito fly in to be examined by a doctor designated by them, while an inconvenience, I think was something that was good to do because you can have doctors opining about this and that, but if they don't examine the patient you can't get a full feel," Arum said. "That being said, the criticism I have is why wasn't this done before the press conference (to announce the fight) in September? One way or another it would alleviated all the problems.
"If he had passed at that time none of this would have occurred. If not, we would have moved on to another state because we felt that having had him treated by Crandall, the leading (eye) doctor in the country, maybe the world, and having a retinal specialist check him out, morally we were on the high ground. We believed his eye was as good as anyone's based on Crandall's treatment."
Had Margarito been denied a license, Top Rank was making plans to move the card, with the Pepsi Center in Denver the leading candidate.
However, Cotto threw Arum for a loop earlier Tuesday when he said on a teleconference with boxing reporters that if Margarito did not receive a New York license, he would not fight. He said he had signed to fight in New York -- where his Puerto Rican fan base has gobbled up most of the tickets -- and would not go anywhere else.
Margarito (38-7, 27 KOs) and Cotto (36-2, 29 KOs) first met in 2008 in what turned out to be a tremendous action fight. Margarito came on strong in the later rounds and stopped Cotto in the 11th round of a bloody battle, taking his welterweight belt at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Because Margarito was caught trying to fight Mosley with loaded hand wraps in his next fight, and had administered significant facial damage to Cotto in the later rounds, many suspected he had gotten away with wearing illegal hand wraps, making the Dec. 3 fight a much-anticipated grudge rematch.
Dan Rafael is ESPN.com's boxing writer.