Cotto headed back to HBO after one-year absence

After a one-year absence, welterweight titlist Miguel Cotto is returning to HBO.

He'll defend his 147-pound title for the first time against German mandatory challenger Oktay Urkal (38-3, 12 KOs) on March 3 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where Cotto is the island's most popular active fighter.

Cotto's date and opponent were never in doubt, but the television network that would carry the fight was in question.

However, HBO won the right to televise the Puerto Rican star's next bout when Showtime did not match its offer by Monday's 5 p.m. ET deadline.

Top Rank promoter Bob Arum told ESPN.com that Showtime's contractual deadline to match came and went with no communication from the network.

"They didn't reply," Arum said. "They had a deadline and they didn't call or do anything. They just let [the deadline] expire.

"We'd have been happy at Showtime. They treated us well and we have a good relationship. HBO, of course, has the advantage of being in many more homes [roughly 35 million compared to Showtime's 15 million] and having a bigger audience, which is important because hopefully his next fight will be a pay-per-view fight against Antonio Margarito."

Cotto's return to HBO should signal at least a temporary cease fire between Arum and HBO. They have battled over dates and money for Cotto in the past year, leading to his brief defection to Showtime.

Cotto (28-0, 23 KOs) fought numerous times on HBO and was being groomed as a franchise fighter. But following his March 2006 knockout of Gianluca Branco in a junior welterweight title defense, the relationship between Arum and HBO soured.

Arum accused the network of going back on its word to televise a June 10 bout against Paulie Malignaggi from New York's Madison Square Garden on the weekend of the annual Puerto Rican Day parade, a high-profile date in the Puerto Rican community that Arum has been cultivating for Cotto fights.

Instead, HBO went with a pay-per-view bout between Bernard Hopkins and Antonio Tarver on that date and Arum mounted the competing Cotto-Malignaggi PPV event.

Tensions between Arum and HBO increased when HBO wouldn't make room in its fall schedule for Cotto's next bout either, prompting rival Showtime to swoop in and grab his Dec. 2 fight against Carlos Quintana.

Cotto knocked his countryman out in a spectacular performance to win a vacant title in his welterweight debut.

HBO executives were privately disappointed that Cotto had gotten away in the first place, and Arum said they made a strong offer to bring him back, although the terms were not disclosed.

HBO's Kery Davis couldn't be reached for comment.

After the Quintana bout, Showtime had an option for Cotto's next fight. Top Rank, however, didn't accept its offer and had the right to shop the fight elsewhere. HBO made its offer and Showtime didn't exercise its matching right.

"We played it by the book," Arum said. "Showtime did right by us with the December card. They had the opportunity to step up to the plate and match, but HBO put more money on the table."

Said Showtime boxing chief Ken Hershman, "We love Cotto, but the deal [HBO offered] was not the right deal for us to offer. We wish Cotto the best of luck."

Arum said welterweight titlist Margarito will appear in a 10-round nontitle bout on the March 3 HBO undercard. Arum and HBO hope that Cotto and Margarito both win in order to set up a June 9 HBO PPV fight between them at Madison Square Garden on the coveted Puerto Rican Day Parade weekend.

Arum said that the wrist injury Margarito (34-4, 24 KOs) suffered in his title defense against Joshua Clottey on Cotto's Dec. 2 undercard wasn't serious enough to keep him out until June.

Margarito could be stripped of his belt, however, by the time he and Cotto meet. Margarito owes Paul Williams a mandatory defense but has no intention of facing him and jeopardizing a seven-figure payday against Cotto.

Arum said the list of leading candidates for Margarito to face on March 3 consists of Andrey Tsurkan (25-2, 15 KOs), who is coming off an impressive eighth-round TKO of Hector Camacho Jr. in June, or David Estrada (19-3, 10 KOs), who went the distance with Shane Mosley in April 2005. Estrada also was stopped in the 10th round by Kermit Cintron in April 2006 in one of the most action-packed fights of the year.

Before Margarito's March 3 HBO appearance can be finalized, Arum said he must go through the formality of offering the fight to Showtime based on the terms of his contract from the Dec. 2 card.

"But I assume they will pass like the did on Cotto," Arum said. "If Showtime wants to do it, fine, but I don't think they do."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.