Legal dispute over Margarito-Williams fight settled
By Dan Rafael
For almost two months, welterweight titlist Antonio Margarito's mandatory defense against Paul Williams hung in limbo during a legal fight between their promoters over the rights to the match.
Thursday, however, Williams promoter Dan Goossen, Margarito promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank, Margarito and co-manager Francisco Espinosa were in jovial moods after signing off on a deal that put the legal issues behind them and set the fighters up to settle things in the ring.
The agreement came in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they all spent Wednesday in front of a U.S. federal judge, who was hearing the suit Goossen filed against Top Rank last month for interfering in the fight and the WBO, which refused to sanction the fight until the legal dispute was cleared up.
Following the day in court, they spent the evening at dinner hashing out a deal they all agreed should have been done weeks ago, instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. Top Rank president Todd duBoef spent the night drafting the agreement in a San Juan hotel business center in order to have it prepared for the lawyers and judges to sign off on Thursday.
"I'm very happy it's over," Arum told ESPN.com moments after the deal was accepted by the judge and the case dismissed. "I don't know why it takes going into a court to do what makes all the sense in the world."
Arum then passed the phone to Goossen, who added, "All we wanted to do was promote the Margarito-Williams fight. That was our goal. When you can accomplish that, you go back home and say, 'I'm happy.' I would have liked to take a different road to get here, but we're here. It's a great fight."
Top Rank will also drop a countersuit it filed against Goossen in Nevada for interfering with its promotional contract with Margarito.
Under the terms of the settlement, Goossen will promote the fight, which he won the right to Jan. 30 with a purse bid of $1,506,250, of which Margarito is entitled to 80 percent, or a career-high payday of $1.205 million. He will also receive an additional $395,000 that Goossen promised to pay him on top of the winning bid amount.
Top Rank objected to the purse bid result because it didn't participate at the request of Margarito. It claimed that Margarito (34-4, 24 KOs) had agreed to fight for Miguel Cotto's version of the 147-pound title June 9 instead of facing Williams (32-0, 24 KOs), which is why Top Rank didn't take part in the purse bid. Top Rank sent out a media release Jan. 29 announcing that Margarito had agreed to the Cotto fight, a release it said Margarito approved.
Top Rank also claimed that when Goossen agreed to pay Margarito more than the amount he was entitled to under the purse bid, it amounted to interference with Top Rank's exclusive promotional agreement.
Although Top Rank won't be involved in promoting Margarito-Williams, Arum said part of the settlement included Margarito signing a one-year extension to his promotional agreement with Top Rank, which will take him through at least 2008 with the company.
Also, if Margarito defeats Williams and Cotto defeats Zab Judah -- who replaced Margarito in the June 9 fight -- Margarito and Cotto will meet in the fall on HBO PPV.
"And if Margarito beats Williams and Judah beats Cotto, we will use our best efforts to make Margarito-Judah in the fall instead," said Arum, who has options on Judah in the event he defeats Cotto.
There is no set date or television outlet yet for Margarito-Williams, one of the most attractive fights in the sport. Goossen said he hoped it would happen in June, when Margarito will be ready to fight following a hand injury in a December title defense against Joshua Clottey.
"We just got out of court. I hope we will have those answers by the weekend," Goossen said. "We want to get it on sometime in June. I haven't spoken to either network [HBO and Showtime] since the settlement was made."
Arum said one of the reasons it took so long to settle the case was because of the involvement of attorney Stephen Espinoza, who was working with the Margarito camp. Arum accused Espinoza of trying to "blow up the deal" because he is also an attorney for Golden Boy Promotions, Top Rank's bitter rival.
"But the decision to finally settle thing came down to Antonio Margarito, who told one of his managers where he stood," Arum said. "He told his manager he wanted to make a deal and that he didn't have a problem with Top Rank."
Espinoza was unavailable for comment.
Since winning his title in 2002, Margarito, 29, has made seven defenses, but the 25-year-old Williams, a 6-foot-2 southpaw with power and a strong chin, figures to be his one of his most formidable opponents.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com
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