Former welterweight champion Antonio Margarito was approved to fight in Texas on Thursday, which clears the way for a potentially lucrative fight against pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao at the opulent Cowboys Stadium in November.
The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation received an application from Margarito on Monday and decided Thursday to grant his request. The decision came after Margarito was denied an application to fight in California and had another application tabled in Nevada.
Margarito is expected to face Pacquiao for a vacant junior middleweight title on Nov. 13.
"I want to thank the state of Texas for granting me a boxing license, which enables me to continue my passion for the sport of boxing in the United States," Margarito said in a statement sent to The Associated Press. "I have dedicated my life to giving the fans of the sport entertainment and excitement. On Nov. 13, this great opportunity will ultimately be fulfilled."
Margarito hasn't fought in the United States since January 2009, when a plaster-like substance was found in his hand wraps before a fight against Shane Mosley in Los Angeles. Margarito's license along with that of his former trainer, Javier Capetillo, were revoked for at least one year by the California State Athletic Commission, a decision that was upheld by other states.
The "Tijuana Tornado" honored the revocation, even though he denied knowing anything about the illegal hand wraps. He could have fought outside the U.S. during his yearlong suspension, but didn't return to the ring until May 8, about 16 months after his fight against Mosley.
Moving up to junior middleweight, Margarito coasted to a win over Roberto Garcia in Mexico.
It was never a sure thing that Margarito would be licensed in Texas, and promoter Top Rank had discussed contingency plans that included taking the fight to Mexico or Dubai.
Officials in Texas examined numerous documents relating to the case, including the initial revocation of Margarito's license in California, transcripts from his hearing, his subsequent application from earlier this month, and a letter from the Association of Boxing Commissions to members instructing them to make their own decision on whether to issue him a license.
"After a thorough review of his application it was determined Mr. Margarito met the requirements of the Texas Combative Sports Act and Rules," Executive Director William Kuntz said in a statement posted on the department's website. "Based on the review of the above information, I have authorized the issuance of a license to Mr. Margarito."
The decision was important not only to those involved in the fight, but also to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, his year-old stadium and the state of Texas.
Any fight involving Pacquiao means big business for the host, including massive crowds and hundreds of thousands of pay-per-view purchases. Pacquiao drew 51,000 fans to Cowboys Stadium in March, despite facing the relatively unknown Joshua Clottey.
Jones said he's already been in touch with Top Rank and, although there are still some details to work out, most of the major points involved in the fight have been agreed upon.
"We have a few things to work out, then we'll have an announcement — soon, certainly within days," Jones told the AP. "It was worth the wait. I'm pleased that we're in the position we are."
Fans had been hoping to see Pacquiao face Floyd Mayweather Jr. this fall in what could have been the richest fight in the sport's history. However, Mayweather has refused to a sign a contract to face the popular Filipino champion and Pacquiao was forced to look elsewhere for a fight, finally settling on Margarito — both fighters are promoted by Top Rank.
The choice has drawn the ire of many fans who don't believe that Margarito should not receive the lucrative payday after what has transpired over the past 18 months. Still, Margarito remains wildly popular in Mexico and the matchup should outdraw the last crowd at Cowboys Stadium.
"This is a good one because we know Margarito — with our fan base, in our area — if we do the fight, then it'll be a big draw," Jones said.
AP Sports Writer Jaime Aron in Dallas contributed to this report.