- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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Welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. will rise in weight and challenge junior middleweight titleholder Miguel Cotto on May 5 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas after the Nevada State Athletic Commission voted 5-0 on Wednesday to grant Mayweather a one-fight license at the conclusion of a one-hour hearing.
"Miguel Cotto is a world-class fighter who can never be taken for granted and continues to prove he is one of the best in boxing," said Mayweather, whose long-discussed match with Manny Pacquiao has been put off yet again. "It will be a challenge for me to compete with him at this weight, but this is the type of test I thrive on and gives me the motivation to train even harder. I have no doubt in my mind that my title belt collection will increase once again and Cotto's reign as champion will come to an end on May 5."
Mayweather (42-0, 26 KOs) has had one previous fight in the 154-pound division, which was when he outpointed Oscar De La Hoya to win a belt in May 2007.
The selection of Cotto (37-2, 30 KOs) as the opponent for the fight, which will be on pay-per-view (although the network that will handle the event was not announced), does not come as a big surprise. He was one of the leading names to get the fight along with fellow titleholder Saul "Canelo" Alvarez. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Cotto is the next biggest pay-per-view attraction in boxing.
"I am here to fight the biggest names in boxing," said Puerto Rico's Cotto, a three-division titleholder. "I've never ducked anyone or any challenge in front of me. I have accepted everything to give the fans what they like -- great and exciting fights. That is what the sport of boxing is all about, making the fights that the fans want and deserve to see. On May 5, stay tuned, because I will convincingly beat Floyd Mayweather."
Mayweather tweeted after the announcement, "I'm fighting Miguel Cotto on May 5th because Miss Pac Man is ducking me."
Both fighters have agreed to random blood and urine testing for the fight, which Mayweather has demanded of his recent opponents.
"What we have here are two champions of amazing caliber set to meet in the ring on May 5 and give boxing and sports fans one of the most compelling matchups in the sport's history," said Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, who will be working with Mayweather on his sixth consecutive fight even though they do not have a long-term agreement. "Floyd Mayweather has already achieved worldwide recognition as one of the best fighters ever and Miguel Cotto is one of the greatest fighters of this era.
"I commend both fighters for agreeing to fight each other on one of the biggest weekends for boxing [Cinco De Mayo, even though neither is Mexican] and also commend them for agreeing to participate in Olympic-style drug testing, a precedent set by Floyd, which continues to uphold the integrity of the sport."
Said Leonard Ellerbe, one of Mayweather's advisers, "Floyd always asks us to find the best available competition for him to fight and we have found that in Miguel Cotto. This is a very risky fight for Floyd as Miguel is a solid 154-pound champion who has already proven to have great boxing abilities and to be a very competent and strong puncher. This is a big test for Floyd, but as always I believe, he is the superior fighter with unmatched skills. This will make the difference and lead to another Mayweather victory the night of May 5."
Cotto, 31, who will be making the third defense of his title, will be in a fight without Top Rank as his promoter for the first time in his career. His contract with Bob Arum's company expired following his Dec. 3 revenge, 10th-round knockout victory against Antonio Margarito and he will be working with Golden Boy Promotions, Top Rank's archrival, on the fight with Mayweather.
When Mayweather, who turns 35 on Feb. 24, and Cotto were both promoted by Top Rank several years ago their eventual meeting was often discussed but never came about. Now it has with another company.
Top Rank president Todd duBoef, the person at Top Rank closest to Cotto, wished him well.
"Miguel Cotto is at a point in his career where he has outlined certain parameters -- that he wants only the biggest fights and this is one," duBoef said. "We have a great relationship and I think it's a credit to our relationship with him and where he is in the industry that he is a superstar because of our efforts together and I wish him luck."
Top Rank would have liked to continue promoting Cotto and had tried to negotiate a rematch between him and Pacquiao, but the fighters could not agree on the weight. Pacquiao wanted Cotto to come down several pounds to meet him at a catch weight between 147 and 154 pounds.
DuBoef said he appreciated that Cotto called him directly to tell him about the deal with Mayweather.
"I give him an incredible amount of credit because he reached out to me personally and said this was a great opportunity," duBoef said. "He had to look out for his family and this was the biggest thing out there. So for the next three months he is tied to a fight for a good opportunity. It's terrific for him. When he's done with the fight and what we do after that we'll discuss it."
Mayweather's Nevada boxing license normally would have been a rubber stamp, but the commission insisted that he appear in order to question him about the criminal case he recently made a plea deal in.
Mayweather faces an 87-day jail sentence at the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas after a plea deal on domestic violence charges related to a September 2010 incident with his ex-girlfriend Josie Harris, who is also the mother of three of his children.
It is unprecedented for the commission to grant a license to a fighter with a jail sentence pending.
Mayweather, who reclaimed one of his old welterweight titles by knocking out Victor Ortiz in the fourth round at the MGM Grand on Sept. 17, was supposed to begin his sentence on Jan. 6, but the judge in the case, Justice of the Peace Melissa Saragosa, deferred his report date to June 1 after his attorney, Richard Wright, successfully argued that he should be allowed to fight on May 5 in order to honor an existing deal with the MGM Grand and because a Mayweather fight would inject $100 million into the ailing Las Vegas economy.
Mayweather, who faced intense questioning from the commission about his legal situation, reiterated that he was not guilty of striking Harris and that the reason for his plea deal was to keep his children, two of whom were present during the incident, from having to testify. Mayweather said that he restrained Harris, whom he said was under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time.
"I feel I'm automatically guilty without getting a chance," Mayweather told the panel. "I could have fought the case. I chose to take a plea bargain."
He told the commission that he had been going to his weekly court-ordered counseling sessions and actively participating in the community service he was ordered to perform.
"If I could go back to the time when that happened, would I do something different? Absolutely," Mayweather told the commission.
The commission said it was skeptical about licensing him while he had a jail sentence pending and made a major issue out of getting Mayweather and Wright to assure it that he would begin his sentence on June 1 and not ask for any further deferrals.
"The only reason we are considering this today is because we respect the judicial system and the court granted you a deferral of your [report to jail] date," chairman Raymond "Skip" Avansino said. "We wanted to be certain that you are committing to the commission you will serve that time beginning on June 1."
At one point during the hearing commissioner Pat Lundvall asked Mayweather if he had an opponent contracted for the May 5 fight, at which point Mayweather announced that it was Cotto.
The commissioners approved the one-fight license as long as Mayweather continues to perform all of his court-ordered requirements, does not get into further trouble and does not fight his June 1 report date. If he does, the commission said it would impact his ability to be licensed in Nevada in the future.
Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission on Wednesday voted 5-0 to grant Floyd Mayweather Jr. a one-fight license to face Miguel Cotto on May 5 at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.