Evander Holyfield never really wanted to fight Henry Akinwande. Now he won't have to.
The heavyweight title fight was called off Friday, a day before the bout, because Akinwande tested positive for hepatitis B. A doctor said Akinwande was infectious and that his sparring partners should also be tested for the disease."I guess I'm the guy things happen to," said Holyfield, who was informed the fight was off when he arrived at Madison Square Garden for his final pre-fight workout. Holyfield went back to his hotel in hopes he would get a last-minute opponent, but the entire card was canceled a few hours later.
"Seems kind of strange to wait to the last minute," Holyfield said. "But I'm already in shape. If you don't fight, you don't get paid either."
Promoters officially said the fight was postponed indefinitely and held out hope that a second set of tests conducted Friday could prove the first tests wrong and the fight could be rescheduled within a month or so.
But if the tests simply confirm the earlier results - which experts say are rarely wrong - doctors said Akinwande could be infectious for several more months. Since Holyfield was fighting Akinwande only because it was a mandatory WBA title defense, it was unlikely he would get another title chance.
"It (the test) doesn't tell how he got it or how long he'll have it for," said Dr. Donald Kaminsky of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "It's very unpredictable."
Akinwande was tested on Tuesday, and the New York State Athletic Commission said it got the results Friday morning. Ticket sales had been poor, but they picked up in the last two days and promoters said that had nothing to do with the fight being called off.
Earlier, a woman boxer was pulled off the card because she was 21 weeks pregnant, and veteran heavyweight Ray Mercer was also declared medically ineligible.
"It's just one of those things. There's nothing else I can say," promoter Don King said. "I'm just very sorry for Henry Akinwande to lose this opportunity to fight for the crown at this time."
Akinwande, after undergoing a second set of tests Friday, prepared to leave for Detroit to see a doctor there. He did not appear for the press conference held to formally call off the fight.
"He's really sorry he can't fight," Akinwande's manager, Jean Courreges, said. "He looks to fight Evander again as soon as his physical condition allows him."
Kaminsky said hepatitis B can be contracted through exchange of bodily fluids, blood, sexual activity or something such as a shared toothbrush. He said there are 300,000 new cases of the disease in the United States a year and that it is epidemic in certain parts of Africa.
Kaminsky said the acute form of the disease runs its course in several weeks, but can become chronic in a small percentage of the population. He recommended that Akinwande's sparring partners also be tested.
Akinwande, who was born in England but grew up in Nigeria, now fights out of Orlando, Fla.
"It's disappointing," said Holyfield, who had made no secret of his lack of desire to fight the WBA's No. 1 contender. "You prepare yourself for 13 weeks and then this happens."
Hepatitis B can cause serious liver problems. The disease can be treated successfully, but not always. Hepatitis A is typically a food-borne disease that can pass quickly.
The fight was supposed to top a card that included 46-year-old Roberto Duran fighting for a title nine years after he lost his middleweight crown to Sugar Ray Leonard.
It was to have been televised via pay-per-view by the Showtime network. Instead, fans who bought tickets will get refunds beginning Monday.
"We're upset because we would have liked to have this testing process several days ago, not today," Showtime executive vice president Jay Larkin said. "He (Akinwande) was requested to take it earlier and he didn't."
Larkin said ticket sales had picked up for the fight and tracking showed that it would be marginally successful on pay-per-view.
"We were actually starting to be optimistic," he said. "We were heading for clear sailing."