Boxing: Fight is off as Akinwande fails hepatitis test

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The Independent Online
TONIGHT at Madison Square Garden, London-born Henry Akinwande was hoping to earn over $2m and redemption for an awful display against Lennox Lewis.

However, the result of a pre-fight blood test, announced yesterday, revealed that the 32-year-old former World Boxing Organisation boxing champion is carrying the highly infectious hepatitis B and Akinwande's challenge to the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation champion, Evander Holyfield, was cancelled amid much confusion.

Desperate to salvage the show, the fight's promoters arranged a second blood test for Akinwande. But the result was the same. He was the second heavyweight to be pulled from the show as a result of hepatitis. Ray Mercer, another former WBO champion, was found to be carrying the virus on Thursday.

Full recovery from hepatitis B can take between six weeks and six months, but the condition can become chronic.

"It's kind of strange to wait to the last minute to test for things like this," Holyfield said. "They test me early. I'm the most medically supervised fighter in boxing. Remember I'm supposed to be ill."

Holyfield was referring to his April 1994 defeat against Michael Moorer after which he was diagnosed as having a heart condition. He was subsequently given the all clear.

The champion's personal physician, Chris Vaughns, said: "From our understanding, Henry Akinwande is in an infectious state and there's no way he can be allowed to fight under those circumstances. Hepatitis is very contagious."

Holyfield said: "It's disappointing to train for 13 weeks, to prepare for a fight, and then the day before the fight this happens. Two weeks, three weeks is different, but the day before is kind of hard to take."

The fight, the first heavyweight championship bout at Madison Square Garden since Riddick Bowe destroyed cocaine ravaged Michael Dokes in in February 1993, had not captured the New York public's imagination. On Thursday, the Garden announced that 7,000 tickets had been distributed. Distributed does not mean sold. There were odious comparisons between this promotion and the Spice Girls concerts at the arena, which sold out within 12 minutes of the box office being opened. And last night's World Wrestling Federation show was another 18,000 seat sell-out. Tickets for tonight were apparently being offered to local outlets at half price.

Nobody expected a competitive fight, perhaps not even Holyfield, which could only have been to Akinwande's benefit. At worst, the challenger had nothing to lose and under those circumstances, strange things can happen. But nobody could have predicted this development.

Akinwande's manager, Jean-Christophe Courreges, said: "Henry's in great shape. Even today he is feeling good. He will be leaving for Detriot and more tests and then we will prepare for a rescheduled date."

The show's promoters considered whether to go ahead with the supporting bout, featuring the veteran Roberto Duran's challenge to William Joppy, the WBA middleweight champion, as the new main event. Had that been the case, Duran would have fought for nothing; his $250,000 purse was due to be withheld on the orders of a Florida court as a result of outstanding child support payments.

An outside possibility was that Holyfield would still defend his titles, but against the world No 3 John Ruiz, of Boston. But neither prospect appealed to TV network Showtime, the major financial force behind this promotion, who decided that neither of the prospective replacement headliners was likely to turn on their pay-per-view audience. They elected to cut their losses and pull the plug on the entire event.

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