Curtis Harper: The Walk Heard Around The World:
Perhaps the strangest story in boxing from this weekend, and maybe in recent memory, came in Minneapolis on the televised portion of a Premier Boxing Champions card.
In one of the fights, heavyweight prospect Efe Ajagba was supposed to fight 18-fight veteran Curtis Harper in a six-round bout. After both men got final instructions by the referee, the two boxers went to their respective corners to start the match and when the bell sounded to start the match, Harper walked out of the ring and into the locker rooms for seemingly no reason, causing mass confusion in the Armory as no one could make out what was going on.
It was then shortly revealed by PBC reporter Jordan Hardy that Harper walked out in protest due to what he believed was disrespect towards him and was unhappy toward the amount of money he was paid.
Fightful reached out to the Minnesota Office of Combative Sports and was given this short statement regarding the matter. The commission told Fightful that Harper has not been paid and that the commission is still investigating the matter. A decision on whether or not Harper will be suspended will be decided "within the next week," according to a commission representative. Harper’s purse for the fight would have been $6,000.
“Where we’re at is that, as far as we know, the promoter withheld the payment. [Harper] was not paid for the fight. What the Minnesota Office of Combative Sports is doing is gathering info. We’re reviewing the details and we’re going to make a decision regarding his license within the next week,” a commission representative told Fightful.
Fightful then reached out to Rick Glaser, a veteran promoter who is representing Harper in this case with the Minnesota commission. Glaser had already been interviewed by the Minnesota commission by the time Fightful had chatted with him and Glaser would detail some of Harper’s concerns and issues with the last couple of weeks and why Harper believes he is in the right.
Now there is one growing theory among the boxing community that Harper was scared to face Ajagba and so he walked away and made up the excuse about his purse being low. According to Glaser, that is not the case at all.
So why did Harper leave?
Well, it all stemmed from general lack of disrespect stemming back to the last couple of weeks before the fight. Glaser said Harper was not happy with a number of things that included but not limited to: supposed refusal from the promoter and company to pay his medicals from this fight, flying him over to Minneapolis on Wednesday, August 22 in the morning, one day before the weigh-ins and two days before the fight, as well as the purse figure.
But to be more specific, Harper was upset, not at the purse figure itself, but the purse for a television fight, which Glaser claimed was never told to Harper. Harper was supposedly led to believe that his fight was going to be untelevised and if that was the case, then Harper would have not had an issue with $6,000. But since it was televised, Harper felt he deserved more and that his resume demanded more money.
Harper came in to the fight with a 13-5 pro record with his biggest fight being a decision loss to former heavyweight title challenger Chris Arreola. Harper also had previously sparred with current WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder.
There’s also the issue that Harper was promised that out-of-pocket expenses would be paid for, which included airfare for him, Campbell and Harper’s wife, hotel accommodations and meals, which would have come out to perhaps around $3,000, maybe a little less.
Now the other question about this situation would then be: was this stunt premeditated or was this an action committed in the heat of a moment with no prior thought?
The short answer is yes, Harper was thinking of not fighting well before the stunt.
The long answer is this: according to Glaser, Harper was debating whether or not to even come out and fight Ajagba, but ultimately decided that he should begrudgingly go through with the fight in order to get paid at least something.
When Harper walked to the ring, he saw Ajagba and his team chatting with the event’s matchmaker right before. Seeing that was completely unfair to Harper, Glaser said, and it became the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was at that moment that Harper had decided to leave the ring and go home. As such, due to the fight having technically started when he walked off, Harper was disqualified and given a loss on his record, now 13-6 as a pro, while Ajagba moves to 6-0.
After the fight, Harper was given a pro forma suspension, which according to the commission, meant that all fighters on the card was given automatic 14-day suspensions from the day of the fight, regardless of the result. So this current suspension, which runs through September 7, is not the disciplinary action the commission has taken against Harper for his stunt and the commission will then decide on it in a hearing on September 7.
But according to a report by Sporting News’ Thomas Hauser, there’s another layer to the story regarding Harper and that is Harper’s ability.
Prior to Wilder's March 3, 2018, fight against Luis Ortiz at the Barclays Center, there was an issue in regard to Ortiz's blood pressure, and the promoters feared that Ortiz might be pulled off the card at the last minute by the New York State Athletic Commission. It wouldn’t be a surprise if that were to happen as the commission had previously considered pulling Antonio Margarito out of his 2011 rematch against Miguel Cotto.
It was then that former IBF heavyweight champion Charles Martin was brought in as a backup opponent for Wilder. Martin was ranked by the WBC at the time and as the March fight against Ortiz was a voluntary defense, Martin would have been approved as a potential opponent for Harper.
That left open the issue of what to do with Martin in the event that Wilder vs. Ortiz proceeded as planned. According to Hauser’s report, the decision was then made to match him in an undercard fight against Harper, who had yet to fight in 2018 as his last fight was in August 2017.
But the NYSAC refused to grant Harper a license to fight because Harper had undergone cataract surgery in 2017 and treatment for a retinal tear in 2015. The commission was further advised that, if Harper continued to fight without additional corrective surgery, it was "just a matter of time" before he went blind in one eye. The commission’s medical staff also believed that even if Harper had the corrective surgery, it would be too dangerous for him to continue fighting. Harper then said that the necessary corrective surgery was a minor procedure that was performed in Jacksonville in early July.
On July 26, Dr. Robert Schnipper, an ophthalmologist, filled out an ocular examination form that was transmitted to the Minnesota Office of Combative Sports. In it, Schnipper referenced Harper's 2015 retinal tear and 2017 cataract surgery but found him fit to fight.
It was then that Fightful would reach out to Nate Campbell, a former world champion who was working in Harper’s corner that night. Contrary to what some may believe, Campbell was not training Harper throughout the entire fight camp and brought in on Monday, August 20.
Regarding the information about Harper’s eye, Campbell confirmed the info and even went a step above as to say that this was all some elaborate scheme to get paid without ever throwing a single punch or get hit once.
Campbell said Harper’s eye was not in a good condition and questioned whether the examination that eventually allowed Harper to fight on the PBC card to be 100 percent legitimate. Campbell then said it was then at that point that Harper thought he could walk away from the fight as he thought he would be owed the $6,000 for just showing up, instead of actually fighting Ajagba.
Regarding the purse figure, Campbell said $6,000 is enough for someone with his career credentials up to this point, even if the fight were to take place on television.
Some had called out Harper and said he should be banned for life. Both Campbell and Ronnie Shields, Ajagba’s trainer, concur with that sentiment, calling it disrespectful to the entire sport and all the fighters past, present and future.
But even if the Minnesota commission doesn’t hand him a lengthy suspension, Harper will also have to deal with this hanging over his head for the rest of his career and promoters will take note of that. It’s hard for any promoter, especially in the United States, to look at Harper and what he did and still book him to fight. Campbell said he doesn’t believe Harper should be given another chance, but Glaser went out and said that not only is there going to be a promoter willing to give him another chance, but that the opinions surrounding Harper’s actions and whether it was right or wrong to be split around 50-50.
All this eventually leads to the final question: was Harper justified in his actions and is he indeed right when he said that there is an injustice regarding fighter’s pay?
Well the answer is extremely complicated and one where it won’t be found less than a week after the fight. The conversation over Harper and if he should be banned for life should just one of multiple conversations being had. The fact that Harper has reported issues with his eye and is still given the chance to fight in a televised bout after the NYSAC previously refused to give Harper a license should raise some eyebrows.
Harper wanted to send out a statement to the boxing world, but that statement is now muddied because of the way he carried himself throughout that night. Was it right? That depends on who you ask.
But in the end, Harper may have done more damage to his career than perhaps anything Ajagba could have ever done to him, but in doing so, it may have saved Harper’s damaged eye from potentially causing him to permanently lose his vision.
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