One day after accepting a junior middleweight title fight against Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, James Kirkland pulled out of the fight on Friday, according to Golden Boy Promotions chief executive Richard Schaefer and Kirkland's co-manager, Cameron Dunkin.
The reason, they told ESPN.com, was a combination of Kirkland's surgically repaired right shoulder giving him problems in his first workout on Thursday night and dissatisfaction over his purse for the fight, which was slated to be close to $1 million.
On Thursday, Schaefer was informed by Kirkland's management team that he had agreed to terms for the Sept. 15 pay-per-view headline bout at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas -- a fight he got after original opponent Paul Williams, the former two-time welterweight titlist, suffered a career-ending injury on Sunday when he was paralyzed from the waist down in the motorcycle accident. Williams was having surgery to stabilize his spine on Friday.
However, Thursday night, Dunkin said, Kirkland began to work out for the fight in his hometown of Austin, Texas. His right shoulder, which he suffered two tears in during a controversial March 24 disqualification victory against Carlos Molina and later had surgery on, did not feel right.
"It was uncomfortable and he was concerned," Dunkin said. "So he called me and said he wasn't going to fight. The doctor said his shoulder was healing fine but James was afraid he was going to tear it again. He felt tightness and felt he shouldn't fight. He said it feels bad, that he couldn't use it properly. He said, 'I can't train right, so I won't be ready by Sept. 15.'
"He is sick about it. He needs the money. He's been doing rehab on the shoulder and the doctor said he was ahead of schedule, but the doctor also said you can't tell how fast you're going to heal. But he was ahead of schedule and his mobility was ahead of schedule. James told me how much he wanted the fight, the opportunity and the money."
Dunkin said Kirkland (31-1, 27 KOs) told him the shoulder began to hurt as soon as he began to shadowbox.
"He's been stretching it and doing his therapy, but when he began snapping punches, he said he felt a twinge and that it didn't feel right and that he could tell it wasn't right. That's not going to change in a week or two. He said, 'I can't train 100 percent, and for a guy like this, I have to be 100 percent.' He knew he was rushing it."
Schaefer was disappointed because the news came not even a day after he was told the deal had been agreed to.
"You have to trust the managers and doctors when they say he is OK to go," Schaefer said. "So now, he's not going to be ready and the last thing we want is to start a promotion if the guy is not going to be 100 percent."
Later on Thursday, however, Kirkland's story began to change, according to Dunkin.
Dunkin said he and co-manager Michael Miller were sent an email by Austin's Curtis Meeks, a former professional fighter and friend of Kirkland's who was 9-1-2 with three knockouts in his 2001 to 2008 career. Dunkin said Meeks recently began serving as an adviser to Kirkland and that in the email he told them that Kirkland "would sign the contract today for $2.5 million and that he is ready to go for the right money."
"Our answer was that James is injured," Dunkin said. "We won't fight him if he's injured, and said he's obviously not going to be ready to fight Sept. 15. His answer was that James could fight later in the year, but that it would have to be for $2.5 million. This guy is obviously telling him he is getting screwed on the money, which is not the case.
"So James is out of the fight. I can't get him $2.5 million. That's ridiculous. I'd love to get him that much because I get a percentage, but it's not reality. James is a great kid but he's getting really bad advice. And if he can't fight, he shouldn't fight at any price. So it's just crazy. It's totally insane. We told James, 'If you're healthy, fight. If you're not healthy, don't fight.' But don't make it about the money because the money he was getting for the fight was very, very good money."
Meeks could not be reached for comment.
"So Kirkland has a new adviser who told him not to take the fight unless he gets $2.5 million. That is what I was told. It is unbelievable," Schaefer said. "I don't get it. That's not how we do business. We agreed to a deal with him and he was being paid very, very well."
After Williams' injury, Kirkland got the fight with Alvarez even though he was outclassed by Molina and appeared to be on his way to a clear decision loss. However, he was awarded a highly controversial 10th-round disqualification victory after one of Molina's cornermen entered the ring after the bell rang to end the round -- after Molina had gotten up from a knockdown but before referee Jon Schorle had completed a count.
Schaefer was upset over the situation but said Alvarez (40-0-1, 29 KOs) would still headline a pay-per-view card Sept. 15, which is on the weekend of Mexican Independence Day and a traditional day for a fight involving a Mexican star.
"Canelo is the big Mexican superstar and he will be fighting at the MGM Grand on pay-per-view and we will be looking at other names for him to fight," Schaefer said. "The good news is there are other names out there. It's a deep division."
It is a deep division, although none of the names Schaefer mentioned have any pay-per-view history and are not all that well known. Even putting Kirkland in a pay-per-view main event was a risk proposition to many. As popular as Alvarez is in Mexico, he has yet to headline a pay-per-view.
The potential opponents Schaefer mentioned included the winner of Saturday's bout between titleholder Austin Trout and Delvin Rodriguez; former welterweight titlist Carlos Quintana, who was impressive in knocking out Deandre Latimore on May 5 on the Floyd Mayweather-Miguel Cotto pay-per-view undercard; Golden Boy-promoted top contender Erislandy Lara; and Vanes Martirosyan, although he is with promotional rival Top Rank.
Schaefer said Cotto, one of boxing's biggest stars, was not in the running because, "I know for a fact that he is not fighting in September."