- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Claiming he is retiring, featherweight contender Luis Franco has stopped training and withdrawn from a world title challenge against Billy Dib, Franco co-manager Henry Foster told ESPN.com on Sunday.
The fight was scheduled to take place March 1 at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn., and headline a "Friday Night Fights" card on ESPN2.
"He pulled out, stopped training and I can't explain it unless it's a psychotic episode," Foster said. "I don't want to say he got scared. I don't know what else it is. He's fought tougher guys. It's inexplicable. For 20 years (as an amateur and professional), Luis Franco has labored for this opportunity to fight for a world title. I have four years invested in his career and bundles of cash and it's inexplicable."
The promoters of the card, Lou DiBella and rapper 50 Cent, will begin looking for a replacement opponent for Dib to make his third title defense against.
Besides Franco's sudden retirement, the fight was in danger of falling apart over legal issues pertaining to Franco's promotional agreement. He is co-promoted by Richard Dobal's Bad Dog Productions and Gary Shaw. However, Shaw was looking at taking legal action because the fight was made without his involvement or permission and he would be owed a share of money from the event.
"First he said, 'I'm not fighting for $20,000' and then it was, 'I'm through with boxing, I'm retiring. This guy is broke and boxing is all he has done since he is 9 or 10," Foster said. "He pooh-poohed the purse. But we weren't holding any cards. He had fought for the mandatory position and lost (to Munoz). If you're ever broke 100 bucks looks like a lot, so he was still going to walk away from this fight with $12,000 (after taxes and paying his corner) and, we think, the world title. So nothing makes sense rationally. He had been training for three weeks and he had just started sparring."
Dib (35-1, 21 KOs), 27, of Australia, was originally supposed to face mandatory challenger Mauricio Munoz of Argentina. Munoz won a controversial split decision against Franco (11-1, 7 KOs) in an October final elimination bout to get the title shot. But Munoz, citing an injury, withdrew from the bout. That is when the IBF, which is sanctioning the fight, ordered Dib to face Franco, the next leading available contender.
A deal was made and the fight set for March 1. In fact, Franco, along with Dib, participated in a national teleconference on Jan. 24 to promote the fight. On the call, Franco was enthusiastic about the fight.
"I want to thank my management team for having gotten me to this point. I want to thank ESPN and Foxwoods as well as (show promoters) Lou DiBella and 50 Cent," Franco said. "We're ecstatic about being a part of (rapper 50 Cent's) first show and we think he's great for boxing. My message to Billy Dib is whatever he has to say to me he can say it to me in the ring the night of fight."
Four days after the call, Foster, who co-manages Franco with Bobby Goldwasser, said he took the bout agreement to the gym for Franco to sign, but he refused. Foster said the terms had already been agreed to, which is why Franco participated in the promotional teleconference and the fight was formally announced.
"There was a bit of a delay getting the contract after we had a verbal deal, but we had talked about the money," Foster said.
Franco could not be reached for comment.
Foster said the 31-year-old Franco, a 2004 Cuban Olympian now based in Miami after defecting and turning pro in 2009, was due to receive $20,000 and that the management had agreed not to take a cut of it.
"When you're training for a fight to become a world champion and when you win you know you're going to make real money what could anyone say to dissuade you?" Foster asked. "If you put 20 years of your life into a career that culminates in this opportunity and you reject it what can be your motivation? That is what the fear factor comes into my mind. I've been a manager for close to 25 years and never had this experience of a guy bailing from a world title fight when he is not injured."