- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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For weeks, word had spread throughout the boxing industry that promoter Frank Warren's March 16 card at Wembley Arena in London was in trouble. Questions surrounded the lightweight title unification main event between Ricky Burns and Miguel Vazquez and super middleweight George Groves' shot at the vacant European title against Mouhamed Ali Ndiaye on the undercard.
So it came as no surprise Monday when Warren postponed the troubled show -- there were issues with all four televised bouts -- and announced it was being rescheduled for April 20, sans Groves.
Warren announced that Mexico's Vazquez has a viral infection caused by food poisoning, which is why Warren said he was delaying the card.
"It's very unfortunate that Vazquez has had to withdraw so close to the fight, but it is on medical grounds, which is beyond my control, due to his viral infection, and we have his doctor's certificate confirming this," Warren said in a statement. "Therefore I have had to postpone the fight, not canceled as stated in some media reports, to Saturday April 20 at Wembley Arena.
"Everybody is disappointed by this postponement, but we have worked hard to ensure that Ricky's unification fight still goes ahead."
But well before Vazquez's supposed illness, word circulated that the 26-year-old Vazquez (33-3, 13 KOs), who is due to make his sixth title defense, and his team were unhappy with the financial terms and that he wasn't going to fight on March 16. His team could not be reached for comment.
It is the second fight in a row that Burns (35-2, 10 KOs), 29, of Scotland, has had fall apart. On Dec. 15, Burns was due to defend his title against Liam Walsh, but Walsh hurt his back in a minor car accident and withdrew. His replacement, Jose Ocampo, also dropped out.
"Absolutely gutted this fight ain't happening, another training camp and it's fell through," Burns tweeted Monday. "Not only that, feel sorry for the fans, my friends and family who have now booked tickets, flights and hotels. Sorry everyone."
As for Groves, just before announcing the card had been postponed, Warren announced that Groves had withdrawn from the show, saying in a statement from his publicist, "Groves has stated that he is not interested in boxing for the [European] title at this moment and would like to take his choice of fights in another direction. Mr. Warren would like to wish George all the best with his career and looks forward to working again with him in the near future."
Shortly after that release was sent out, Matchroom Sport promoter Eddie Hearn, Warren's chief promotional rival in the United Kingdom, announced that he had signed Groves, confirming the news that had spread over the weekend. Hearn announced that Groves will fight on his card Saturday night in London, headlined by middleweight contender Darren Barker against Simone Rotolo. Groves will face Dario German Balmaceda of Argentina in a scheduled 10-rounder.
Hearn also announced that Groves (16-0, 12 KOs), of England, will return to fight on the undercard of the super middleweight title unification fight between Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch, who meet in a rematch on May 25 at the O2 Arena in London.
"I am delighted to welcome George to the Matchroom stable," Hearn said. "He's a tremendous talent and a real star in the super middleweight division, not just in the future but today. His debut for us on Saturday is a great addition to an already top class bill, and he'll play a huge part in the Froch versus Kessler night on May 25."
Said Groves, "It's a very exciting opportunity for me. I've known Eddie for quite a while now. He's doing great things promotionally and I'm excited to be a part of it.
"It's great to be boxing in London and Wembley is a great arena to box in, so I'm really excited about getting in there on Saturday. I've had three fights in 18 months, which is not ideal so it will be great for me to get out regularly. I'm healthy, I'm training hard and Eddie has promised to keep me busy so everything is looking good and I'm raring to get back into action."
The defection of Groves from Warren to Hearn means Groves is also switching U.K. television networks, from Warren-controlled BoxNation back to Sky, where Warren once did regular business but Matchroom now has an exclusive deal.
Groves is looking forward to returning to the much bigger platform that Sky offers and is hoping to parlay the exposure and his upcoming two fights into a world title shot against either the winner of the March 23 rematch between titleholder Arthur Abraham and Robert Stieglitz or the Kessler-Froch II winner.
"It is massive worldwide exposure for me and a step in the right direction," Groves said. "I'm at that level now where I'm knocking on the door for world titles and working with Matchroom and being on Sky Sports should help me get closer to that dream. I expect that will be a big fight as chief support to the [Kessler-Froch II] main event. I've had to give up my spot as the mandatory for the European title but hopefully that door isn't shut and it's still a possible route, but I'm well ranked in the governing bodies and I want to fight for a world title.
"I'm ranked No. 1 with the WBO, so I'll be keeping a keen eye on [Abraham-Stieglitz II] and I'll have just as close an eye on the Froch versus Kessler fight as I really believe I could get a crack at the winner, and I think Eddie knows I want that fight so it ties in nicely."
Warren was also having problems with the two other televised bouts on March 16.
Light heavyweight titlist Nathan Cleverly was due to meet mandatory challenger Robin Krasniqi but Warren said that Cleverly (25-0, 12 KOs), 26, of Wales, has been suffering "from a stomach virus that has left him unable to train this week at world title level" and that he had missed a week of training. Cleverly is supposed to make his fifth title defense against Krasniqi (39-2, 15 KOs), 25, of Germany.
Also, former heavyweight world title challenger Dereck Chisora (15-4, 9 KOs), 29, of England, who was supposed to fight an opponent to be determined in a 10-round bout, still has not secured a license from the British Boxing Board of Control. His license was revoked last year for disciplinary reasons and no hearing had yet been scheduled for him to be re-licensed.
6hMalik Smith, ESPN Stats & Information