- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Middleweight contender Matthew Macklin, who lost opponent Willie Nelson to injury this week, will instead face unbeaten Lamar Russ, promoter Lou DiBella told ESPN.com on Tuesday.
Nelson, a junior middleweight contender, was due to move up to middleweight and face Macklin, a three-time world title challenger, on Dec. 7 at the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., in the opening 10-round bout of an HBO-televised tripleheader. However, Nelson suffered a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in his left elbow during a sparring session with Darnell Boone late last week and was ruled out of the bout.
DiBella and HBO spent the past couple of days sorting through various potential opponents and settled on Russ (14-0, 7 KOs), 26, of Wilmington, N.C., and a six-time North Carolina amateur champion before turning pro in 2009.
"This is a huge step up for the kid [Russ] but he really wants the opportunity," said DiBella, who promotes Russ and Macklin. "I think it's a huge step up for Lamar, but he's a terrific prospect and obviously we'll see if he is ready for this kind of fight. He's certainly a good young fighter. He doesn't have the experience or the seasoning that Matt has, but he's talented and he's new blood in the division, and I know he will try. Matt welcomed the challenge and was willing to fight him. He knows he is fighting a hungry fighter."
Macklin had rejected fighting Matt Korobov (21-0, 12 KOs), the 2008 Russian Olympian who was already scheduled in another fight on the untelevised portion of the undercard. HBO approved Korobov, but Macklin did not want to face a southpaw on three weeks' notice after training to fight Nelson, a right-hander. Russ is right-handed.
"I give Macklin respect for taking Russ, an unknown but hungry guy," DiBella said. "And you have to respect Russ to taking this huge step up because he wants to fight on HBO. I give [Russ manager] Egis Klimas major props also for taking the fight. His attitude is that fighters fight and if you're offered an opportunity you take it, because the worst that happens is you do your best and can't pull it off. If Russ performs well, even if he loses, with only 14 fights, it won't hurt him."
Macklin (29-5, 20 KOs), 31, of England, is coming off a third-round knockout loss to middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin, who stopped him with a body shot in June. HBO owed him a return fight as part of that contract. Coincidentally, Russ served as one of Golovkin's sparring partners as he was training for the fight with Macklin.
In the main event, unified junior featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux (12-0, 8 KOs) defends against former bantamweight titlist Joseph Agbeko (29-4, 22 KOs). Junior middleweights Glen Tapia (20-0, 12 KOs) and James Kirkland (31-1, 27 KOs) will meet in the scheduled 10-round co-feature.
6dMalik Smith, ESPN Stats & Information