What Caused Curtis Harper To Walk Out Against Efe Ajagba?
Stranger things have happened in the sport of boxing. One of the most unforgettable one was when Mike Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear. Another was the riot that happened after Andrew Golota punched Riddick Bowe’s balls despite winning the fight. But neither could top what happened on August 25, 2018 at one of the televised bouts for the Premier Boxing Champions card of Fox Sports 1.
Undefeated heavyweight prospect Efe Ajagba was scheduled to fight Jacksonville native Curtis Harper in a six round heavyweight attraction during the event. Ajagba entered the bout with an impressive record of 5-0 with 4 knockouts. Harper meanwhile was 13-5 with 9 knockouts coming to the contest. But instead of watching two heavyweights slugging it out in the center of the ring, we saw perhaps the most bizarre thing we’ve ever seen in boxing history.
He Walked Out On His Opponent
After both fighters were introduced, they walked towards the center of the ring and after they were given the final instructions by referee Celestino Ruiz, they both headed back to their respective corners to await the opening bell. But as the opening bell rang, both fighters headed towards different directions. As Ajagba made his way to the center of the ring, Curtis Harper made his way outside it.
Harper walked outside the the ring, down the steps, up the ramp and candidly left the arena, leaving everyone in the building and those watching on TV shocked to say the least. Referee Ruiz then ruled Ajagba the winner of the bout by disqualification at the one second mark of the fight. Fastest knockout ever? Yes, but it’s probably the first knockout win without landing a single punch.
After the fight, there were plenty of speculation on why Harper walked out of Ajaba. At first, many thought that he got scared once he saw his opponent. Ajagba’s promoter, former Golden Boy executive Richard Schaeffer, took advantage of the incident to plug his fighter. Said Schaeffer:
"This was legendary," Schaefer said. "We waited a long time to have another heavyweight who instills fear in his opponents by just being in the ring and looking at them. The last time a fighter instilled that kind of fear in an opponent was Mike Tyson. The heavyweight division has a new star, and his name is Efe. No doubt that he is the biggest puncher in the sport. He won the knockout award at the Rio Olympics for the most spectacular knockout. He is must-see TV, and all of us are excited to follow his journey in the heavyweight division, which undoubtedly will lead him to the heavyweight championship of the world."
Looking For The Signed Contract
That remains to be seen of Ajagba, Mr. Schaeffer but the part where Harper was scared maybe correct and that’s the first thing that came to the minds of most people who watched the fight. We immediately remembered Ajagba’s faceplant knockout win in the 2016 Olympics and probably, that’s what Harper remembered too before walking away from the fight.
Later, PBC ringside reporter John Hardy said that he spoke to Harper and the fighter told him that his actions weren’t caused by fear of his opponent. Harper said that he walked out of his fight to get respect after “ not being paid enough for the fight.” Said Harper, via ESPN:
"It was not a matter of caring about the opponent. There was no fear from me of getting in that ring. As you can see before the fight, I was joking, smiling. There was no fear of Efe Ajagba."
"I decided to walk out when we touched gloves and I looked over my opponent's shoulder and I saw the matchmaker [Chico Rivas] in my opponent's corner. It's just disrespect. And then I never got a full contract. The matchmaker shouldn't be in the opponent's corner."
But while he may have an argument about it being disrespectful, there was no way Chico Rivas could have caused Harper to lose that fight or looking at it the other way, help Efe win the bout. As for the absence of a signed contract, that’s another story.
According to Harper, he never got a signed and authenticated copy of the contract from the promoters of the fight. Harper’s wife Sandra Rosenberg also said that her husband never received a contract that was signed by Leon Margules of Warriors’ Boxing, who was the promoter of that particular fight. Rosenberg claimed that either the signed contract or a second one-a fight agreement is standard in all boxing bouts.
Harper Signed A Contract
However, throughout all these claims, Curtis Harper did sign a fight contract and ESPN says they obtained a copy of it as well as proof that Harper sent a text message to fight booking agent Marvin Romero telling the latter that he is “closing this fight with you” and that he is awaiting “official approval.” Maybe it’s that “official approval” is what Harper and Rosenberg are protesting about.
But according to Romero, there was a signed contract for that fight because the Minnesota Boxing Commission wouldn’t have allowed Harper inside that ring had he not signed a contract or if the contract was not signed by the other parties involved.
"The contract signed by the promoter was given to them there. The commission won't let a fight happen without a signed contract."
As for Harper, he accepted the allowances attached to the contract: per diem, hotel and plane tickets. Even Harper’s trainer Nate Campbell said that there was no problem up until fight night.
Margules also went forward to corroborate Romero’s statement. The promoter said that there was indeed a contract signed by all parties and added that Harper should have received a copy of the contract signed by all parties at the weigh-ins because the commission required it by then. Said Margules:
"I didn't know it was an issue until now because he never brought it up until after the fight," Margules said. "But of course he could have had it. Commission required it before weigh-in."
Harper said he requested for a copy after arriving in Minnesota but never got one. It’s unclear though whether he asked for one during the weigh-ins where it was submitted to the commission. But Harper’s wife insisted that up to fight night, they didn’t get a copy of the contract. She even threatened a legal action if the Minnesota Boxing Commission would suspend her husband. Said Rosenberg:
"We have no copy of any contract. If the [Minnesota Boxing Commission] suspends him and wants to take that on, it could lead to a lawsuit."
What’s Next For Harper, Ajagba
Harper is currently under the mandatory after-fight two week suspension by the Minnesota Boxing Commission. The commission is still investigating the matter and is expected to come out with a ruling soon. It remains to be seen if Harper is going to make good on his wife’s claim to bring the issue to court if he is indeed suspended.
One thing is sure though: Harper signed a $6,000 contract for the fight. The fight was sanctioned by the Minnesota Boxing Commission, meaning the contract was also signed by the promoters..Whether Harper was underpaid for the bout is another story. It was obvious that he simply didn’t want to fight Ajagba. Whether he was afraid or not, only he knows that.
As for Efe Ajagba, he is expected to return to the ring on September 30th against a still undetermined opponent. Let’s just hope that next guy doesn’t walk out on him like Curtis Harper did.
Looking back, it wasn’t a significant fight and the combatants weren’t significant fighters as well. But knowing this was the first time in boxing history where someone walked out of the ring after the opening bell rang. That’s one way you put yourself in the history books. And no, personally I don’t think it was about the contract.