Evgeny Gradovich of Russia has agreed to step in on short notice to challenge featherweight titlist Billy Dib.
Dib was due to face Luis Franco on March 1 at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn., and headline a "Friday Night Fights" card on ESPN2 that is being promoted by rapper 50 Cent -- Dib's promoter -- and Lou DiBella.
However, Franco, who verbally had agreed to the deal, later refused to sign the bout agreement, abruptly pulling out of the fight last week and saying he is retiring because he is unhappy with his $20,000 purse, according to co-manager Henry Foster.
Gradovich, promoted by Top Rank, was happy to accept the fight -- with the IBF sanctioning -- approved on Monday pending receipt of signed contracts from both fighters.
The paperwork is being finalized, according to both camps.
"I think it's a great opportunity for the kid. He's the one that wanted the fight," said Top Rank matchmaker Brad "Abdul" Goodman. "He's the one that wanted the fight. I was a little hesitant at first because he just came back from Russia a couple of days ago."
Goodman said Gradovich is in Oxnard, Calif., and immediately began training for the fight with Robert Garcia.
"I wish he had a coupe of more weeks to get ready, but I was assured he was in shape and had been training in Russia. Garcia assures me he is in shape," Goodman said. "When we offered (Gradovich) the fight, he didn't even hesitate. He said, 'I want Dib.'
"I have all the confidence in Robert. He will get him the right sparring. We all know how important the fight is and we believe he can win the title. ESPN should be really happy. This is a guy who is a rock 'em, sock 'em robot. He throws a 100 punches. It's all about Billy Dib. If he wants to make it a fun fight, he can stand and fight and make it fight of the year. If he runs, it could be a stinky fight. But one thing you can be sure about -- Gradovich will be there putting the pressure on and throwing the punches."
Gradovich (15-0, 8 KOs), 26, is a pressure fighter who rarely takes a backward step. He's been active, winning all four of his fights in 2012, but Dib is a major step up in competition.
"I am thrilled to have this opportunity," Gradovich said. "Becoming a world champion has been a lifelong dream of mine and on March 1 I will finally have that chance. This is going to be a very special night for me, as not only am I fighting for my first world title, but it will be shown on ESPN, so the entire country will have the opportunity to watch it. I am already in great shape and I am going to show the world what I am capable of come March 1."
Dib (35-1, 21 KOs), 27, of Australia, was originally supposed to face mandatory challenger Mauricio Munoz of Argentina in his third title defense. 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 ordered Dib to face Franco, the next leading available contender. With Franco dropping out, Gradovich was the next available contender.
"Brad Goodman made this fight and we want to thank him for making it and Gradovich for taking it," said Sean Gibbons, matchmaker for 50 Cent's SMS Promotions. "Unlike a lot of guys out there, Gradovich looks at this as an opportunity. This is how real-life Rockys are made -- by taking a world title fight on short notice and making a name for yourself. And to Billy Dib's credit, he is just looking to get back in the U.S. and to making a statement on U.S. television, which is where he wants to be. Billy just wants to fight and defend his title. He knows Gradovich is a tough opponent."
Said Dib, "Unfortunately, Franco pulled out, but now I have just as tough, if not a tougher test in front of me in Gradovich. It is going to be an all-out punch up. The fans can definitely expect to see a great fight on March 1."