Willie Nelson suffered an elbow injury, forcing him to withdraw from a middleweight showdown with former three-time world title challenger Matthew Macklin, promoter Lou DiBella told ESPN.com on Monday.
Nelson, a top-10 junior middleweight contender, was due to move up in weight to face Macklin in a scheduled 10-round opening bout of an HBO-televised tripleheader on Dec. 7 at the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. However, according to DiBella, Nelson suffered a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in his left elbow during a sparring session with Darnell Boone late last week.
"Darnell Boone tied him up and Willie heard a pop in his elbow," DiBella said. "We got verification over the weekend that he has the tear and can't fight Macklin. Willie is probably going to be out for about four months. He probably won't be able to fight until about mid-March."
DiBella said he and HBO are going through a list of names to replace Nelson against Macklin, whom the network owes a fight to as part of the deal he signed to challenge titleholder Gennady Golovkin on June 29. In that fight, Golovkin routed Macklin, knocking him out with a left hook to the ribs in the third round.
On the undercard of Golovkin-Macklin, Nelson (21-1-1, 12 KOs), 26, of Cleveland, survived a very tough battle against decided underdog Luciano Cuello to win a highly competitive 10-round unanimous decision. Cuello cut Nelson over both eyes and had him in some trouble late in the fight, but he held on for the decision. At 6-foot-3, Nelson is big for junior middleweight and was moving up in weight to take on Macklin (29-5, 20 KOs), 31, of England.
"Willie is very upset," DiBella said. "He was prepared and he was psyched for this fight with Matt. But at least it wasn't a total tear or a career-threatening injury. He's upset but there's nothing he can do about it, and he knows it could have been a lot worse. He had a sense as soon as he heard the pop that there was something wrong. So we'll find a replacement to fight Macklin."
One name that came up as a possibility was Matt Korobov (21-0, 12 KOs), the 2008 Russian Olympian who is 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.
Another opponent HBO suggested -- whom Macklin and DiBella accepted -- was Max Bursak (28-1-1, 12 KOs) of Ukraine.
"We tried to make that fight, which was HBO's idea," DiBella said. "But Bursak's trainer vetoed the fight because it was on too short notice, so we're working on another opponent."
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.