BILOXI, Miss. -- Since the featured attraction of the evening didn't officially blow up until an hour before Showtime's telecast was due to go on the air Saturday, the network was left with little choice but to proceed with Timothy Bradley's junior welterweight showdown with Edner Cherry as the main event of a one-bout telecast.
Give Joan Guzman this much: He managed to keep everybody in suspense, right up until the last minute.
Guzman was to have challenged three-belt lightweight champion Nate Campbell atop Don King's card at the Beau Rivage, but instead he found himself first fighting the scales Friday, when he missed the 135-pound limit by three and a half pounds, and then his own handlers Saturday, as Sycuan promoter Scott Woolworth and matchmaker Sean Gibbons desperately attempted to persuade the unbeaten Dominican to go through with the bout, even though he would have had no opportunity to win Campbell's titles.
It wasn't until 7:30 p.m. ET that Guzman, bailed out by a sick note from Mississippi commission Dr. Lance Barnes, officially notified Don King and Showtime that he would not be fighting.
Left high and dry, the network soldiered on, hastily promoting Bradley's WBC 140-pound title defense against Cherry to piece de resistance. It might have made for a fairly seamless TV transition, but the sellout crowd at the Beau Rivage theatre voiced its disappointment, lustily booing the announcement that Campbell-Guzman was off.
The spectators were somewhat placated when Campbell, who had calmly whiled away the day in his hotel suite awaiting word from the Guzman camp, climbed into the ring and personally apologized for the turn of events. Moreover, the lightweight champion graciously promised that at the conclusion of the abbreviated program he would meet with fans in the lobby.
"I'll sign things, I'll take pictures, and I'll talk about anything you want to talk about -- as long as it's not too kinky," Campbell told the audience.
Back to our regularly scheduled normalcy
In stark contrast to the threats and recriminations that had preceded it throughout the week, Bradley-Cherry proceeded without notable controversy.
Bradley posted a unanimous decision on the scorecards of two separate panels of judges scoring the fight to retain his title, and to the immense relief of all concerned, no one had to spend the night in jail.
In his first defense of the title he won by upsetting England's Junior Witter in May, Bradley (23-0) had his way with the veteran Cherry, whom he floored with a picture-perfect counter right in the eighth round. Bradley dominated the second half of the fight, apart from the 11th round.
"I got a little careless," Bradley said about Round 11, when he was rattled by a right hand from Cherry with a minute to go.
Mississippi Commission chairman Jon Lewis, backed by a state law that deems "any person who acts or attempts to act as a judge in connection with any boxing match without having first obtained a license from the commission" guilty of a felony, had threatened to have the panel of WBC judges -- the 80-year-old Tom Kaczmarek, Californian Max DeLuca, and Texan Orrin Schnellenberger -- led away in handcuffs.
WBC president Jose Sulaiman had countered with a decision to purchase ringside seats for the trio, who surreptitiously scored the bout from that position and later slipped their totals to supervisor Joe Dwyer.
In the end it mattered little, as Bradley's performance left little open to interpretation. Mississippi judges Raymond White and David Taranto had it 119-109 and 117-110, respectively, while the third commission-appointed judge, Bill Clancy of North Carolina, had it 118-109. When it came to the WBC slate, both Kaczmarek and Schnellenberger's cards coincided with Taranto's 117-110 tally, while De Luca had it 116-111.
It seems unlikely that there will be subsequent criminal proceedings against the WBC judges, but Guzman probably won't escape punishment from the Mississippi commission.
"By state law the maximum fine we could impose is $500," said Lewis, "but we could suspend him for anything up to 'indefinitely.'" A suspension would be honored by other jurisdictions throughout the world.
Guzman, who had reportedly ballooned to as much as 175 pounds since his last fight, appeared to be dehydrated when he tried and failed to make the lightweight limit at Friday's weigh-in, and given two hours to shed three and a half pounds, he didn't even try.
Given the option of going through with the fight against a willing Campbell ("I'd have fought him if he'd been 30 pounds over," he said), Guzman vacillated throughout the day of the bout, as Woolworth and Gibbons tried to persuade him to show up, while trainer Floyd Mayweather argued that he should not.
In the end, a 6 p.m. visit from Dr. Barnes confirmed Guzman's dehydration, and that appears to have tipped the balance -- though it probably won't be enough to get him off the hook with the commission.
"I'm shocked and appalled that a professional fighter -- a two-belt champion with 28 fights -- could behave this way," said Campbell. "Not only did he not try to make the weight on Friday, but even after he'd made up his mind not to fight on Saturday he didn't have the courtesy to let us know that. He knows better."
It's probably safe to say that Guzman, if and when he is allowed to fight again, will go to the back of the line when it comes to Campbell's titles.
"I'm not sure he's even in the line," said co-promoter Terry Trekas.
Campbell, who has every intention of hanging onto all three of his belts despite the juggling act that might entail, seems likely to make his next defense against South African Ali Funeka, his IBF mandatory.
Campbell expects to be paid his full $300,000 purse for the Guzman fight, although as of last night, Don King hadn't reached for the checkbook.
"That," said Campbell with a laugh, "will probably be the next fight."
"But I did what I was supposed to do," he added. "I came to fight. I made weight. I held up my end of the bargain. I can't be responsible if somebody else didn't hold up theirs."
George Kimball, who writes for the Irish Times and Boxing Digest as well as ESPN.com, won the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism in 1985. His new book, "Four Kings: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran and the Last Great Era of Boxing" will be published later this year.