Two days after former cruiserweight champion David Haye pulled out of a June 20 fight against unified heavyweight titlist Wladimir Klitschko because of a bad back, Klitschko replaced him with Ruslan Chagaev on Friday, Klitschko manager Bernd Boente told ESPN.com.
Boente said he made a verbal deal with Chagaev promoter Peter Kohl of Universum, the German company that promoted Klitschko for several years before a falling out.
"We will now exchange the contracts, but we have verbally agreed with each other on the Chagaev fight. The fight is on," Boente said from Germany. "We are all absolutely thrilled because this is an even bigger name and he is unbeaten. Chagaev offers something. It shows Wladimir's class, too, that on short notice he accepts this strong guy and has to change his training to prepare for a different kind of fighter because Chagaev is a southpaw."
Haye had asked Klitschko to delay their fight until July 11, insisting that he would be OK to fight with a brief delay, but Klitschko (52-3, 46 KOs) declined.
Klitschko-Chagaev will still take place at Veltins Arena, a soccer stadium in Gelsenkirchen, Germany that was a 60,000-seat sellout for the Haye fight. However, the biggest difference in the new arrangement is that HBO, which was on board for the Haye fight and had televised Klitschko's last nine fights plus many others, declined the buy the Chagaev fight.
"We are passing on Chagaev for June 20," HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg told ESPN.com. "We are only interested in a rescheduled Haye fight for July 11."
It's been a wild week for the heavyweights.
Last Saturday, Chagaev (25-0-1, 17 KOs) was supposed to challenge titleholder Nikolai Valuev in a rematch in Helsinki, Finland. But the day before the fight, Chagaev's pre-fight blood test came back with a level of hepatitis B high enough that Finnish officials would not allow him to take part.
Despite Chagaev's suspect blood tests, Klitschko is willing to face him, Boente said. In Germany, the rules are different than in Finland and his hepatitis levels are acceptable.
"It's only an antigen he is testing positive for," Boente said. "He has had it for five years and the doctors told us the chances that Wladimir is infected by this guy are about as much as the sky falling on our heads."
Because Klitschko travels so often, Boente said he had already been inoculated against it and that he would also take a post-fight injection if his doctor recommends it.
"The doctor tells him it's absolutely no problem," Boente said.
Adam Booth, Haye's trainer and manager, said the injury would have been fine after a short rest.
"Unfortunately David has sustained a back injury, which means he is unable to continue training for a short period," Booth said. "We're heading back to the UK [from training camp in Cyprus] for some aggressive physiotherapy. It looks like there will be only a three-week delay from the original fight date with respect to David's readiness, which hopefully means that Wladimir will only postpone the fight, rather than cancel it."
Said Haye, "I hope that once I have had the sufficient treatment, I will be able to start training again and we can get the fight on as soon as possible. I know this is the fight the fans want and I will do everything to make sure it happens."
It won't, at least not on June 20, although it is possible that Klitschko could face him in the fall.
Valuev, whose only loss came against Chagaev in a title bout, was Klitschko's initial target after Haye pulled out, but Valuev was not interested, Boente said.
There were numerous inquiries from such fighters as Roy Jones, John Ruiz, Odlanier Solis, Kevin Johnson, Brian Minto, Chazz Witherspoon and others about stepping in for Haye. However, after Valuev declined, Klitschko turned to Chagaev, a former titleholder who lost his belt when he was demoted by one of the organizations to "champion in recess" because of injury and illness that caused him to cancel three title defenses.
Haye had asked the Klitschko camp to simply delay the fight until July 11, but Klitschko refused, Boente said.
Klitschko and his team had been considering the postponement, but when it still hadn't received a medical report on Haye's injury by Friday afternoon, they opted for Chagaev.
"We have only heard from them about this injury but not received the medical report," Boente said. "The main obstacle in Wladimir's mind was that we can never count 100 percent on Haye. The options were Chagaev on June 20 or delay the Haye fight to July 11. But the big obstacle was that we don't know that suddenly Haye doesn't cancel again because his back is still not 100 percent. Then with the summer vacations in Europe, we can't do a fight until the fall. We couldn't take that risk."
The Klitschko team was disappointed by HBO's decision to decline the fight.
"Nobody can understand it," Boente said. "HBO they told us they don't want Chagaev. I think that is not acceptable."
Greenburg stuck to his guns.
"It's not a fight we would be interested in," he said. "We want to save our money for later in the year if Wladimir is going to come back and fight again. We think that the Haye fight was going to be a good fight in the ring. I'm not expecting a lot out of Wladimir vs. Chagaev, so it was a pretty easy decision. If we had bought this now, we would not have had anything else left for Wladimir this year if anything else pops up, like a rescheduled David Haye fight, a Cris Arreola fight, anything that has some pop to it."
Boente said he would talk to Showtime and ESPN about acquiring American television rights.
Dan Rafael is ESPN.com's boxing writer.