The great Hall of Fame broadcaster Larry Merchant once dubbed boxing "the theater of the unexpected," and, boy, did something unexpected happen Friday night at the Armory in Minneapolis.
Blue-chip heavyweight prospect Efe Ajagba (6-0, 5 KOs), 24, a 2016 Nigerian Olympian who has moved to the United States to train in Houston under the guidance of Ronnie Shields, was scheduled for a six-round bout with Curtis Harper (13-6, 9 KOs), 30, of Jacksonville, Florida, in one of the televised bouts on the Premier Boxing Champions card on Fox Sports 1.
Both fighters made their way to the ring, were introduced to the crowd, walked to the center of the ring for the final instructions from referee Celestino Ruiz and then returned to their respective corners to await the opening bell. But when the bell rang, Harper stunningly left the ring.
He walked down the steps, up the ramp and out of the arena, leaving Ajagba and everyone else dumbfounded.
Ruiz ruled Ajagba the winner by way of disqualification at one second of the first round.
"He defined what the most feared man in boxing means -- no punch necessary. A look and the opponent runs, runs out of the ring," Ringstar Sports CEO Richard Schaefer, Ajagba's promoter, told ESPN.
The Minnesota commission likely will not pay Harper for the fight, and he will almost certainly face a suspension.
According to PBC ringside reporter Jordan Hardy, who said she spoke to Harper, he walked out of the ring because "he's not getting paid enough to fight and that he wants respect."
Harper did, however, sign a contract for the bout for a set purse.
"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."
In the main event, Minneapolis welterweight contender Jamal James (24-1, 11 KOs), 30, won his fourth fight in a row as he knocked out Mahonry Montes (35-8-1, 24 KOs), 28, of Mexico, with a left hook to the body at 2 minutes, 58 seconds of the second round.
"I came out here to make a statement, and I'm even happier to be able to do it right here at home," James said. "The support in Minnesota is amazing, and it gave me the extra motivation to get the job done in spectacular fashion. Everyone knows I attack the body, and tonight I was able to use it to get the finish.
"I feel like I'm ready for the elite welterweights, and tonight proved it again. I'm going to keep working hard and taking down anyone they put in front of me. It's time for me to make my mark in the division."