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Akinwande KO'd By Hepatitis

Evander Holyfield never really wanted to fight Henry Akinwande. Now he won't have to.

The heavyweight title fight was called off Friday, a day before the bout, because Akinwande tested positive for hepatitis B.

"I guess I'm the guy things happen to," said Holyfield, who was informed the fight was off when he arrived at Madison Square Garden for his final pre-fight workout. Holyfield went back to his hotel, saying he was still hopeful a last-minute opponent could be found for him.

"Seems kind of strange to wait to the last minute," Holyfield said."But I'm already in shape. If you don't fight, you don't get paid either."

Promoters scheduled a friday afternoon news conference to discuss whether the card will go forward at all. Ticket sales had been poor, with promoters saying only 6,000 tickets had been distributed in the days before the fight.

Earlier, heavyweight Ray Mercer also was scratched from the card for undisclosed medical reasons and Christy Martin's opponent couldn't fight because she's pregnant. That left the aging Roberto Duran as the lone remaining attraction.

Two separate medical tests on Akinwande by the New York State Athletic Commission showed he had hepatitis B, said Greg Fritz, a spokesman for Don King Productions, the promoter of the fight.

The commission does not allow infected boxers to fight because of the risk of transmitting the disease through blood during bouts.

"It's disappointing," said Holyfield, who had made no secret of his lack of desire to fight the WBA's No. 1 contender."You prepare yourself for 13 weeks and then this happens."

Hepatitis B, often contracted through sex or dirty hypodermic needles, can cause serious liver problems. The disease can be treated successfully, but not always. Hepatitis A is typically a food-borne disease that can pass quickly.

Showtime, which was to televise the bout from Madison Square Garden, also said in a statement that the main event had been canceled due to the commission's medical finding.

The fight was supposed to top a card that included the 46-year-old Duran fighting for a title nine years after he lost his middleweight crown to Sugar Ray Leonard. Duran first fought in the Garden in 1971, and is 6-1 in his career at the arena.

On Thursday, Mexican lightweight Maria de las Nieves Garcia was scratched from her undercard bout with Christy Martin because she's pregnant. Melissa Salamore was to have replaced Garcia, but Martin rejected her as an opponent and promoters were trying to find another fighter.

The Akinwande decision is yet another blow to his once promising career. He was disqualified in the fifth round of a fight last July against WBC champ Lennox Lewis for repeated holding.

That Akinwande was even supposed to fight for a piece of the title for the second time in less than a year was due more to his choice of promoter than anything else. After the Lewis debacle, King matche him against Orlin Norris Jr., and Akinwande won a 12-round decision to become the mandatory contender.

Akinwande was to make $2.5 million to fight Holyfield, who was to get $10 million for the defense of the WBA title he won in his first fight with Mike Tyson.

Holyfield had wanted to fight Lewis to unify the heavyweight championship for the first time since Riddick Bowe threw the WBC belt into a garbage can after his win over Holyfield in their first fight.

But with Holyfield wanting $20 million for the fight and Lewis unwilling to give up his relationship with the HBO network, talks collapsed and Holyfield was left only with the option of taking a mandatory title defense to keep his WBA title. He was openly unenthusiastic about fighting Akinwande, who is 33-1-1, and almost nobody but Akinwande and the WBA wanted it.

"There's no other reason for this fight other than he's ranked No. 1," Holyfield said before the fight was canceled."That's just what the rules are."

Duran, like Akinwande, hardly earned his title shot, winning a decision in Panama in his last fight after being knocked down in the first round.

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