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The inside story of Francisco Fonseca’s late, late pull-out

Francisco Fonseca
Action Images/REUTERS/Steve Marcus
John Evans on a series of unfortunate events in Manchester. A tale not for the squeamish

BOXING fans tuning into Channel 5 for last Saturday night’s promising WBA International super-featherweight title fight between Alex Dilmaghani and Francisco Fonseca instead found themselves watching a documentary about prison life. Those joining the show late could have be forgiven for thinking they were watching a gritty pre-fight featurette about the redemptive qualities of the sport but the late change to the schedule was down to the real-life drama unfolding at the University of Bolton Arena. Rumours of Fonseca vomiting outside the arena had been circulating from the moment the 25-year-old Nicaraguan and his team arrived at the venue but the scale of his problem didn’t become apparent until he broke away from referee Michael Alexander’s final instructions to violently throw up. The ringside doctors were immediately called.

“There were people reporting that he walked into the venue feeling unwell. He hadn’t been vomiting but he was feeling nauseous and gagging. It was then reported by the team from the British Boxing Board of Control that he was feeling disorientated and staggering. He was basically deteriorating. He was vomiting excessively so we also had a bad case of dehydration,” ringside doctor, Christina Galatou, said.

“I was asked if I wanted to reassess him later to give him a chance to fight but based on the facts that had been reported to me and given what I witnessed, it wasn’t safe to go ahead. Everybody was on board that this was a fight that shouldn’t take place.”

The decision to withdraw Fonseca was made around five minutes before Channel 5 were due to go on air meaning Mick Hennessy – who promoted the show alongside Steve Wood – was forced to make some some frantic phone calls. Rather than fill the show with footage from a solid undercard, Channel 5 decided to shorten the broadcast and headline with the English super-welterweight title fight between Jack Flatley and Harry Scarff.
“It was as last minute as it could get. There’s really nothing you can do about it,” Hennessy told Boxing News. “At the venue there were mixed reports. Some people were saying that he over-ate after the weigh in. He apparently brought it up at the venue and said he felt better and wanted to fight. The fighter wanted to continue.

“I spoke to the doctor and in the end, it was the right decision. I didn’t particularly like how many people were getting involved and trying to get the fight called off – that was pretty unprofessional if you ask me. The doctors should have been left alone to make a professional decision themselves but there was a lot of pressure being put on from all angles.

“I made sure Fonseca was fine to fly home and we’ve just got to see how things pan out. Obviously Alex is very upset so we need the situation to calm down and get to the bottom of what caused it.”

Rather than sharing cramped dressing rooms, fighters at The University of Bolton Arena use one large communal balcony area which overlooks the ring. It is one of the best spots to watch a fight in the North West. The layout also means that news travels quickly. Dilmaghani was gloved, warmed-up and waiting for the call to walk when a board official had to break the news that Fonseca had been taken ill. The 28-year-old was so far in the zone that he hadn’t noticed a scurry of activity as the remaining undercard fighters realised their services would be needed sooner than expected.

“I felt good and ready to put on a show,” Dilmaghani told Boxing News as the news sunk in. “Ten minutes before the fight, I get told he’s pulled out. Then I get told it might be back on. I went through some bad emotions, but I got myself together and back on it and then I get told by the officials that there was no chance. He’s a seasoned pro. Why is he being sick? He should know what to eat and what not to eat. This is the fight game. You’re meant to go through it. If you’re feeling sick, don’t go to the venue. I’m speechless.”

Alex Dilmaghani
Alex Dilmaghani missed out at the last possible moment Action Images/Jason Cairnduff

Conspiracy theories and blame games thicken the air when a fight is cancelled so close to the opening bell but Boxing News saw the physical evidence of Fonseca’s problem. This isn’t a magazine for the squeamish and as we forensically describe any fight-ending cuts, we shouldn’t shy away from detailing exactly what caused a WBA-sanctioned fight to be cancelled on such short notice. Fonseca sat, head bowed, with a dustbin liner-sized bag full of brown liquid on the floor behind him.

It is too soon to say if the fight will be rescheduled but Hennessy’s immediate priority is to get Dilmaghani moving again.

“Alex is in a hard situation. He’s incredibly hard to match. I’ve worked with some big names who have been hard to match but he’s probably the hardest. He wants to fight the best and won’t take a backward step. His personality is how he fights; he’s intense and gives no quarter. He’s an old school fighter. I believe Saturday was his coming out party. My gut reaction around the whole things that he would have done a better job on Fonseca than Tevin Farmer or Gervonta Davis had and it would have been huge night for him. It’s just a shame that that was taken away from him.”

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