MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Earlier this month, many were shocked when Jacksonville’s Curtis Harper, a boxer with a 13-6 record, was disqualified after exiting the ring seconds after the opening bell in a fight against up-and-coming former Olympian Efe Ajagba, of Nigeria. It was a stunning moment that aired on Fox Sports 1 live from the Minneapolis Armory in Minnesota.
More than 760,000 people have viewed the video of the “fight” on YouTube.
Many believe Harper was scared to fight Ajagba, an undefeated fighter who had knocked out the five opponents he’d faced before that bout. But Harper, who said he never received a contract signed and authenticated by the fight’s promoters, later claimed he quit in protest of his purse. Even his wife, Sandra Rosenberg, said she didn’t know he’d planned to do that.
He was set to make $6,000 for the six-round fight.
ESPN has obtained a copy of a fight contract signed by Curtis Harper, who also sent Marvin Romero, the booking agent, a text message that said, “Just sent [the contract] in. I’m closing this fight with you no matter what. Just need to get official approval.”
And this is where it all gets confusing. Sandra Rosenberg said her husband never received a contract that was signed by the fight’s promoter, Warriors Boxing’s Leon Margules, or a second contract, a bout agreement, that she said is standard with all fights.
Rosenberg and Rick Glaser, Harper’s new promoter who was retained after the Ajagba bout, also said Harper deserved more than the $6,000 fee in the contract because it was a televised fight. When he signed the contract, Rosenberg said, her husband didn’t know the fight would be televised.
“U here? Been waiting to see you and get the contract,” Rosenberg texted Romero the day of the fight. But Harper did accept the per diem, hotel rooms and flights attached to the contract he signed. And those close to him, including his trainer, Nate Campbell, said there was no problem until fight night.
Romero said Harper does have a signed contract because the Minnesota Boxing Commission would not have allowed Harper to step into the ring without one. So one side says a contract by all parties exists, and the other says it does not. That’s the issue.
Leon Margules, president of Warriors Boxing, did little to clear up the confusion.
Margules said Curtis Harper should have received a copy of the fight contract (Harper said there were supposed to be two separate contracts, including a “bout agreement”) that was signed by all parties at the weigh-in. But Harper said he did not get that document after he arrived in Minneapolis, even though he requested a copy of it.
“I didn’t know it was an issue until now because he never brought it up until after the fight,” Margules said. “But of course he could have had it. Commission required it before weigh-in.”
It was a wild night for everyone involved. Here’s the tiny oral history of the night Curtis Harper walked out of a ring in Minneapolis, according to the folks who were there.
Ronnie Shields, Efe Ajagba’s trainer: “At the weigh-in, the guy’s wife went up to my fighter and asked him to please not hurt her husband.”
Sandra Rosenberg, Curtis Harper’s wife: “Efe doesn’t understand much English. I told him, ‘I love my husband. Take it easy on him.’ Lighthearted. I’m a silly kind of person.”
Curtis Harper: “It was not a matter of caring about the opponent. There was no fear from me of getting in that ring. As you can see before the fight, I was joking, smiling. There was no fear of Efe Ajagba.”
Nate Campbell, Harper’s trainer and a former world champion: “He was never gonna fight him.”
Rosenberg: “It’s the day of the fight and we still don’t have a contract. This is the day of the fight.”
Marvin Romero, the booking agent for the fight who sent ESPN a copy of a contract with Harper’s signature: “The contract signed by the promoter was given to them there. The commission won’t let a fight happen without a signed contract.”
Harper: “I decided to walk out when we touched gloves and I looked over my opponent’s shoulder and I saw the matchmaker [Chico Rivas] in my opponent’s corner. It’s just disrespect. And then I never got a full contract. The matchmaker shouldn’t be in the opponent’s corner.”
Romero: “That has nothing to do with the fight. This isn’t the WWE. Chico is not gonna hold Harper and let Ajagba hit him.”
Shields: “Normally, when a guy weighs in, you think everything is OK. Then when we get to the fight, everything is cool, everything is fine. Referee gives the final instructions. Everything is fine. From that point there, you know you’re gonna have a fight. They touch gloves in the middle of the ring, I go back to our corner, the bell rings, and then ‘Boom!’ the guy jumps out of the ring. It’s unbelievable, and I’ve been in boxing for 47 years and I’ve never ever seen that.”
Efe Ajagba: “I was surprised. I was surprised. I’m like, ‘Why is the guy walking out the ring?’ I’ve never seen that before in my life. I was mad.”
Rosenberg: “When the referee came over and said he was going to be disqualified, I didn’t know what was going on because I’d never attended a fight [the couple were recently married]. I was saying, ‘Wait. Let’s go get him, let’s go get him, let’s go get him.’ By the time I got back there, they had disqualified him. I asked him, ‘What the ****? Why?’ I remember I was really upset. I didn’t understand why he did what he did.”
Jermall Charlo, boxing world champion and Fox Sports 1 commentator that night: “I was thinking that it was premeditated. The dude had to have some type of chip on his shoulder because fighters know what we went through to get in that ring. I don’t think he was scared to take on the fight. I think he had other conflicts going on.”
Harper: “It was the hardest thing for me to do, to walk back to the dressing room. I didn’t quit. It never started. However people see it is really not my concern.”
Ronnie Shields: “I think he was fine up until he saw Ajagba.”
Campbell: “I run to the back because they told me to go get him. So I go get him and he gets to telling me, ‘They don’t respect me, and they’re gonna take 80 percent.’ I just walked away from this dude. I couldn’t say nothing to him because I wanted to hit him.”
Shields: “I think they should ban him from boxing.”
Charlo: “It’s never a good situation to quit anything without saying something, being professional.”
Ajagba: “Right now, I’m scared of my next fight because of what people are saying. I don’t want that to happen in my next fight.”
Rick Glaser, promoter working with Harper: “You don’t treat people like dog-**** and lie to them, con them and treat them blatantly horrible. I think if Curtis had to do it all over again, he’d do the same thing.”
Romero: “When you sign the contract, you get everything: flights, hotel, everything. When was the call to say something about the money? I never got the call, ‘Hey Marvin, I believe I deserve more money.’ He didn’t want to get in there.”
Rosenberg: “We have no copy of any contract. If the [Minnesota Boxing Commission] suspends him and wants to take that on, it could lead to a lawsuit.”
Harper: “If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have even got on the plane.”