Spotlight on | Boxing

Evgeny Gradovich set to fight Billy Dib on Friday


Coming up

•  Friday (9 p.m., ESPN2): Billy Dib vs. Evgeny Gradovich, 12, for Dib’s IBF featherweight title.

•  Friday (11:30 p.m., Telemundo-Ch. 51): Omar Soto vs. Julian Rivera, 12, featherweights.

•  Saturday (10 p.m., Showtime): Richard Abril vs. Sharif Bogere, 12, for the vacant WBA lightweight title.

Special to The Miami Herald

One fighter’s abrupt and shocking decision to walk away from a world title fight created an opening for another fighter eager to take his place.

Evgeny Gradovich gladly accepted the late call to fight defending champion Billy Dib on Friday night in Mashantucket, Conn. Instead of preparing for another bout to boost his contending status, Gradovich will fight for Dib’s International Boxing Federation featherweight title.

Dib originally was scheduled to face Miami resident Luis Franco. The fight was officially announced and the fighters talked with the media in a conference call as recently as three weeks ago.

But within days, Franco, the IBF’s third-rated featherweight, stormed out of the gym after a dispute with his promoter and manager. The native of Cuba, who days earlier talked about his dream-come-true opportunity, instead threatened to retire.

The bout’s promoters, Lou DiBella and rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, looked for another opponent to save the card. The IBF quickly approved Gradovich (15-0, 8 KOs) to replace Franco.

“I train most of the time and I’m always in shape,” Gradovich said. “To fight for a world title in only my 16th pro fight is quick but I have good experience and this is a great opportunity for me.”

Gradovich, 26, moved to the United States to begin his professional career in 2010. As he maintained a busy schedule of eight bouts in his first year as a professional, Gradovich gradually ascended into contention.

“Gradovich is a punching machine,” Gradovich’s manager, Egis Klimas, said in a statement. “He’s going to pressure his opponent and throw a lot of punches, especially in good combinations. Being a late replacement won’t be a problem.”

Had he remained in Russia, Gradovich believes he would have dealt with a longer wait for his title opportunity.

“I like this country a lot,” said Gradovich, who lives Oxnard, Calif. “Boxing is difficult in Russia, but you can move forward in America. I have a good team here that helps motivate me.”

Rigondeaux all set

After weeks of negotiations, Miami resident Guillermo Rigondeaux will finally have his long-awaited fight with Nonito Donaire.

Rigondeaux and Donaire will meet in a super-bantamweight title unification bout April 13 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

A two-time Olympic gold medalist while representing his native Cuba, Rigondeaux has won his first 11 professional bouts and captured the World Boxing Association belt in his ninth bout.

Donaire, of the Philippines, is considered one of boxing’s top pound-for-pound fighters. Donaire (31-1, 20 KOs) already has won titles in three divisions and is the reigning World Boxing Organization 122-pound champion.

Dorticos returns

Miami resident Yunier Dorticos shook off 14 months of ring inactivity with a third-round technical knockout victory over Willie Herring on Friday night in Palm Bay.

A native of Cuba, Dorticos is now 14-0, with all wins coming by knockout knockouts.

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