Daniel MacKinnon and Robert Berridge, New Zealand's two best light heavyweight boxers, can't agree to fight in a world title eliminator.
The unfortunate standoff threatens to rob genuine Kiwi boxing fans of the chance to witness the biggest domestic fight since Shane Cameron fought David Tua in 2009.
Sunday News can reveal Cameron's manager, Ken Reinsfield, attempted to stage a fight between MacKinnon (21-6) and Berridge (19-1) for July which Sky Television had agreed to screen on pay-per-view. The winner would have had the chance to fight Polish IBO champion Andrezj Fonfara.
"Everybody in New Zealand wanted to see this fight," Reinsfield said.
Despite tweaking the contract to get the fight over the line - and MacKinnon offering to fight for free - the Berridge camp refuse to budge.
"I think they are running," MacKinnon said. "Robbie is not scared, I know that. But I would say his manager is really keen to protect his record. He tends to struggle against good boxers. They know if they fight me they'll have an awkward time.
"They are trying to pick an easier route to get to the top and get themselves a world title shot. I think they know if they fight me they might hit a concrete wall. That could ruin their chances."
Through poor management decisions and missed opportunities, boxers can toil away their whole careers without getting a title shot. It is the ultimate goal. For the past six weeks, MacKinnon had been training in the belief he was one step closer.
"It's very disappointing for me. The deadline comes and they decide not to agree. It's disheartening," the 29-year-old said. "It's a huge opportunity and I don't understand it. Maybe he's got some sense of misguided success . . . it's bizarre. A world title eliminator is huge. I'll take the fight for free. Maybe his confidence isn't there. I made the offer that winner takes all the money. I'll go home broke. I don't care."
Berridge claims to have issues with the contract, but refused to reveal specifics, and said he offered to fight MacKinnon on several occasions previously.
"I can't really discuss that," Berridge said. "A few things aren't right in the contract and they need to be cleared up. I've wanted to fight Daniel from day one. We've given them four contracts and they've turned them down."
Other than boosting his ego, Berridge believes he gains nothing from fighting MacKinnon. The IBO ranks "The Butcher" at 26 and MacKinnon at 59. Berridge reckons he can go around MacKinnon to challenge the Polish champion now.
"I can do that. I want to be world No 1," the 28-year-old said. "I don't want to muck around with ego fights that don't earn me any money or ranking points. I'm past that."
Berridge is thought to have linked with Australian puppet master Brendon Bourke, who runs a makeshift boxing outfit in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast.
Reinsfield is working on closing a deal for MacKinnon to fight a finalist in the Contender series, Kariz Kariuki (25-11), but remains frustrated at the way Berridge's management handled discussions.
"The contract was never signed. They just walked away from negotiations," he said. "I made them an offer of shared pay-per-view and they chose to walk away."
- © Fairfax NZ News