Saving the upcoming March 30 show featuring Tim Tszyu in the main event required a bit of scrambling — made easier by some astute planning.

Tszyu was supposed to defend his junior middleweight title against Keith Thurman, who pulled out with a biceps injury with less than two weeks to go. On the same day that news broke, so did the news that Tszyu will instead face Sebastian Fundora

Fundora is a 154-pound contender who was already scheduled to appear on the broadcast, which meant he was already available, in-shape, and likely aware that he might be called upon if the need arose. Tszyu and Fundora promptly agreed to the new fight. 

That’s never guaranteed.

You can understand why a promoter will want to save a show. You can also understand why the fighters and their teams might not always feel the same way. 

A boxing match that falls apart at the last minute can unravel months of work and cost plenty of money, not all of which can be recovered. That cancellation can not only alter the event in question, but also the hopes and expectations that the boxers, managers, promoters and networks had for what would come next. 

And the consequences may spread even further if the canceled fight was supposed to be the main event. In lieu of a new opponent for the headline attraction, sometimes the whole show will wind up being called off. One person’s injury can reverberate for everyone else.

That won’t happen on March 30. It might not have happened anyway. It’s possible that this pay-per-view — Premier Boxing Champions’ first broadcast under its new partnership with Amazon’s Prime Video service (the show is also streaming via — would’ve gone forward with one of the remaining title fights from the undercard thrust into the new main event. But the show’s organizers are certainly pleased to have Tszyu-Fundora as a high-quality Plan B.

The fans are, too. Tszyu-Fundora is a more interesting fight than Tszyu-Thurman. On paper, at least.

Thurman, once among the world’s best welterweights, has been inactive, injured, and inconsequential for huge chunks of recent years. He was off for nearly two years between wins over Danny Garcia in March 2017 and Josesito Lopez in January 2019, then away for another two-and-a-half years between his loss to Manny Pacquiao in July 2019 and his win over Mario Barrios in February 2022. That means that Thurman had only won once in the past five years, had only fought twice in that same time period, and was coming in with absolutely no track record against quality competition in the 154-pound division.

Fundora hasn’t fought in nearly a year himself and is coming off a defeat, a thunderous one at that. He was ahead on the scorecards through six rounds against Brian Mendoza in April 2023 when Mendoza wobbled Fundora in the seventh with a left hook and then toppled him with two follow-up shots that kept him down for the full count. 

Despite that, Fundora remains an intriguing matchup. He is huge for this weight class, listed at just shy of 6-foot-6, taller than almost every boxer aside from a handful of heavyweights. He is an action fighter whose height and style could present Tszyu with some difficulty, or could at least make the fight fun for as long as it lasts. 

That’s where a boxer and his braintrust have to weigh the pros and cons of taking on a late replacement opponent.

Going forward with a new opponent means Tszyu won’t have gone through training camp — the weight cut, roadwork, sparring and other preparation, all of the time and sacrifices and expenses — all for naught. It means he can still earn a payday, remain in the public eye, and progress toward his next challenge if he comes out victorious.

However, there are potential downsides. 

In general, moving forward with a substitute opponent can mean that a fighter and his trainer must cram to adjust to a different style and incorporate new strategies. They may struggle to find appropriate sparring partners on short notice. The fighter may experience a mental letdown. All of these factors can set a fighter up for a shocking defeat, or at least a surprising struggle.

They need to be able to roll with the punches, figuratively and literally. 

Many are able to do so. There are plenty of examples where a main event fighter turned out just fine. Their talent reigns supreme. Or the replacement is steps down in quality from the originally scheduled foe. Or the headliner comes in motivated by the changing circumstances, rather than troubled. They arrive with a chip on their shoulder and take out any frustration on their new opponent.

Among some of the many examples: 

Jermell Charlo knocked out Jorge Cota, a replacement when an injured Tony Harrison pulled out of his rematch with Charlo in 2019. Gervonta Davis made short work of Hugo Ruiz, who stepped in for an injured Abner Mares in 2019. Deontay Wilder eventually landed his big right hand on Gerald Washington, who was substituted in when Andrzej Wawrzyk tested positive for banned substances in 2017.

Here are a few more: When Juan Francisco Estrada had Covid and had to pull out of his rubber match with Roman Gonzalez in early 2022, “Chocolatito” outpointed flyweight titleholder Julio Cesar Martinez, who moved up to 115 for that fight. Angelo Leo won a vacant world title at junior featherweight in 2020 by defeating Tramaine Williams, who came in after Stephen Fulton caught the coronavirus. That proved to be good fortune for Leo — who at least got a brief title reign before losing to Fulton when they fought months later. And 2017 saw Anthony Joshua knockout Carlos Takam; Takam had replaced an injured Kubrat Pulev

Things wouldn’t turn out so well for Joshua against another late replacement.

His loss to Andy Ruiz in 2019 is one of the many examples of a fighter felled by their substitute. Ruiz stepped in for Jarrell Miller, who had tested positive for banned substances. Joshua spoke ahead of the fight about not taking Ruiz lightly — and it’s wholly possible that Joshua’s flaws would’ve been exposed soon enough.

Victor Ortiz suffered a letdown, a broken jaw, and then a stoppage loss to Josesito Lopez in 2012; Ortiz was originally supposed to have a rematch with Andre Berto until Berto tested positive for a banned substance.

Rocky Juarez admitted that a late change in opponents may have contributed to his loss to Humberto Soto in 2005. Juarez was supposed to challenge featherweight titleholder In Jin Chi. But when Chi got hurt in training camp, Juarez instead fought Soto for an interim belt.

“I was supposed to be fighting for the WBC belt that night. Going into that fight [with Soto], I knew I had to win against him just to fight again for the WBC belt,” Juarez told an ESPN reporter less than a year later. “So it was just a mental letdown. I think Soto went into that fight having nothing to lose and he was well-prepared himself. I knew it was going to be a tough fight.”

Bryant Cruz and his team sounded rather unprepared for Dardan Zenunaj in 2015. At the time, Cruz was an undefeated lightweight/junior lightweight prospect who was supposed to face another prospect named Wesley Ferrer. When Ferrer pulled out, Zenunaj stepped in.

“We know very little about [Zenunaj] except that he’s a solid featherweight/super featherweight that comes to fight,” said Cruz’s trainer, Ronnie Shields, days before the bout.

Afterward, Cruz’s interview demonstrated that having more knowledge about Zenunaj may have helped: “He’s an awkward fighter and he hit me with different angles I hadn’t seen before,” Cruz said. “He caught me by surprise.”

Here are a few more before we get to two of the most famous late replacements in recent history. 

All of these involved world titles: Barry McGuigan lost his featherweight title in 1986 to Steve Cruz, who replaced an injured Fernando Sosa. When Luis Franco pulled out of a 2013 title fight with Billy Dib — Franco was unhappy with his payday — Evgeny Gradovich stepped in on less than a month’s notice and dethroned Dib. James “Bonecrusher” Smith was supposed to face Mitch Green but instead got called on to fight Tim Witherspoon, replacing an injured Tony Tubbs. Not only was Smith paid handsomely, but he knocked out Witherspoon in two minutes to win a heavyweight title. 

How about the most last-second of last-second replacements? Flyweight contender Isidro Garcia was in a casino in 1999, waiting to watch boxing matches scheduled for later that day. When one of the main event fighters reported some health issues, Garcia stepped in — he had to borrow boxing gear from guys who’d fought earlier on the card — and won a world title against Jose Lopez.

Bam Rodriguez went from undercard to main event — and went from 108 pounds to the 115-pound division — substituting for an ill Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and defeating Carlos Cuadras to win a world title in 2022.

That win launched Rodriguez’s career. So, too, did a pair of upgrades involving names that weren’t widely known at the time and are now among the best: Manny Pacquiao and Terence Crawford.

They weren’t just substitutes. They proved to be significant upgrades.

Pacquiao was a former flyweight champ called into action when Enrique Sanchez got hurt a couple weeks before a fight with 122-pound titleholder Lehlohonolo Ledwaba. Pacquiao, of course, shocked Ledwaba and began the ascent that made him an all-time-great. Ledwaba and his team had no idea what was about to hit them.

 “I should’ve studied his tapes more carefully. I didn’t know what to do,” Ledwaba told Joaquin M. Henson of The Philippine Star days later.

“We were training for Sanchez, who we did not regard as a threat,” Ledwaba’s trainer, Norman Hlabane, said in an interview with Deon Potgieter a few years later. “We never knew much about Pacquiao and were not sufficiently prepared to face a man of his caliber.”

Pacquiao very well would’ve beaten Ledwaba anyway. Pacquiao was on the opposite end 20 years later, when he lost to late replacement Yordenis Ugas. Pacquiao was supposed to face Errol Spence that night; Spence had to pull out with an eye injury. Ugas was a very good fighter who may have been too good for that version of Pacquiao, even had Pacquiao-Ugas been the originally intended clash. A healthy Spence could’ve made for an ever harsher ending for Pacquiao’s career.

And then there was Crawford, stepping up from lightweight to junior welterweight and beating Breidis Prescott, who was originally supposed to face Khabib Allakhverdiev. Crawford impressed with his victory in 2013 and has gone on to become a three-division champion, the current welterweight king, and one of the best boxers, pound-for-pound, in the world.

Of course, taking a fight on short notice can also be a calculated risk for the replacement opponent. Justin Juuko said he didn’t have enough time in training camp before stepping in against Floyd Mayweather Jr. as a substitute for Gregorio Vargas (Mayweather would’ve won no matter what.)

And Crawford’s team was split on whether to go forward with the Prescott match.

“Everything in business and sports, particularly in boxing, is always risk/reward,” Bob Arum, whose Top Rank was Crawford’s promoter at the time, told the Omaha World-Herald in 2016. said. “We could’ve spent another two years with the kid getting fights off television. Who knew when he was going to get another opportunity like this? […] You’ve always got to take a chance. I didn’t think I was putting him in a fight that he couldn’t win or shouldn’t win. I was putting him in a fight where he might get beat, but the chances were that he was going to win. Risk/reward for me was not even a question. He had to take the fight.”

Crawford’s lead trainer, Brian “Bomac” McIntyre agreed. However, Cameron Dunkin, Crawford’s manager at the time, was a dissenting, concerned voice.

“I’ve got to hear that for the rest of my life,” Dunkin, who passed away earlier this year, told the World-Herald in 2016. “But I did the right thing. You shouldn’t ever take that fight. I know it’s turned into this. But if he would’ve lost that night, Top Rank would’ve dumped us. We’d have been gone. And I wouldn’t have been able to get him an eight-rounder. That’s the truth.”

Stephen Fulton, the former junior featherweight titleholder mentioned earlier in this column when discussing Angelo Leo vs. Tramaine Williams, believes that Williams may have disadvantaged himself by taking the opportunity when Fulton pulled out.

“His conditioning wasn’t where it was needed and where it was supposed to be, because that’s not who he was originally supposed to fight,” Fulton said in an interview with boxing reporter Keith Idec. “I believe [Williams] underestimated [Leo] a little bit, along with not knowing and being mentally prepared for Leo’s skill and mindset leading up to the fight. Leo already had the mindset to kill because he was getting ready to face me, and we’re two undefeated fighters. Not only that, it was for the belt, and he was way more focused. Tramaine wasn’t worried about a belt until the last minute. Had he been focusing and knowing he was fighting for a belt, then his stamina and everything would’ve been a lot better. He would’ve took that a lot more seriously than he did.”

It didn’t work out for Williams, the late substitute. Yet there are other notable instances where a replacement opponent came out on the losing end but was at least able to give the headline fighter a lot of trouble.

Vitali Klitschko’s six-round war with heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis in 2003 came together after Lewis’ original opponent, a lesser challenge in Kirk Johnson, got hurt in sparring a couple weeks before the bout. Bert Cooper stepped in against Evander Holyfield on short notice in 1991 after Francesco Damiani got hurt. Cooper wound up giving “The Real Deal” some real trouble. Despite how wide the final scorecards were, Jermall Charlo had a competitive fight with Matvey Korobov in 2018; Korobov came in after Willie Monroe Jr. tested positive for a banned substance.

And here’s a doozy to wrap up this section with: Imagine that your late replacement opponent turns out to be a future Hall of Fame inductee. 

Salvador Sanchez was supposed to face Mario Miranda in the summer of 1982. But Miranda got hurt in another fight ahead of the date with Sanchez. Several fighters turned down the opportunity to meet Sanchez, according to The New York Times. Sanchez instead shared the ring with Azumah Nelson. This was of course before the era of resources like BoxRec, YouTube, and how much easier it is these days to get footage from around the world. Sanchez’s team may only have been aware that Nelson had fought just 13 times as a pro, and just once in the United States. 

Sanchez may have known who he was in against, but not what he was about to be in with — not until the bell rang and the highly competitive match began. Sanchez scored the stoppage in the 15th round for what turned out to be his final win; Sanchez tragically died in a car crash weeks later.

Back to the present and the reason for this column: We’ll find out soon enough which of these categories Tszyu-Fundora will fall into. 

Will Tszyu be triumphant and continue to make his case as the top candidate to try to end the Jermell Charlo era? (That fight was originally supposed to happen in early 2023 but was postponed, first because of a Charlo injury and then because Charlo took on the big challenge of stepping up two weight classes to face Canelo Alvarez.) 

Will Fundora have the right combination — style, height, and coming in on short notice — to derail Tszyu’s plans, or at least to give him some trouble?

This sort of situation is never ideal. We should want the results of a boxing match to reflect only the talents of the fighters involved — and for who won and who lost not to be influenced by the timing of when an opponent was selected, and whatever effect that timing had on how well-prepared the fighters were, physically and strategically.

The circumstances for Tszyu-Fundora definitely aren’t ideal, but they are intriguing. Given the potential peril that comes with late replacements, and the history of upsets and near-upsets, there are now even more reasons to tune in and see what happens.

(Note: Thank you to colleagues and friends for their suggestions that helped supplement this article: Ben Blackwell, Tris Dixon, Kieran Mulvaney and Cliff Rold.)

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.