On July 6, 2014, the World Boxing Association (WBA) sanctioned a heavyweight championship fight between Ruslan Chagaev, a native of Uzbekistan, and Chicago-based fighter Fres Oquendo. The fight was held in Grozny, the capital of the Russian republic of Chechnya. After 12 rounds, the judges narrowly awarded the victory—and the title—to Chagaev.
Under the contract for the fight, Oquendo had a right to an “immediate rematch without any intervening bouts.” The fight's promoter, CCC Terek, had 120 days following the initial fight to schedule the rematch. The promoter also guaranteed Oquendo a $1 million purse. The contract further specified any dispute would be settled according to New York law.
After the fight, the promoter failed to honor the rematch clause or pay Oquendo the entire purse. Oquendo only received $215,000, and CCC Terek opted to promote a title defense featuring Chagaev and an Italian boxer. That fight is tentatively scheduled for this July in Germany.
In December 2014, Oquendo filed a breach of contract lawsuit in Manhattan federal court against CCC Terek. This past April, U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams issued a preliminary injunction, ordering CCC Terek not to promote any fight for Chagaev until it first scheduled a rematch with Oquendo. As of June 4, CCC Terek has not complied with the injunction, and a contempt motion remains pending before Judge Abrams.
Notwithstanding CCC Terek's non-compliance, on May 22 Judge Abrams issued a final judgment in favor of Oquendo. The judge rejected CCC Terek's argument the original fight contract, including the rematch clause, was “unenforceable” because it was the product of duress. Specifically, the promoter said it acted under “economic duress” on Oquendo's part, and additionally “it was under duress as a result of threats to its agents' physical safety” on the part of unnamed officials of the government of Chechnya.
Judge Abrams said “neither of these arguments is tenable.” Oquendo's alleged “economic duress” arose from his threat in May 2014 to withdraw from the initial fight due to concerns over the health of his wife and their prematurely born child. CCC Terek maintained it only agreed to a rematch clause in the final contract—which was signed just before the fight took place—because of the “threat” Oquendo would not show. But as Judge Abrams explained, Oquendo had every right under the contract to withdraw due to “mental” disability, which could include the stress brought about by his family situation. And in any case, even if Oquendo's actions could be seen as a threat to breach the contract, that would still not constitute “economic duress” under New York law.
Nor could the promoter prove it was acting under physical duress on the part of the Chechen government. Indeed, Judge Abrams said this claim was little more than “speculation” based on some vague email correspondence warning of “serious” consequences if the fight did not take place. But under New York law, a contract is not void for duress on the part of a third party, unless one of the parties to the contract had knowledge of or consented to the the duress. That was not the case here.
Finally, even if there was credible evidence CCC Terek signed the contract under duress, the promoter had an affirmative duty under New York law to “promptly” repudiate the contract. It did not do so. Rather, it waited until nearly eight months later to first raise its duress arguments in response to Oquendo's lawsuit. Up to that point, the promoter acted as if the contract was valid and enforceable. Accordingly, Judge Abrams held CCC Terek in breach of contract and ordered it to schedule the rematch with Oquendo and pay him the balance of $1 million purse from the first fight.
A Straightforward Matter of Law
While Judge Abrams acknowledged the facts of this case were “sensational,” the legal issues involved were actually quite “straightforward.” A party cannot simply refuse to honor a contract because it is inconvenient. And courts will not accept after-the-fact excuses unsupported by credible evidence. If you are involved in a contract dispute and need assistance from an experienced New York civil litigation attorney, contact our offices right away.