Deontay Wilder was willing to risk his heavyweight title and unbeaten mark against a hometown hero in Moscow.
What he wasn't as willing to risk was having his brains scrambled by the fists of a doped-up Russian fighter.
"This is already a put your life on the line type of sport," Wilder said. "This was like someone coming to a fight with a knife in their hands."
Wilder was training in England and about to take a plane to Moscow when his camp got word Sunday that Alexander Povetkin had tested positive to meldonium, the seeming drug du jour of Russian athletes.
One of the better heavyweight matchups of the year was in limbo as Wilder's camp and the World Boxing Council tried to decide what to do.
"I still wanted to fight," Wilder said. "But at the end of the day I had to think about the repercussions behind it. We would be sending out a message that says it's OK to do this."
If there's one sport where almost everyone would agree doping is not OK, it's boxing. Unlike other sports, you don't play at boxing.
And getting hit in the face by a 200-plus pound fighter is risky enough even if he hasn't been taking performance enhancing drugs.
"The head is not meant to be hit in the first place but we're willing to do it to make money and provide for our family," Wilder said. "But we never know if we're going to come out of the ring like we came into it."
The WBC ended up pulling the plug on Saturday's fight, sending Wilder and his team scrambling to book flights back home to Alabama. His $4.5 million purse is in escrow and likely the subject of a court fight, and he's out tens of thousands of dollars for training expenses in England.
One minute he was gearing up for the fight of his life. The next he was on an airplane, feeling depressed about what happened.
"I'm just devastated," Wilder told The Associated Press after landing in Birmingham. "It hurts to put so much work into this, hours upon hours of training and sparring and then the traveling. To come up empty-handed is sad and sad for the sport. A lot of people missed out on a great fight."
It wasn't as if Wilder didn't see something like this happening. A year ago when the fight was being discussed he questioned whether the 36-year-old Povetkin was on something because he had won all his fights by knockout and looked trimmer since losing a title fight to Wladimir Klitschko in 2013.
But the unbeaten Wilder, a bronze medalist in the 2008 Olympics, would be getting the biggest purse of his life by going to Moscow to face the No. 1 challenger for his piece of the title. He was eager to make a statement, and confident that Povetkin would be tested rigorously by the Las Vegas-based Voluntary Anti-Doping Association.
Povetkin passed at least two VADA tests, before failing one in April. The substance found in the test was meldonium, the stamina booster that tennis star Maria Sharapova and dozens of other athletes in ex-Soviet republics have tested positive for since it was banned Jan. 1.
"To see I was right all along is sad, man," Wilder said. "I wanted to be wrong. Sometimes you can judge a person wrong."
Povetkin's promoter has demanded the fight be rescheduled, and contended the concentration of meldonium in the sample was extremely low. The fighter himself said he did nothing wrong and expects to fight Wilder.
"I'm clean. I haven't taken anything or consumed anything, so I've got nothing to fear," Povetkin said, adding he took meldonium only before it was banned at the start of the year.
Wilder, though, isn't so sure the fight will ever happen. He wants his money and some time to think about what to do next.
"I would respect them more if they just manned up and admitted it," he said. "It's downright sad and they should be locked up."