Replaces Matt Damon in Paramount drama

Brad Pitt is poised to star alongside Mark Wahlberg in “The Fighter,” the Paramount Pictures drama about Boston boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward and his unlikely path to become world lightweight champion.

Darren Aronofsky is directing and Scott Silver (“8 Mile”) is working on the current draft of the screenplay.

David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman are producing through their Mandeville shingle.

Wahlberg is set to play Ward. Pitt is in talks to play Dicky Eklund, Mickey’s half-brother and a talented fighter who once knocked Sugar Ray Leonard to the canvas and went the distance in a title fight against that boxing legend.

Pitt will replace Matt Damon, who had been looking forward to a reteam with Wahlberg, his co-star in “The Departed” and a fellow Bostonian. Damon just had too many projects on his dance card to make the film on the schedule Par wanted.

It’s believed Damon gave his blessing to Pitt, his co-star in the “Ocean’s Eleven” film series.

With the exception of Pitt, all of the pic’s principals have Boston ties. Wahlberg hails from South Boston. Aronofsky graduated from Harvard, while Silver is from Massachusetts and went to Boston U.

Wahlberg has been vigorously training to get into shape for the ring. Paramount is aiming to get the film into production in fall 2008.

Dicky threw his gifts away on drugs and a robbery career that landed him a sentence of 10-15 years in state prison — but he kicked drugs, became a model prisoner and turned his life around. When he left jail, he became Mickey’s trainer at a time when Ward was losing fights and was ready to hang up his gloves. Together, the brothers found the spark that led to a remarkable string of victories for Ward and the world title.

Pitt next stars alongside Edward Norton in “State of Play,” the Kevin Macdonald-directed adaptation of the Brit miniseries for Universal. He’ll next be seen starring in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and recently wrapped “Benjamin Button.” He’s starring with George Clooney in the Coen brothers pic “Burn After Reading.”

Aronofsky and Pitt nearly worked together previously on “The Fountain,” but Pitt dropped out of the project. Aronofsky scaled down the film’s budget and made the drama with Hugh Jackman in the starring role.

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