Super middleweight world champion Andre Ward, promoter Roc Nation Sports and HBO have come to an agreement on a three-fight deal for the fighter that will culminate in fall 2016 with a pay-per-view showdown against three-belt light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev, sources familiar with the agreement told ESPN.com.
The Kovalev-Ward fight is, of course, contingent upon the fighters both winning two intervening bouts, but both sides have agreed to terms, according to sources familiar with the agreement.
Kovalev is already under contract to HBO. Ward’s HBO deal has not been announced yet -- and has not yet been signed -- because there are still issues in lining up an opponent to face him in the first bout of the deal. For that fight Ward will move up to light heavyweight to fight on Nov. 21 in the co-feature of the HBO PPV card, headlined by the much-anticipated showdown between middleweight champion Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Should Ward (28-0, 15 KOs) get into the ring that night, you can be sure the paperwork on the deal, including for the Kovalev fight, will be signed by both sides because HBO is not going to let what happened last year happen again. The network had a deal in place for a light heavyweight unification fight between Adonis Stevenson and Kovalev (28-0-1, 25 KOs) that was agreed to but not signed, and Stevenson ultimately walked away, leaving HBO with nothing to show for its investment in him.
But who will Ward fight on Nov. 21? It’s been difficult getting an opponent approved by Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Bob Bennett for what is supposed to be a tune-up fight.
Agree or disagree with Bennett, but he told ESPN.com that Roc Nation over the past month or so has proposed various opponents he was not thrilled by. One, Australian Rohan Murdoch (18-1, 14 KOs), he declined to approve. Texas’ Samuel Clarkson (17-3, 11 KOs) was also not approved, and he wound up taking a fight and winning on Friday night in Phoenix, so he’s out of the running.
Bennett said others Roc Nation asked for approval on were Australia’s Blake Caparello (21-1-1, 6 KOs), who got knocked out by Kovalev in two rounds last year; Colombian banger Alexander Brand (24-1, 19 KOs), a quality amateur whose only loss was a 2012 split decision to Badou Jack, who went on to win a super middleweight world title; and Montreal’s Schiller Hyppolite (16-1, 10 KOs).
One opponent, so far, has been approved: Chicago southpaw Cedric Agnew (28-2, 14 KO), who lost to Clarkson by split decision in February and got shredded in seven rounds by Kovalev in March 2014. I am told that since Ward is preparing to fight Kovalev eventually, he’d prefer to fight a right-hander, who will come to him -- the opposite of what left-hander Agnew does.
The bottom line is that Ward is fighting a tune-up fight to get to Kovalev, whose team would prefer to fight Ward next. I’d prefer that too, as would countless boxing fans.
But that is not reality. So as long as they are doing tune-ups it seems that any of the fighters proposed for Ward is an approvable one, even if none are scintillating matches. Eventually, everyone will agree on the opponent, Ward will fight him on Nov. 21 and probably win, and we’ll all be a step closer to the Kovalev-Ward showdown.
It is just unfortunate that it is going to take close to a year to happen, which is entirely unnecessary. It’s boxing. A lot can happen in a year that could mess things up, signed contract or not.