Dan Rafael: Sergey Kovalev

Junior middleweight slugger James Kirkland, who has fought just one time in each of the past two years, is seemingly ready for his annual ring appearance.

Kirkland is the leading candidate to be featured in the HBO-televised co-feature of the Bernard Hopkins-Sergey Kovalev light heavyweight unification fight on Nov. 8 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Kirkland (32-1, 28 KOs), a 30-year-old southpaw from Austin, Texas, and one of boxing roughest sluggers, has not fought since last December. In that HBO fight, he stopped Glenn Tapia in the sixth round of a slugfest.

HBO has tried multiple times throughout the year to work out a deal with Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Kirkland's promoter, to get Kirkland back on the air, but coming to terms has been very difficult because Kirkland has turned down several offers.

Two of the names that have come up as a possible Kirkland opponents are the crowd-pleasing Javier Maciel (29-3, 20 KOs) of Argentina and former junior middleweight world titleholder Zauerbek Baysangurov (29-1, 21 KOs) of Russia.

Kirkland's camp told ESPN.com he is out of the running to face Canelo Alvarez in December. He had been one of three candidates mentioned by Alvarez promoter Oscar De La Hoya. But Kirkland's camp views a possible fight with Alvarez as a pay-per-view fight, and Alvarez's next fight will be on premium cable (HBO or Showtime, which has not been decided yet).

Another fighter De La Hoya mentioned was junior middleweight titlist Demetrius Andrade, but that is highly unlikely, even before Andrade was approved to face Matt Korobov for a vacant middleweight belt. That leaves the likely Alvarez opponent as former welterweight titlist Joshua Clottey, who is -- by far -- the weakest and least interesting of the three names De La Hoya mentioned.

Pascal continues to chase Stevenson

August, 31, 2014
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Jean Pascal AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Ryan RemiorzJean Pascal is a big draw in Quebec where he has fought his last 10 bouts.

Light heavyweight champ Adonis Stevenson has blown fights with Sergey Kovalev and Bernard Hopkins for the fall, so they are unifying their belts with each other on Nov. 8.

The next best choice for Stevenson is an all-Montreal showdown with former champion Jean Pascal, who has one of the biggest names in the division and a quality resume that includes a win over Chad Dawson (long before Stevenson knocked him out to win the title), Lucian Bute, Adrian Diaconu (twice), a draw and competitive loss to Hopkins and a competitive loss to Carl Froch at super middleweight.

Stevenson-Pascal was in talks, too, but quickly went nowhere because of a disagreement over the revenue split for a fight that Showtime is interested in.

Stevenson’s side has thrown around a 70-30 split in favor of the champ while Pascal -- who is the mandatory challenger -- is seeking a 50-50 deal.

The 50-50 deal is what is fair considering that Pascal is a much greater draw in Montreal than Stevenson. Bottom line, while Stevenson brings the title to the table, Pascal brings a bigger name and more financial muscle.

Pascal’s camp is putting on the hard press in an attempt to lure Stevenson back to the table for a more equitable split of the money.

Greg Leon, CEO of Jean Pascal Promotions, laid out the argument, which makes a lot of sense. Included in his case:

• Pascal has taken part in three of the five highest grossing fights (including No. 1, with Bute), in the history of Canadian boxing. Stevenson was not involved in the other two.

• In those three fights, Hopkins I and II and the Bute fight in January, Pascal generated more gate revenue than Stevenson has in his entire career.

• The biggest money fight available to both Stevenson and Pascal is to fight each other. There isn't another fight for Stevenson that gives him the chance to become a 10,000-plus ticket seller in Quebec, not to mention that Stevenson would reap a career-high payday and be favored against Pascal.

• Leon claims that Pascal is willing to allow Stevenson promoter Yvon Michel, who used to promote Pascal, to become involved with Pascal in another multi-fight deal as part of making a Stevenson fight.

[+] EnlargeAdonis Stevenson, Tavoris Cloud
AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Ryan RemiorzIn 2014, Adonis Stevenson, right, left on the table fights with light heavyweight titlists Bernard Hopkins and Sergey Kovalev.
“Now it's up to Stevenson to grow a pair and accept a major challenge or blatantly duck his third big fight in the last year or so,” Leon said. “A champion who ducks three big fights in favor of bouts against second tier opponents is a champion nobody respects and is easily forgotten, especially at 36 years old.

“Our willingness to give the old man a rematch clause is above and beyond our requirements as WBC mandatory challenger. At 36 years old Adonis Stevenson can assure himself at least two big paydays before he turns 40. At the end of the day, boxing is a business and Team Stevenson isn't using their best business sense. They have already lost millions of dollars with the Kovalev and Hopkins bouts and have the potential to lose millions more by choosing another second tier opponent over Jean Pascal. Considering all of the facts, how does 50-50 not make sense to Team Stevenson? If Jean Pascal is as difficult to deal with as Yvon Michel would have the world believe, then clearly it is impossible to deal with Adonis Stevenson.

“If Superman continues to run and hide behind his manager (Al Haymon) and promoter, Jean Pascal's new nickname will be ‘Kryptonite.’ And everybody knows what would happen to Superman if he were in a boxing ring with ‘Kryptonite. ‘

So instead of facing Kovalev, Hopkins or Pascal, the names being thrown around to face Stevenson later this year include the unimpressive likes of Umberto Savigne and Gabriel Campillo.

Hopefully Stevenson, Michel and Haymon will spare us that dreck. And the excuses.

Stevenson left with no big fight

August, 15, 2014
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Adonis StevensonAP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jacques BoissinotAdonis Stevenson has a light heavyweight belt, but can't find a top opponent to defend it against.

Light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson could've faced titleholder Sergey Kovalev in a much-anticipated unification fight on HBO in the fall. But Stevenson ran for cover to Showtime, where he struggled to a decision win against Andrzej Fonfara on May 24 in a fight that was instead supposed to set up a fall unification fight with Bernard Hopkins.

However, Hopkins could not wait for the Stevenson camp, which was dragging its feet, to close the deal. So Hopkins took his belts and went back to HBO and made a deal to unify his titles with Kovalev, which is a big-time fight.

Stevenson was due to return to headline a Showtime card Sept. 27, but with Kovalev and Hopkins out of the picture for the fall -- and a fight with former champion Jean Pascal also now off the table -- his date has been postponed until October or November, according to French Canadian sports website RDS.

Once Hopkins paired off with Kovalev, the obvious opponent for Stevenson was Pascal, a fellow Montreal fighter. But Yvon Michel, Stevenson’s promoter, told the website that Stevenson-Pascal would not happen this year.

Pascal, a bigger name and bigger draw than Stevenson is in Quebec, was seeking a 50-50 deal, which seemed appropriate. However, the Stevenson camp turned that down, leaving Stevenson with no fight.

So instead of an A-level match with Kovalev or Hopkins, or even a B+ match with Pascal, Stevenson is down to discussion of second-rate opponents for his next fight: former titlist Gabriel Campillo (24-6-1, 11 KOs), who upset Thomas Williams Jr. in a fifth-round knockout win on Aug. 1, and Humberto Savigne (13-1, 10 KOs), who polished off the remnants of former super middleweight titlist Jeff Lacy in two rounds on July 10.

NEW YORK -- Middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin took care of business inside the ring when he knocked out Daniel Geale in the third round of a dominant performance to retain his title for the 11th time (and score his 17th consecutive stoppage) on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

The day before the fight, Golovkin took care of his business outside of the ring when he signed a multi-fight contract extension with HBO, K2 Promotions managing director Tom Loeffler told ESPN.com following the fight.

“We are looking forward to continuing our long-term relationship with HBO,” Loeffler said. “They've invested a lot in Gennady, and we feel they are the best television partner we could have to help take his career to the next level.”

The deal calls for a minimum of four fights, although the Geale bout was the first one under the contract. The agreement also has provisions for overseas fights and potential pay-per-view fights, meaning there could be far more than four bouts. The bottom line is that all of Golovkin’s fights, wherever they may take place, will be on HBO or HBO PPV for the foreseeable future.

The fight with Geale was supposed to be the final bout of Golovkin’s previous agreement with HBO, but the terms for Saturday’s fight were renegotiated, and the old deal was ripped up and replaced by the new deal.

Since making his HBO debut in September 2012, Golovkin’s star has steadily risen, as have his viewership figures, which are among the network’s best for boxing. Golovkin (30-0, 27 KOs) has fought five of his last seven fights on HBO, with his two overseas fights in Monaco not being on the network, which took some criticism for not showing his February fight with Osumanu Adama. That won’t happen again under this agreement.

HBO declined to comment on Golovkin’s contract, saying it won’t talk about its multi-fight agreements -- the same stance it took when it declined to discuss the exclusive deals it has recently made with Manny Pacquiao and Sergey Kovalev.

Golovkin is expected back in the ring for one more fight this year, likely in October or November.
Light heavyweight contender Isaac Chilemba will square off with Cory Cummings on Aug. 2 at the Revel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Main Events announced on Tuesday.

The fight will be the co-feature on the card headlined by light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev defending his belt against Blake Caparello.

[+] EnlargeChilemba
Rich Graessle/Main EventsLight heavyweight contender Isaac Chilemba, right, is being groomed as a future opponent for titlist Sergey Kovalev.
While Kovalev-Caparello will televised on HBO as part of a split-site tripleheader -- along with the Brandon Rios-Diego Chaves welterweight main event and junior welterweight titlist Jessie Vargas' first defense against Anton Novikov in Las Vegas, Chilemba-Cummings will not be televised in the United States, although it will be on the international broadcast.

Chilemba (22-2-2, 9 KOs), 27, of South Africa, is coming off a 10-round unanimous decision against Denis Grachev on March 15, his second win in a row since losing a title eliminator to Tony Bellew in their rematch.

"Come Aug. 2 I will be fully charged and ready to claim victory," Chilemba said. "I take all my opponents seriously as each one takes me a step closer to realizing my dream of the world title, so Cory Cummings should not for one minute think that I am coming unprepared."

Cummings (17-6-1, 13 KOs), 34, of Baltimore, is hardly a worthy opponent on paper. He is 2-6-1 in his last nine fights and has lost two fights in a row while boxing only once since 2011, a loss to badly faded former middleweight titlist William Joppy.

For Main Events, having Chilemba on the undercard makes a lot of sense. It needs to cultivate future opponents for Kovalev and by having him on his undercard it keeps them on the same schedule and also will give HBO executives a good look at him.
Light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev’s return, which is ticketed for Aug. 2 at the Revel casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, as part of an HBO-televised split-site tripleheader, probably will come against Australia’s Blake Caparello.

Russia’s Kovalev (24-0-1, 22 KOs) will be making his third title defense. He had hoped to be prepping for a fall showdown with champion Adonis Stevenson, but when he bailed on the fight and went to Showtime, it left promoter Main Events, Kovalev and HBO, which has Kovalev under contract, to change its plans.

Caparello (19-0-1, 6 KOs), 27, signed earlier this year with promoter Lou DiBella, is the opponent HBO is insisting on, even though he is not somebody Main Events is thrilled with matching Kovalev with.

That’s understandable, and not because Caparello presents any great danger. It’s because, like Kovalev’s March 29 victim, Cedric Agnew, who got knocked out in the seventh round, Caparello is not a crowd pleaser whatsoever.

In Caparello’s American debut on Jan. 31, he headlined an ESPN2 card against the faded Elvir Muriqi and won a lopsided and terribly boring 10-round decision in a sleep-inducing performance. How that qualified Caparello to fight for a world title, on HBO no less, is beyond me but, hey, that’s what the network wants. I’m told one of the reasons is because Caparello fits what seems to be HBO’s continually shrinking budget. Total package for Caparello’s side is likely to be only a little more than $100,000.

The rest of the telecast is supposed to feature welterweight Brandon Rios (31-2-1, 23 KOs) in his first fight since a lopsided loss to Manny Pacquiao in November and subsequent suspension for a failed drug test. He’ll take on former interim titlist Diego Chaves (23-1, 19 KOs) in the main event while junior welterweight titlist Jessie Vargas (24-0, 9 KOs) likely will defend his belt against an opponent to be determined in either Las Vegas or Fresno, California.

Main Events chief executive Kathy Duva watched with interest as light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson, looking anything like his “Superman” nickname would suggest, struggled mightily over the last quarter of the fight with Andrzej Fonfara on Saturday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

Although Stevenson won a unanimous decision, scoring knockdowns in the first and fifth rounds and retaining his title for the third time, he also was dropped in the ninth round and looked pretty bad the last few rounds as he faded badly. If 15-round fights still existed we might be talking about a new champion today.

Duva watched with interest because she promotes light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev, whom many believe Stevenson straight ducked by bolting from HBO to go to Showtime for the Fonfara fight (which HBO had agreed to put on) and a probable fall fight with unified titlist Bernard Hopkins, rather than remaining at HBO to face Kovalev in the fall.

Main Events is suing Stevenson, promoter Yvon Michel, Showtime, Al Haymon (Stevenson’s adviser) and Hopkins promoter Golden Boy over the situation, claiming Michel had agreed to a deal for the Kovalev fight on HBO in the fall.

Duva said she saw what happened Saturday coming, the reason why she pushed so hard to make Stevenson-Kovalev happen as quickly as possible.

“I had tried to push HBO to go straight to the Kovalev-Stevenson fight since the fall because I was certain that Stevenson would lose to, or be embarrassed by, just about anyone who could punch just a little bit,” Duva said. “He sure proved me right [Saturday] night. I get the feeling that the boys at HBO thought I was delusional. Probably not so much anymore.”

Stevenson and Kovalev fought on the same HBO card in November and Duva and Kovalev wanted to go right to a fight with Stevenson after that. But the Stevenson camp didn’t want to, and Duva and Kovalev ultimately agreed to each take separate bouts first, with Kovalev knocking out Cedric Agnew on March 29 and Stevenson facing Fonfara.

“I won't criticize Fonfara after hanging in there the way he did. He's a nice kid. But Stevenson really made him look good,” Duva said.

The first hearing in the lawsuit is scheduled for June 6 in U.S. District Court in New York.

Jean Pascal has plan in place

April, 18, 2014
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Pascal/ButeEric Bolte/USA TODAY SportsJean Pascal could be headed for a rematch with fellow Montreal star Lucian Bute later this year.

Former light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal, who re-signed with promoter Yvon Michel and also brought on co-promoter InterBox in a deal announced Thursday, has a plan in place.

Michel and InterBox’s Jean Bedard will promote at least Pascal’s next two fights in conjunction with Pascal’s new company, Jean Pascal Promotions. Pascal, a major star in Montreal, will return in September to fight in Quebec in the first fight of the agreement.

Top Rank has been contacted to see if Seanie Monaghan is interested in facing Pascal, according to a source with knowledge of the discussion.

If all goes well for Pascal (29-2-1, 17 KOs) in September, the plan is for him to meet fellow Montreal star and former super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute in December in a rematch. In perhaps the most anticipated fight in Canadian history -- although one that took place too late because neither fighter was still at his best -- Pascal easily outpointed Bute on Jan. 18, after which Pascal’s contract with Michel expired, leading to his free agency and the new deal signed this week.

Bute had an option for a rematch after the first fight with Pascal. If Pascal wins the proposed rematch with Bute, the plan would be for another huge all-Montreal showdown in the first part of 2015 against reigning light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson.

Of course, a lot can happen between now and then. Pascal has to win his fights first, although he is not going to be in much harm’s way. Stevenson would also have to beat Andrzej Fonfara on May 24 in Montreal, a fight for which Stevenson is the heavy favorite. Then it could get trickier. He would probably have one more fight before a possible Pascal match.

If Stevenson wins on May 24 and Bernard Hopkins defeats Beibut Shumenov on Saturday to unify alphabet light heavyweight belts, the plan Stevenson, Hopkins and Showtime have talked about is for a fall showdown between Stevenson and Hopkins (who is already 1-0-1 against Pascal in championship fights).

If Stevenson beats Hopkins, he would probably be looking at a fight with Pascal next -- and not the fight most fans would rather see, a showdown with titleholder Sergey Kovalev. That was in the works for the fall before Stevenson jumped from HBO to Showtime last month.

Kovalev-Agnew tops 1M viewers

April, 2, 2014
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Light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev is as exciting as any fighter out there these days. He’s a knockout machine, so even though Cedric Agnew, Kovalev’s opponent last Saturday night, was totally obscure, not very accomplished as a professional and something like a 38-to-1 underdog, people still tuned in for Kovalev’s first HBO main event.

According to Nielsen Media Research, the live first airing of the fight drew 1.006 million viewers, who saw Kovalev dominate and score three knockdowns en route to a seventh-round knockout.

The audience peaked at 1.048 million viewers, which I view as pretty darn good, especially when you consider that the vast majority of the attention of the sports world was on the NCAA tournament, and the HBO card, which was horrible on paper, did not get all that much publicity.

Kovalev’s main event showed a significant increase on the 742,000 viewers who tuned in for the desultory welterweight fight between Thomas Dulorme and Karim Mayfield that opened the show.

Now just imagine what kind of numbers Kovalev could do if he had an elite opponent? Paging super middleweight champion Andre Ward.

Jennings-Perez could fill HBO date

March, 31, 2014
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Once HBO declined to match Showtime’s offer to light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson for a May 24 defense against Andrzej Fonfara, HBO was left with a hole in its schedule.

Although HBO will not have Stevenson that night, the network still plans to put on a card, multiple people from the network told me while I was at the Sergey Kovalev-Cedric Agnew fight on Saturday in Atlantic City, N.J.

The network even knows what it wants to put on: A doubleheader involving the heavyweight elimination bout between Bryant Jennings (18-0, 10 KOs) and Mike Perez (20-0-1, 12 KOs), both of whom have already had good performances on HBO, and a junior middleweight bout between slugger James Kirkland (32-1, 28 KOs) and Willie Nelson (21-1-1, 12 KOs).

Jennings-Perez was recently ordered by one of the alphabet organizations as a title eliminator and both fighters' camps want the bout. Kirkland-Nelson was originally ticketed for an April 26 HBO card headlined by middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin against Andy Lee, but the show was canceled when Golovkin withdrew following the death of his father.

But although HBO said it had designs on that show, it has apparently not given the green light to the promoters to finalize things from what I was told by somebody else involved in the card. That means time is running out to secure a site, particularly on somewhat short notice and on a holiday weekend -- as the fight would be on Memorial Day weekend.

It would also be nice to lock it down as soon as possible so the fighters can train properly and secure their advances to pay for training camps, which cost money.

As an aside, HBO stunningly is considering Kirkland-Nelson as the main event, which I find bizarre, given that the heavyweight fight is, well, a heavyweight fight between unbeaten rising contenders, a much more interesting match in my view and also one with a lot more at stake -- a shot at a heavyweight title -- than the other bout.
Adonis StevensonAP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jacques BoissinotLight heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson had some words for Sergey Kovalev.

Often in boxing, it is trash talk between fighters that leads to a match being made. And often it is also after a match is made that the trash-talking begins.

Rarely do you hear the trash talk after a fight goes unmade, but that is where we are now as it relates to the no-longer-happening light heavyweight championship showdown between champion Adonis “Superman” Stevenson and titlist Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev.

Their fight was supposed to take place in the fall after Kovalev promoter Kathy Duva of Main Events and Stevenson promoter Yvon Michel made a deal with HBO. But as you should know by now that is not happening, because Stevenson and his team reneged last week on a multifight deal they had with HBO for a May 24 showcase fight and the fall fight with Kovalev.

Stevenson’s team -- new adviser Al Haymon and promoter Yvon Michel -- attempted to shake down HBO for more money on the May fight as well as refusing to follow through on a deal agreed to for the fall fight. In other words, they wanted more money for the expected walkover fight and didn’t even want to commit to the hard, big fight. HBO, which had already made a deal (although it was unsigned, which is on HBO for being sloppy), was having none of that. When Showtime eventually made a bigger offer for the May fight, HBO declined its contractual right to match the offer. Thus, Stevenson is now a Showtime fighter and Kovalev happily remains at HBO, which televised his seventh-round destruction of overmatched Cedric Agnew from Atlantic City, N.J., on Saturday night.

After the fight, Kovalev had some choice words for Stevenson when asked by HBO’s Max Kellerman about the situation during his postfight interview.

"Adonis Stevenson is a piece of s---. Oh, sorry for my English,” Kovalev responded about the man who certainly seemed to duck the fight.

I totally get that Stevenson will make more money for the May 24 fight now that it is on Showtime. Fighters should go for the biggest money. That is what they and their team are supposed to do. It’s the hurt business, emphasis on business. I would do the same thing. But, and it’s a big but, the issue here is giving your word as a man, agreeing to a deal down to the little details and then backing out. That is not cool. And, frankly, Duva said she is considering litigation over the issue because she says she has emails confirming every step of the way toward a done deal.

In any event, after Kovalev gave his opinion on Stevenson, the champ took to Twitter and had his say, lashing out at Kovalev.

“You just a real slow BUM with no defense. Easy work,” Stevenson wrote.

Stevenson was not done quite yet adding, “Tell your mama Kathy Duva to stop crying and to call Yvon Michel and Al Haymon to make the fight happen! BUM.”

I had tweeted Kovalev’s postfight comment about Stevenson and he responded to me, tweeting, “When Kovalev fight me he will stay at the hospital and mama Duva will come see him! Tell mama Duva to call Al Haymon and Yvon Michel to make that easy payday happen!”

(By the way, in disrespectfully calling Duva, who has 30 years of experience at the top of the promotional business, ‘mama,’ Main Events responded to Stevenson, “Adonis, your disdain for women and misogyny is, unfortunately, not surprising. #SuperDuck.” Main Events was probably referring to Stevenson’s prison sentence for promoting prostitution.)

But back to Stevenson’s tough talk about making the fight, the easy payday, etc. ... with Kovalev. The trash talk is good and everything except for one small detail: The fight was made already and it was Stevenson who walked away from the deal, not Kovalev.

For Stevenson to go after him like that smacks of hypocrisy. Like he is the schoolboy beefing with his rival and threatening to fight him on the playground, screaming, “I’ll get you! Let’s fight!” Meanwhile, he is standing behind his buddies, who are not going to let anything happen.

It’s not a good look. This is not a good look for Stevenson, who had the fight with Kovalev. If it was such an easy payday why didn’t he and his team keep their word? Stevenson threw it away, not Kovalev.

Barrera joins Main Events

February, 21, 2014
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Main Events doesn’t have a deep stable of fighters under contract, but many of the fighters it does promote are in the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions.

At light heavyweight, its central figure is titleholder Sergey Kovalev. A good promoter is always looking to build interest in a division in which it has a stake as well as build opponents for the star to fight.

That brings us to Cuban light heavyweight Sullivan Barrera (10-0, 6 KOs), who signed Thursday with Main Events, adding yet another 175-pounder to a roster that already includes Kovalev, Anatoliy Dudchenko, Isaac Chilemba, Lionell Thompson and Ilshat Khusnulgatin.

"I am very happy and very excited. I thank Main Events for the opportunity to let people know who Sullivan Barrera is,” Barrera said. “I feel I am the best in the light heavyweight division. The problem I've faced is that I wasn't given the opportunity to compete. Now that Main Events will give me the opportunity, I will be able to show my talent."

Barrera figures to gain national exposure on Main Events’ slate of “Fight Night” cards on the NBC Sports network.

"We are very excited to have Barrera on board with us here at Main Events. He has it in him to be an electrifying performer and the sky is the limit,” Main Events chief executive Kathy Duva said.

Barrera, 31, lives in Miami and turned pro in 2009, and he has had long stretches of inactivity. He fought only twice in 2011 and once each in 2012 and 2013. But as an amateur, he was 282-27 and holds victories against former light heavyweight world champion Chad Dawson and reigning titleholder Beibut Shumenov.

Barrera found his way to Main Events in part because his adviser, Egis Klimas, manages Kovalev and Khusnulgatin.

"Sullivan was always a fighter, but even as a veteran he continues to want to learn more,” trainer Milton Lacroix said. “He wants to continue progressing towards his ultimate goal, which is to be the best light heavyweight and champion of the world."

Said Klimas, “The light heavyweight division is getting to be one of the most interesting in boxing today, with champions like Bernard Hopkins, Beibut Shumenov, Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev. When we started with Sergey in 2009, the division was almost dead. We have a lot of young talents coming up into the division, young and aggressive fighters. Adding Sullivan Barrera to my list of fighters is great. He was not recognized for some time, just like Sergey Kovalev, until we signed him with Main Events."

Stevenson signs with Haymon

February, 19, 2014
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Al HaymonRamon Cairo for ESPNPowerful adviser Al Haymon works behind the scenes with some of the best fighters in boxing.
Light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson surprised many on Tuesday when he signed with powerful adviser Al Haymon.

Stevenson signed the papers in California with Sam Watson, Haymon's right-hand man. Watson said he has known Stevenson for a while and that Stevenson has wanted to sign with Haymon because the boxer has seen what Haymon has been able to do for his numerous clients.

"This is a big signing for me," Stevenson told ESPN.com. "I've known Sam a long time and wanted to be with Al. It will be better for me and my career and give me better opportunities."

Said Watson, "It's big fights for Adonis."

What is unclear is whether the signing will have an impact on the game plan already in motion for Stevenson, or if it just means that Haymon will work to get Stevenson a better deal for the fights that are in the works.

Stevenson (23-1, 20 KOs) is supposed to be back in action for his third title defense on May 24, when he is planning to headline an HBO card in his hometown of Montreal against Chicago-based Poland native Andrzej Fonfara (25-2, 15 KOs). However, that fight is not signed yet. A Stevenson victory would supposedly lead to a fall unification showdown with titleholder Sergey Kovalev, who fights his interim bout against Cedric Agnew on March 29 in Atlantic City, N.J., in the main event of his own card. That fight is not signed either, and Haymon may have other ideas for Stevenson.

Haymon, of course, is essentially a recluse and does not speak to the media, so don't expect to hear from him on the matter.

However, it is common knowledge that HBO -- which has made Stevenson-Kovalev one of its 2014 priorities -- and Haymon are on the outs following the defection last year of Haymon’s No. 1 client, Floyd Mayweather Jr., to Showtime.

Additionally, Haymon represents numerous Golden Boy fighters, including Marcos Maidana, Adrien Broner, Danny Garcia, Lucas Matthysse, Beibut Shumenov, Devon Alexander, Deontay Wilder, Peter Quillin, Shawn Porter and Keith Thurman. After Mayweather left HBO, the network banned Golden Boy fighters and those boxers wound up on Showtime, even though HBO had poured considerable resources into many of them.

HBO did make one exception for a Haymon fighter -- when Edwin Rodriguez (who is promoted by Lou DiBella, not Golden Boy) fought super middleweight champ Andre Ward in November. However, the deal for that fight was way down the road to being completed before Rodriguez signed with Haymon. Perhaps it will be the same thing with regard to Stevenson and the fights against Fonfara and Kovalev that are being lined up for him by promoter Yvon Michel.

Watson said Haymon and Michel spoke on Tuesday about the signing and had a "good conversation."

Michel told ESPN.com that he expected to still go forward planning the fights with Fonfara and Kovalev.

"Adonis' goals have not changed," Michel said. "He wants three fights [in 2014], wants to unify the titles, be considered in the top five pound for pound before the end of the year and keep winning by spectacular knockout. I can also add making a lot of money. We are still moving forward in our negotiations. Al Haymon is certainly a great asset for Adonis and for us and his presence can only be positive."

Said Stevenson, "We haven't made any fights yet but whatever my promoter and Al say I should do, that's the way I'm going to go. I'll fight anybody. Al has a plan that will be good for me. I'm ready for anything. My job is to knock everybody out."

Watson said that Haymon has also signed John Molina (27-3, 22 KOs), the former lightweight title challenger who fought at junior welterweight in his last fight in November. Watson said Molina plans to continue to fight at 140 pounds.

Dulorme-Mayfield in works

February, 18, 2014
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The deal is not done yet but a fight between junior welterweights Thomas Dulorme and Karim Mayfield is in the works for HBO’s March 29 “Boxing After Dark” telecast from the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., according to the promoters for both boxers.

If the bout is finalized -- and Gary Shaw, Dulorme’s promoter, and Top Rank, which represents Mayfield, are working on it -- it would open the telecast headlined by light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev (23-0-1, 21 KOs) making his second defense against Cedric Agnew (26-0, 13 KOs).

The card belongs to Main Events’ Kathy Duva, Kovalev’s promoter, so getting a fight involving Shaw on it was difficult. But HBO, which wanted this specific match, basically gave her no choice but to accept the fight. Shaw once was the chief operating officer of Main Events before a falling out with Duva, after which he left the company and started his own promotional outfit.

Dulorme (20-1, 14 KOs), 24, of Puerto Rico, remains a quality prospect even after getting knocked out in the seventh round when he was overmatched with Luis Carlos Abregu on HBO in October 2012. Dulorme has won four fights in a row since and this would be his first bout since his recent hiring of trainer Robert Garcia.

Mayfield (18-0-1, 11 KOs), 33, of San Francisco, has been fairly inactive, fighting only once in 2013. But in the fight before that (in October 2012), he outpointed Mauricio Herrera, who is getting a shot at junior welterweight champ Danny Garcia on March 15.

Stevenson-Kovalev plan in motion

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
6:31
PM ET

A couple of weeks ago, as part of an appearance on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" -- see the video above -- I was asked to give my opinion on the two fights I most hoped would happen in 2014.

My No. 1 pick (in the non-Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao category, of course), which many fight fans told me after the fact that they wholeheartedly agreed with, was a light heavyweight showdown between champion Adonis Stevenson and titleholder Sergey Kovalev. Well, there is an excellent chance that we will get our wish of seeing the crowd-pleasing knockout artists fight this year.

The fighters' camps, working closely with HBO, are in the process of making a deal that would see Stevenson and Kovalev square off for 175-pound supremacy in the fall in Montreal, provided each wins an interim bout, both of which are in the works for HBO dates.

The promoters and network didn't want to go into details, but Main Events CEO Kathy Duva, who promotes Kovalev, gave me one quote when I asked her about the plan on Monday:

"Negotiations are ongoing and I am optimistic," Duva said.

From what I'm told, the sides are already exchanging paperwork on the deal for the Stevenson-Kovalev fight in the fall, but everything is contingent on them taking care of other business first.

Russia's Kovalev (23-0-1, 21 KOs), 30, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is penciled in to headline a March 29 card at Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. His opponent isn't signed, but it could be Cedric Agnew (26-0, 13 KOs), a 27-year-old from Chicago who has some decent wins on his record, including those against former title challenger Yusaf Mack, Daniel Judah and Otis Griffin.

Stevenson (23-1, 20 KOs), 36, who scored four knockouts in his four 2013 fights, including a one-punch first-round knockout of Chad Dawson to win the world title, will likely have his interim bout May 24 or May 31 in his hometown of Montreal. He will likely face Chicago-based Poland native Andrzej Fonfara (25-2, 15 KOs), 26, who has been featured a few times on FNF. He owns wins against former titlist Gabriel Campillo and former champ Glen Johnson.

Warriors Boxing promoter Leon Margules, who represents Fonfara, and Stevenson promoter Yvon Michel have exchanged deal points for the fight. Both sides want to make the matchup, and the promoters are meeting this week in South Florida to discuss it in person.

The plan to eventually match Stevenson and Kovalev began to be hatched on Nov. 30, when the fighters appeared on the same HBO card together in Quebec City. Stevenson knocked out mandatory challenger Tony Bellew in the sixth round of a one-sided fight in the main event and Kovalev destroyed Ismayl Sillakh in the second round of the co-feature.

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