- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Most boxing fans would probably agree that one of the most anticipated matches in the sport is a light heavyweight championship fight between lineal champion Adonis Stevenson and titleholder Sergey Kovalev to crown the world’s No. 1 fighter at 175 pounds as well as to unify all four of the major alphabet belts.
Kovalev holds three of them, winning one from Nathan Cleverly in 2013 and adding two more with his spectacular performance against Bernard Hopkins last fall. Stevenson holds the other.
It appeared as though Stevenson and Kovalev would fight last fall, but Stevenson walked away from a deal that the Kovalev camp and HBO thought was agreed to.
While Kovalev has beaten the best in the division besides Stevenson in his past two fights -- Hopkins and former champion Jean Pascal by knockout on March 14 -- Stevenson has taken the path of least resistance against decent contender Andrzej Fonfara and a mismatch against Dmitry Sukhotsky. On April 4, Stevenson fights again when he takes on former super middleweight titlist Sakio Bika in a fight that is not anticipated by too many.
The WBC, whose belt Stevenson holds, has made an unusual ruling in the hopes of forcing the showdown. Even though Kovalev holds belts from other organizations, the WBC has made Kovalev the mandatory challenger.
That is a good thing -- a rare thing on which the WBC and I can agree.
However, the WBC made an even more unusual move on Thursday that I just don’t get. It ordered the Kovalev and Stevenson camps to begin negotiating the fight and said if they don’t make a deal a purse bid will be held on April 17.
The fight is mandatory, so why the bizarre rush? Give the sides time to negotiate what could be a complicated deal. Besides, Stevenson (25-1, 21 KOs) fights Bika (32-6-3, 21 KOs) next week and Kovalev (27-0-1, 24 KOs) is going to make a mandatory defense against Nadjib Mohammedi (37-3, 23 KOs) in June or July. The earliest Stevenson-Kovalev could happen (if they both win their interim bouts) is probably September. And I’d bet if it does happen it will be even later in the year.
The WBC is doing a great thing by mandating the fight. It is not doing the right thing by putting such an absurdly fast deadline on the free negotiation period.
Main Events promoter Kathy Duva, Kovalev’s promoter, was perplexed by the WBC’s strange ruling.
“According to the WBC's [original] ruling, negotiations were supposed to begin after the Mohammedi fight,” she said. “So this came as a complete surprise. We have asked the WBC for a clarification and we are awaiting their response. If they really want to make the fight, it's easy. Negotiate. Their call for a quick purse bid looks to me like a stunt. After all, they seem to need publicity for their fight next week.”
WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman said the order makes sense to him.
“Sure, they both could lose. They also could have lost their previous fights and many other things could happen,” he said. “The WBC has gone ahead and done everything to secure that the fight, which is the ultimate fight everybody wants to see, happens. This purse bid is securing that both camps will engage in making it happen. No excuses, no going into other directions. And I also [ask] the question: What is wrong with making the purse bid now?”
What’s wrong is that timing is everything. The timing of this order seems like it might do more to hurt the process than help it.