Hopkins in line to take on Kovalev
As long as light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev does not lose to Blake Caparello, he will meet Bernard Hopkins to unify three of the major 175-pound world titles in November.
Hopkins, Kovalev and their promoters signed contracts Friday afternoon for the fight a mere 30 hours after the camps opened discussions. Kathy Duva of Main Events, Kovalev's promoter, told ESPN.com.
Kovalev has to do his part, however. The deal was made on the eve of his making his third title defense Saturday night at the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, against the little-known Caparello (19-0-1, 6 KOs), an Australian southpaw, and is contingent upon Kovalev not losing his title, meaning a win, draw or no decision. Hopkins is expected to be ringside.
Hopkins-Kovalev is slated to take place Nov. 1, 8 or 15 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City or at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and be televised by HBO, which has Kovalev under contract.
"The fight got made in 30 hours, from the start of negotiations on Thursday to the signing of the contract [Friday] afternoon," Duva said after faxing the signed agreements to Hopkins promoter Golden Boy. "It didn't take very long. When you don't have obstructionists in the middle of a deal, it's not that hard to do. I felt like it was the old days. HBO did their part, we did our part and Golden Boy did their part."
Duva said she worked closely with Golden Boy vice president Eric Gomez, as well as with Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya, to finalize the deal. They were unavailable for comment, and Hopkins didn't return a message seeking comment.
The fight would mark the return of Golden Boy to HBO for the first time since the network publicly severed ties with the promotional company in March 2013, shortly after Hopkins' win against Tavoris Cloud on the network, because of major differences they were having over their philosophy of making and selling fights to HBO. Golden Boy has had all of its major fights since on rival Showtime, although since De La Hoya took over the day-to-day business of the company in June, following the resignation of CEO Richard Schaefer, he promised to try his best to make the best fights regardless of the promoter or network.
Hopkins (55-6-2, 32 KOs), who will turn 50 in January, unified two belts April 19 by dropping and outpointing Beibut Shumenov in a dominant performance. His goal has been to further unify titles, and many thought he would face champion Adonis Stevenson (24-1, 20 KOs), 36, of Montreal, in a fall unification match.
Stevenson, after all, walked away in March from a deal with HBO for a fight with Kovalev (24-0-1, 22 KOs), 31, of Russia and now living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to go to Showtime, where he fought in May with the plan to unify with Hopkins next.
HBO said it had a deal for the fight with both camps, and Main Events said it had a verbal agreement for the fight, prompting it to sue Stevenson, promoter Yvon Michel and Stevenson's adviser Al Haymon, among others, claiming they reneged on the deal.
Main Events also named Golden Boy in the lawsuit, but Duva said the suit never came up in the negotiations for Hopkins-Kovalev.
"We never even discussed it, but we will probably drop them from the suit," she said.
But Stevenson, Michel and Haymon still have it hanging over their heads, and Stevenson has no major fight to look forward to in the fall, while Kovalev does.
"Sergey has to win [Saturday] night, so I don't want to talk too much about the fight with Hopkins," Duva said. "But we are all elated. It is going to be the most-anticipated fight of this year, even more anticipated than some of the pay-per-view fights. It's a big fight on HBO.
"Sergey keeps saying, 'I'm not going to talk about it or think about Hopkins.' He knows his job is to stay focused on Blake Caparello. But Sergey did have a smile on his face when he signed the contract. Normally, I would wait to sign the contract until after Saturday's fight, but there were time pressures to get the contract to the IBF."
The IBF told ESPN.com that it was informed Friday that the Hopkins-Kovalev deal had been completed.
Hopkins was under enormous pressure to sign for a unification fight by the end of business Friday or the IBF would have ordered him to make his mandatory defense against the obscure Nadjib Mohammedi (35-3, 21 KOs) of France. The IBF is the one organization that allows unification fights to trump mandatory bouts, but they have to be finalized within a certain time period. Friday was the deadline for Hopkins, and his side was apparently not getting anywhere with Stevenson. It is unclear if the lawsuit against Stevenson was giving Showtime second thoughts about committing to the fight.
Although HBO had barred Golden Boy boxers from appearing on the network, Hopkins was a preapproved opponent in the contract Kovalev signed with the network earlier this year.
"Since Bernard was already approved in Sergey's contract, we never thought that whatever issues HBO and Golden Boy had were going to be an issue if we could make this fight and they weren't," Duva said. "We are just excited about Saturday's fight and seeing Sergey in a really big fight."