- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Light heavyweight titlist Bernard Hopkins was ordered on Monday to face new mandatory challenger Sergey Kovalev in his next fight.
Hopkins was scheduled to make a mandatory defense against Karo Murat (25-1-1, 15 KOs), 29, of Germany, on July 13 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. However, last week the fight was canceled after Murat was denied a visa by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. With the matter likely to take as long as six months to resolve, the IBF, whose title Hopkins holds, deemed Murat unavailable and dropped him from the mandatory position.
On Friday night, Kovalev knocked out Cornelius White in the third round of a title elimination bout that was meant to give the winner the next mandatory shot at Hopkins. But that would not have been due until nine months after the Hopkins-Murat fight, or April 2014.
But with Murat out of the fight against Hopkins, the time frame was drastically reduced since the 30-year-old Kovalev (21-0-1, 19 KOs), who hails from Russia but fights in the United States, is now the mandatory challenger.
Lindsey Tucker, the IBF's championship chairman, copied Hopkins promoter Golden Boy and Kovalev promoter Main Events on a letter Monday ordering the sides to commence negotiations for the fight.
"The Tavoris Cloud vs. Bernard Hopkins fight (which Hopkins won in March to win the belt) was approved with the condition that the winner must do the IBF mandatory defense within 90 days," Tucker wrote. "At the time the IBF approved [Cloud-Hopkins], No. 2 Karo Murat was the leading available contender. The IBF learned last week that Murat is unavailable. The leading available contender is No. 1 Sergey Kovalev."
The Hopkins and Kovalev camps have until July 17 to strike a deal. If they are unable to, then a purse bid will be ordered. If the fight goes to a purse bid, then Hopkins, as the titleholder, is entitled to 75 percent of the winning offer, with Kovalev getting the remaining 25 percent.
"I want to fight Bernard Hopkins because he is a legend of boxing," Kovalev said after knocking out White. "It was good news that Hopkins and Karo Murat fell out. C'mon and fight. I'm ready. Are you ready?"
Golden Boy had just received the letter ordering the fight on Monday and was not sure what it planned to do.
"I haven't really had time to talk to anyone about it," Golden Boy chief executive Richard Schaefer told ESPN.com. "I'm going to have to talk to Bernard and to his attorney, Eric Melzer, to see what they want to do, because I don't know. But I have never seen the guy (Murat) fight, so I don't know."
Kovalev might have another avenue to a title shot however. Even before Murat dropped out of the Hopkins fight, Main Events chief executive Kathy Duva was talking to HBO about a deal for Kovalev to challenge titlist Nathan Cleverly of Wales, while HBO was talking to Cleverly's representatives.
If a Cleverly-Kovalev fight comes off, still a long shot, it would be on Aug. 17 as part of an HBO split-site tripleheader that would include middleweight titlist Daniel Geale's defense against Darren Barker as the main event, with junior featherweight titlist Jonathan "Momo" Romero on the undercard in defense against an opponent to be determined from Atlantic City, N.J., and the proposed Cleverly-Kovalev bout taking place in the United Kingdom but being televised in the United States on a few hours' tape delay.
When Hopkins (53-6-2, 32 KOs), 48, of Philadelphia, outpointed Cloud at Barclays Center to win a light heavyweight title, he broke the record he set as a 46-year-old in 2011 by beating Jean Pascal to become the oldest fighter in boxing history to win a world title.
7hDarren Rovell and Dan Rafael