Hopkins, Kovalev agree to light heavyweight title unification bout
NEW YORK -- Representatives for unified light heavyweight titleholder Bernard Hopkins and WBO champion Sergey Kovalev have agreed to terms on a deal for a title unification fight, Kovalev's promoter, Main Events CEO Kathy Duva, told SI.com. The fight is tentatively scheduled for early November in either Brooklyn or Atlantic City and will be broadcast on HBO.
An agreement between Hopkins (55-6-2) and Kovalev (24-0) was, in part, expedited by the IBF. The sanctioning body gave Hopkins a deadline of 5 p.m. ET Friday to come to terms on a unification fight. If he didn’t, the IBF would order a purse bid between Hopkins and No. 1 contender Nadjib Mohammedi, who earned the mandatory position in June by stopping Anatoliy Dudchenko in the seventh round of a fight televised on NBC Sports Network. If Hopkins declined to face Mohammedi, the IBF would strip him of his title.
The agreement has been signed and submitted to the IBF, according to a source.
"Sergey is very happy," Duva said. "He has a great opportunity. What we arrived at was a fair deal. You have to recognize that Bernard Hopkins is Bernard Hopkins. You can’t be a prima donna to get a deal done with him. God bless him, Sergey is not a prima donna. He wanted this fight and we tried very hard to get a deal done."
According to Duva, the deal came together quickly.
"I didn’t hear from [Golden Boy Vice President] Eric [Gomez] in any substantial way until noon yesterday," Duva said. "I knew they were trying to make the [Adonis] Stephenson fight. But he told me, 'We're not going to screw you around.' He kept his word with that. It didn’t take very long to agree to terms. Maybe 27-28 hours from first phone call to having a deal."
An agreement between Hopkins and Kovalev is a startling turn of events. Last January, Main Events believed it had a deal for Kovalev to face WBC titleholder Adonis Stevenson in the fall. Stevenson would face Andrzej Fonfara in May, on HBO, before moving into a unification fight with Kovalev, 31, later in the year. However Stevenson backed out of the agreement and moved to Showtime, presumably to set up a more lucrative fight with Hopkins. Main Events responded by filing a lawsuit against Stevenson, promoter Yvon Michelle, advisor Al Haymon, Showtime and Golden Boy Promotions.
As a result of the deal between Main Events and Golden Boy, Golden Boy would be dropped from the lawsuit, Duva said. The rest of the suit will move forward.
Hopkins, 49, has maintained that his goal is to unify the light heavyweight titles. In an animated discussion with reporters in Las Vegas last month, Hopkins insisted he had no preference on the order of titleholders he faced and that he was ready and willing to face Kovalev.
The financial split will be 2/3 for Hopkins and 1/3 for Kovalev, according to a source.
That the fight will be televised on HBO is noteworthy, too. HBO has banned Golden Boy-promoted boxers from fighting on the network for the last 18 months. The last Golden Boy fight televised by HBO was Hopkins' win over Tavoris Cloud in March 2013.
Showtime, which has televised Hopkins' last two fights, made a competitive offer for a Hopkins-Stevenson unification, Showtime Sports Executive Vice President Stephen Espinoza told SI.com.
"I'm surprised," Espinoza said. "It's a little puzzling. I believe our offer was better. But we wish Bernard the best."
Asked if the deal could potentially damage Golden Boy's relationship with Showtime, Espinoza was noncommittal.
"I’m not sure," Espinoza said. "I’d have to hear from Oscar what the rationale for the decision was. I'd have to hear how it went down and process all the information and figure out how we got here, then view that in light of the overall relationship."
The agreement between Hopkins and Kovalev is contingent on Kovalev defeating Blake Caparello, who Kovalev will defend his title against in Atlantic City this weekend (HBO, 9:45 pm). According to a source, Hopkins is scheduled to be in attendance.