LAS VEGAS – In an effort to find enough money to finalize a light heavyweight showdown between 175-pound titleholder Sergey Kovalev and middleweight kingpin Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, Kovalev’s promoter, Main Events, has engaged Eddie Hearn in discussions on a multi-fight deal, two sources familiar with the discussions told SI.com.
Hearn, who has an output deal with streaming service DAZN, is interested, per a source. The two sides have swapped proposals in the last 24 hours.
Kovalev has emerged as the preferred opponent for Alvarez, the unified middleweight titleholder and boxing’s top draw. But negotiations between Alvarez’s promoter, Golden Boy, and Main Events have been bumpy. After Main Events rejected Golden Boy’s initial offer, Golden Boy raised it to roughly $6 million, a source familiar with the offer told SI. Still, Kovalev is believed to be seeking an offer in the $10-12 million range to fight Canelo.
When reached by phone, Kovalev’s manager, Egis Klimas, pointed to Daniel Jacobs's purse for his unification fight with Canelo—$12 million—as being the baseline for negotiations.
“Everybody knows Jacobs got $12 million,” Klimas told SI.com. “If you compare the value of that bout to one with the legendary Kovalev, a three-time world champion, plus Canelo coming to a new weight class, that would make him huge. Imagine if Canelo beats him? What value can Canelo can get out of that? And if Kovalev beats Canelo? This is a mega fight. I think this is a better fight than Canelo–[Gennadiy Golovkin]. Everyone says Canelo beat Golovkin. Who else is he going to fight?”
The money for Kovalev could potentially be made up in the form of a comeback fight, or fights. Enter Hearn, who has significant resources and a mandate to bring tentpole fights to DAZN. While most of the top fighters in the light heavyweight division are aligned with Top Rank—which has its own output deal with ESPN—Hearn has worked closely with Dmitry Bivol, a 175-pound titleholder whose last fight, a lopsided decision win over Joe Smith, was streamed by DAZN.
Bivol, who is without an opponent, recently returned to Los Angeles to begin training camp and is clamoring for a significant fight.
“It’s time for me to unify at light heavyweight or fight one of the world champions at super middleweight,” Bivol said. “I’ve received many accolades from the international media and fans but most important for me is proving it in the ring that I am the best light heavyweight in the world.
“My team has had discussions with representatives with all the other belt holders at light heavyweight—Sergey Kovalev, Artur Beterbiev and Oleksandr Gvozdyk—and there has been no response for these title unification fights that the fans want to see. We’re all very good fighters, let’s prove to the fans which one is best.”
Even if Kovalev loses to Canelo, he will remain a viable opponent for Bivol. Kovalev is the most well-known name in the light heavyweight division after years of widespread exposure on U.S. platforms NBC and HBO.
A resolution to the Canelo-Kovalev negotiation needs to happen quickly. Kovalev’s mandatory defense against Yarde is tentatively penciled in for August 24th. If Canelo prefers to push the fight to later in the year, Main Events would be open to working with Hearn on broadcasting Kovalev-Yarde on DAZN, according to an industry source. If Kovalev wins, he would be ready to fight Canelo as early as December.
There is also significant pressure on Golden Boy, which was unable to deliver the fight that DAZN wanted: A third go-round with Golovkin. If Golden Boy cannot deliver Kovalev, the only fighters DAZN approved for Canelo would be taken off the board.
Chris Mannix is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated and an on-air personality for DAZN.