By Rick Reeno
Yvon Michel, promoter of WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson, sat down with BoxingScene.com to discuss the recent events involving his star fighter and the breakdown of negotiations with HBO for a fall unification with WBO champion Sergey Kovalev.
For much of 2013, HBO was showcasing both Stevenson and Kovalev - with the idea of matching them in a high profile fight at some point this year.
At the end of January, the discussions between Michel, HBO and Kovalev's promoter Main Events intensified. Both boxers were going to take interim-fights and then face each other on a date in the fall.
Kovalev returned last night in Atlantic City and knocked out unbeaten Cedric Agnew in seven rounds. Stevenson scheduled a defense against highly ranked Andrzej Fonfara on May 24th in Montreal.
A few weeks ago, Showtime came in the picture and presented a very lucrative deal to secure the rights to Stevenson-Fonfara. HBO had the ability to match the offer. HBO refused to do so and this past Tuesday they officially passed on the deal - allowing Showtime to pick Stevenson up.
In an earlier article on BoxingScene, Main Events CEO Kathy Duva appeared to be mulling the possibility of initiating a legal action, because she believes that a deal was reached with Michel and Stevenson.
"It is our position that we have a valid agreement with Yvon Michel to do a fight with Adonis Stevenson in September...in the fall I should say. We are going to reserve all of our rights and protect them vigorously as we always do. We'll make a decision next week on how we're going to proceed," Duva told BoxingScene.com.
Michel denies her claim, stating that his company, and Stevenson, only agreed to the revenue splits - but Stevenson never agreed to the HBO license fee and his proposed purse for the Kovalev fight. Michel also cited a BoxingScene article from March 3rd, where Duva said she was giving Stevenson until March 30th to agree to the Kovalev fight or her company was moving forward in another direction.
"She's lying. I sent her an email and what the things were that we agreed upon with her, was our split of revenues.....the split with Main Events on the license fee, the local revenue, the international revenue, the Russian revenue...that was agreed upon. And Adonis agreed with that. I have an email and somebody produced an email that I sent her, but unfortunately they only produced half of that email," Michel told BoxingScene.com.
"She sent me an email and said that she had spoken to [Kovalev's manager] Egis and the split was okay on her side. My answer was that 'we are okay on our side also' and now,' and this was the part that was [left out from the produced email] - 'let's make good pitch to HBO.'
"Stevenson never agreed on the purse or the license fee that HBO was willing to pay. He never agreed on an overall deal. The main point was, we needed to get a deal with HBO...like [Kovalev] did. They got their deal and we didn't get ours. Kathy should be happy because all of this talk of a Stevenson fight is how she got the fight with Agnew last weekend and how she got the deal with HBO."
"I look at what Kathy Duva declared on March 3rd and that is in line with the discussion that we had together, that they were giving us until March 30th, that she was giving it until March 30th to see if Stevenson was fighting Sergey Kovalev or she will move on. And the [article] said she was waiting for Stevenson to agree and sign a contract, that proves that at that point Stevenson did not approve the HBO deal and didn't have a contract signed."
"What I really dislike and where I'm losing my respect for her, is she tries to make believe that we...Adonis, and Al Haymon, that we are not people of our word and we are."
The real problem was not Main Events, Duva or Kovalev, says Michel. The Canadian promoter indicates that the real sticking point was the amount of money that HBO was offering for a Stevenson-Kovalev unification.
According to Michel, HBO offered a license fee, for Stevenson-Kovalev, that was significantly less than what the network had offered for last fall's Andre Ward vs. Edwin Rodriguez clash. Ward-Rodriguez received an HBO license fee of $3.15 million dollars. Many in the industry were very, very critical of the license fee paid for that fight, especial when the television rating only peaked at 1.2 million viewers. Rodriguez, who most viewed as a hand-picked opponent to test Ward's post-injury abilities, was given $1 million for the fight.
"I have a lot of people telling me that this fight, Kovalev and Stevenson, that it's one of the two or three most important fights to be done this year. If that's the case, then why was the offer [from HBO] for the Stevenson-Kovalev fight not even close, in terms of the license fee, to the fight with Ward and Rodriguez. Ward-Rodriguez, I remember well, was not a huge ratings [hit] on HBO. I'm telling you that if the offer would have been even close to the type of license fee that [Ward-Rodriguez] got, for sure we would not [be going over to Showtime]," Michel said.
"I'm telling you it was far from that number. HBO could have made the deal with us before we got an offer from Showtime. Everybody is saying that it's a great, great fight and I agree, but I also agree that it probably had not matured enough because HBO was not willing to pay the value of what they were paying for other fights on the network. It was always that point that Adonis was bringing to me, that Rodriguez made a million dollars and Ward made two millions dollars and what we were offered for the [Kovalev] fight - it was not close to that."
Last year's HBO doubleheader with Stevenson and Kovalev had higher ratings numbers than Ward-Rodriguez. Stevenson-Bellew had 1,305,000 viewers and peaked at 1,358,000 viewers. Kovalev's KO win over Ismayl Sillakh had 1,254,000 viewers. The license fee offered by HBO for Stevenson-Kovalev was "closer to $2 million than $3 million."
Showtime's plan is to match Stevenson, should he beat Fonfara, with next month's winner of the IBF/WBA light heavyweight unification between Bernard Hopkins and Beibut Shumenov. Both Stevenson and Hopkins have been clamoring to fight each other for some time. With Hopkins defeating Canadian superstar Jean Pascal in a historical 2011 decision win in Montreal, it makes a potential Hopkins-Stevenson fight a very big event on Canadian soil.
Michel says Showtime stepped up financially in a big way to secure Stevenson's fight with Fonfara. How big? Michel explained.
"Adonis will make the highest purse of his career with Fonfara..by far. Against Fonfara, he's going to make more than twice than what he made for his last fight. His highest paid fight [on HBO] was against Bellew. He is going to generate more than twice of that. The license fee is twice the number too. Adonis' purse will be twice as big as his purse was against Bellew and the license fee that we got from Showtime was more than twice than what we got [from HBO] for the Bellew fight," Michel said.
"With Showtime now, and the potential fight with [Bernard] Hopkins, the potential fight with Hopkins will bring much more money to Adonis than he could have made with a Kovalev fight. I know reporters are looking at Kovalev and believe that it will be a great match and I agree, but I also believe that for fans, for people that are not hardcore fans - a fight with Hopkins - here in Montreal - will have twice the number of people [in the venue] than it would be for Kovalev."
"At the end of the day, really, HBO didn't buy [Stevenson's fight] and then didn't match [Showtime's offer], because they decided that it wasn't a good business move for them. They didn't believe the [Stevenson-Kovalev] fight was important for them or they would have made the proper move, which they did not."