By Rick Reeno
Back on July 2nd, BoxingScene.com ran an article where IBF/WBA light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins (55-6-2, 32KOs) revealed his intention to face WBO champion Sergey Kovalev (25-0-1, 23KOs) in an HBO televised tite unification bout.
Very few people took the article seriously. Almost everyone in the industry expected Hopkins to face WBC champion Adonis Stevenson (24-1, 20KOs) in the fall.
For most of 2013, HBO was building up a unification fight between Kovalev and Stevenson.
Earlier this year, Stevenson jumped ship to rival network Showtime, with the obvious goal of facing Hopkins, who at that point was fighting exclusively on their network. Kathy Duva of Main Events, who felt confident that she reached an agreement with promoter Yvon Michel for a Stevenson-Kovalev unification on HBO, filed a federal lawsuit against Michel, Stevenson, Showtime, Stevenson's manager Al Haymon and former Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer.
Stevenson made his Showtime televised debut on May 24th, and won a 12-round unanimous decision over Andrzej Fonfara.
At the time of the BoxingScene article, nearly six weeks after Stevenson's Showtime debut, Hopkins confirmed that not a single "serious" conversation had taken place to make a fall unification with Stevenson.
According to Hopkins - his personal attorney Eric Melzer, Golden Boy Promotions President Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy VP Eric Gomez were negotiating with Showtime and Team Stevenson to make the deal.
Days and soon weeks had followed with little to no progress on making the unification with Stevenson. The pressure was building for Hopkins, because the IBF was breathing down his neck for a mandatory defense against Nadjib Mohammedi. The only way to avoid the fight with Mohammedi was to make a unification deal with either Stevenson or Kovalev.
It wasn't long before Hopkins ordered his team to begin negotiations with Main Events and HBO for a Kovalev fight.
A few unreturned phone calls, and a big monetary change, created a breaking point for Hopkins - who made a decision to finalize the fight with Kovalev for November 8th.
"I brought a chess board and not a checker board. You will agree that this caught a lot of people off-guard...wouldn't you? When I was analyzing things and saw who was being aggressive and who really wanted to make the fight happen, and I believe to the last hour of the IBF's last extension they was going to give me - [that Main Events was being more aggressive]," Hopkins told BoxingScene.com in an exclusive phone interview.
"Whoever is on Stevenson's side or Yvon Michel's, should be kicking a can right now with cement in the can and that will really hurt your toe. That deal should have been set in stone as soon as he walked across the street [to Showtime]. As soon as he walked across the street they should have worked on that."
Hopkins' goals at this stage of his incredible career are clear. At age 49 - and despite his own "Alien"-like in-ring existence - time is short to achieve what he has set out before eventually calling it career one day.
"I want to be the undisputed light heavyweight champion of the world," Hopkins bluntly states. "And Stevenson, he could be next or whatever. But my thing is this, I put everything down on the table. I listened to Eric Gomez, my Eric, Oscar and then my thoughts, and I said 'Okay, let's pull the trigger, let's go.' HBO stepped up. Main Events stepped up. And the other side hadn't gotten back with my team yet, so I looked it like 'Hey, I'm not going to sit around and wait and fight just to keep fighting at this stage of my career.'
"When did you do that article? Because that's who long I've been trying to get this deal done [with Stevenson]. I said what I said in that article and I lived up to my end. They thought I was just going to wait and that I only had one option. They underestimated me. The thought I wasn't going to look at other options. I was the last Golden Boy fighter to fight on HBO before the Cold War. How ironic that I am now the first fighter/partner of Golden Boy to get back on HBO to open the flood gates."
Hopkins told BoxingScene that a monetary deal was reached with Showtime/Team Stevenson for the fight, but then Showtime changed the monetary figure of his guarantee - stating that additional money was necessary to satisfy the undercard. Contrary to reports, Hopkins denies that he was greedy in the negotiations and claims Team Stevenson were looking to get a good chunk of the money on the U.S. end and 100% of the money involved on the Canadian end. There were also disagreements, and changes, regarding the actual date of the fight.
"That's not true [that I was being greedy]. That's not true. Maybe they was told that. [Michel] gets his information, I guess, from the representation of his fighter [Al Haymon]. He is the promoter, he has to understand that unless he heard that from me or Oscar - he can't believe that. If he wants to believe it, that's on him. If all of that was true, being greedy and what Yvon Michel was talking about - why would I go and do that...overprice myself and go and fight the most dangerous puncher, that hasn't lost a fight, who has a better than a 90% KO ratio," Hopkins said.
"My thing was guarantee. Oscar was echoing that, because he was the lead voiceman. As the promoter, he's the lead guy. We were constantly in contact. My guarantee was satisfied by HBO. My guarantee was at one time satisfied by Showtime and then it changed and then it became something else. When I spoke to my team, not just Oscar, but my personal team - we saw a lot of inconsistencies with what was being said on Monday and then what was being said Tuesday."
"I knew they weren't going to come with the right deal. I knew they were going to be posturing and all this stuff. We knew it. People play games. They called you. You didn't have to call them. They called you because they wanted to make sure that they would clean up the bullsh*t with you Rick. Those people, they knew they had to start doing damage control, because Stevenson has got to be hot right now."
"From what I understand from Eric, there was really no movement from Showtime. From what I was hearing from Oscar, there was really movement and the only thing we heard was them changing things, saying it couldn't be a particular number [for my guarantee] because they had to take care of the undercard. Oscar was very adamant about getting a guarantee for me, that I deserve and I earned."
"[Showtime Executive VP Stephen] Espinoza and Showtime have been there for me, and I appreciate it. I gave them the highest and second highest ratings on two or three of those fights, I believe two, some of the most action fights that I've fought in the last few years. We both benefited. I feel that as a businessman, I understand the time to capitalize and the time to get what I earned - is now."
Hopkins also saw a possible swerve coming together.
Although Hopkins never came out and directly named him as the main conspirator, it's pretty abundantly clear that he believes - at least in theory - that Al Haymon was attempting to make out on both ends.
On August 1, undefeated Thomas Williams Jr. faced former champion Gabriel Campillo Jr. in an IBF eliminator for the number 2 position in the rankings. Williams is managed by Haymon.
By dragging out the negotiations any further with Stevenson, Hopkins would have been forced to vacate his title. Neither network was interested in purchasing a fight between Hopkins and his mandatory challenger Mohammedi.
Hopkins, and members of his personal team, believe that Stevenson's team, namely Al Haymon, was intentionally posturing to force Hopkins to vacate his belt - and in turn it would position Williams, if he would have beaten Campillo, to fight Mohammedi for the vacant IBF crown. And then Team Stevenson would have attempted to lower Hopkins' monetary requirements because of his singular title status. The only person who benefits from that entire scenario is Haymon.
If that was indeed Haymon's plan - he lost out on both ends. Campillo stopped Williams in five rounds. And Hopkins never waited until the end result of that fight, he already had his deal with Kovalev in place. And now Stevenson is left without Hopkins or Kovalev and still has the lawsuit with Main Events hanging over his head.
"My theory is, someone had anticipated that I was going to give up the IBF title or be fighting on Nickelodeon with the mandatory who was waiting in the wings, if I didn't get that deal. Rick, there are a lot of agendas here. And I don't mind because I got one too. But you know what? Don't get mad if I out-chess you. The icing on the cake is when I expose Kovalev. That's the real icing on the cake," Hopkins said.
"My thing is, I started thinking that maybe they want me to give up the title. They think they were going to take me go down to the wire and make me give up the title, but they don't know that I already had the deal done [with Kovalev]. We've been doing this deal for weeks. This just didn't come up at the last hour. It was whoever stepped up first, aggressively, to make me happy and I'm going to the left or I'm going to the right.
"Do they really think I'm going to give up something that I really worked hard for at this stage of my career? I said, 'Wait a minute, who's the number one contender, who's fighting for the number two contender.' And my resources said, 'You know, there is a fight on ESPN.' And they said, 'Guess who he is managed by.' My eyes work, but my ears don't. That's my slogan now. My eyes work, but my ears don't. Did they think I was a rookie? I learned from the best, Don King, Dan Goossen, Lou DiBella."
"If they was thinking that they lost twice. If you look at the fight on ESPN, they were fighting for the number one or two position I believe of the IBF ratings. What I believe, the stall of negotiations and the changes from one day to another, and not having a solid deal - it was an entity trying to use the IBF's time slot against me."
"But they didn't understand that I already had a deal to fight Kovalev. Nobody thought I was going to fight Kovalev. Even the other side, they thought it was a bluff. Somebody tried to call my bluff and it got called. But it got called against them [Team Stevenson] and not me. At the end of the day - they were anticipating that I was going to give up the title and the young guy who fought Campillo, who is on his last legs, was going to beat by the youngster and then the youngster was in line to fight [Mohumaddi] for the IBF title."
"My resources told me, 'Well you know Al Haymon got the guy.' I said 'I'm not surprised Al Haymon got everybody.' So if I gave up the title or get stripped, then he would be, if he won [with Campillo], he would be fighting for the IBF title with the number one guy. And then I still could have did the Stevenson fight because people want to see the fight. But then there are two benefits for one guy if I would have went that way, but not in my best interest. They waited all this time and tried to win on both ways and got burnt."
"It played out just the way my team wanted it. Oscar did a hell of a job, Eric did a hell of a job, my Eric did a hell of a job, and I did a hell of a job by listening to everything that got said to me and analyzing the right thing that needed to be done for this fight to happen, Main Events stepped up and they were fair, and we were fair all around the board."
At the end of the day, Hopkins is delighted to fight Kovalev on HBO, because it further solidifies his legacy - win or lose - that he was always willing to fight anybody.
"The fans wanted it. They don't get cheated. They get to see the best fight the best. I said that whoever steps [up], with no games, that's where I would go and that's where I'm at," Hopkins said. I was dealing with the negotiations day in and day out. At the end of the day, what was the best deal all around, besides the money - who really negotiated in good faith and wanted to make it happen and put all of the egos on the side.
"I'm not going to do anything where I haven't thought about it physically and mentally. I don't operate like that. And I'll tell you this - I will go down as one of the fighters who never, never ducked anybody."
Tags: HBO , Showtime , Bernard Hopkins , Al Haymon , Sergey Kovalev , Adonis Stevenson , Hopkins-Kovalev , Hopkins vs Kovalev