By Jake Donovan
A light heavyweight unification bout is in the works between Sergey Kovalev and Bernard Hopkins, providing that Kovalev gets past Blake Caparello on Saturday evening in Atlantic City.
Rumors of the dream matchup began to swirl Friday afternoon, and were confirmed by Main Events, Kovalev’s promoter. The planned bout will take place in early November, either in Atlantic City or at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
“I heard from Eric Gomez (Thursday) at around noon, who said he’d like to get the deal done,” Kathy Duva, head of Main Events informed BoxingScene.com Friday afternoon. “He explained the terms in which they wanted the fight. I talked Sergey and his manager Egis Klimas, and they of couse agreed to accept those terms.
“We got it done in 30 hours, signed agreement and all.”
The fight will take place on HBO, marking Hopkins’ first fight back on the network since his title-winning effort over then-unbeaten Tavoris Cloud last March. The living legend wound up following the rest of the Golden Boy Promotions stable to Showtime, which has aired his past two contests.
Such a fight was first discussed last summer, when Kovalev was Hopkins’ mandatory challenger. The two fighters went in different directions; Kovalev (24-0-1, 22KOs) went to Wales, where he beat on Nathan Cleverly en route to a 4th round knockout to begin his title reign last August. Hopkins wound up facing secondary mandatory challenger Karo Murat, scoring a 12-round decision in their surprisingly entertaining bout last October.
As the matchup believed to have passed, Kovalev and his team began exploring the possibility of facing lineal light heavyweight king Adonis Stevenson. The two were paired up on a show last November, each winning by knockout to begin the momentum build towards a highly anticipated clash in 2014.
However, those plans were squashed when Stevenson balked on a previous verbal agreement, instead signing with adviser Al Haymon and taking his business from HBO to Showtime. The Haitian-Canadian southpaw made his Showtime debut in May, surviving a knockdown and rocky moments to take a 12-round decision over Andrzej Fonfara in an intended stay-busy bout that served more harm than good.
Kovalev, meanwhile, looked solid in dispatching unbeaten but unwilling challenger Cedric Agnew this past March in his first HBO headliner appearance. The bout wound up drawing over 1 million viewers, a mark both Stevenson and Hopkins fell well short of in separate appearances this year.
Hopkins’ lone piece of ring action in 2014 was a dominant points win over Beibut Shumenov in April. The win netted the 49-year old star another title at light heavyweight, with three belts to be on the line with the proposed unification bout with Kovalev later this year.
Unlike the plans for Stevenson–which prompted an ongoing lawsuit–the fight is signed and sealed, contingent upon a favorable result this weekend.
“All parties are signed off, on the condition that Sergey wins (Saturday) night,” Duva said. “We’re expecting a win. We got a fight!
“It was really like old times, speaking with Eric and even briefly with Oscar de la Hoya. HBO stepped up to make this fight happen and it was nice dealing with (Golden Boy). No obstruction, just straight to business, the way it should be.”
Kovalev makes the third defense of his light heavyweight title in Saturday’s bout at the Revel Resort in Atlantic City, serving as the centerpiece of a split site tripleheader on HBO. On the other side of the country, Brandon Rios faces Diego Chaves in a welterweight bout in Las Vegas, supported by a 140 lb. title fight between unbeaten super lightweights Jessie Vargas and Anton Novikov.
The bout marks Kovalev’s fourth straight appearance on HBO. Hopkins’ year-plus absence from HBO came after spending more than a decade as a fixture on the network, though not always by design. The fighting pride of Philly made his HBO debut more than 20 years ago, dropping a 12-round decision to Roy Jones in their vacant middleweight title fight.
Hopkins wound up claiming a belt two years later, igniting a historic title reign that saw him make more defenses than any other fighter in middleweight title fight history. The reign was cemented with an emphatic 12th round stoppage of Felix Trinidad in their middleweight tournament finals in Sept. ’01, becoming the division’s first undisputed champion since Marvelous Marvin Hagler in the mid-1980s.
All told, Hopkins held at least one middleweight belt for 10 years before dropping a pair of controversial decisions to Jermain Taylor in 2005. The end of an incredible reign was a short-lived setback, as life proved to truly begin at 40 for Hopkins. The next chapter of his career came with a 12-round win over Antonio Tarver for the first of three separate stays atop the light heavyweight division.
Hopkins has since made the record books on three separate occasions: decisioning Jean Pascal at age 46 in their May ’11 rematch to become the oldest fighter ever to win a lineal championship; outpointing Cloud last March to become – at age 48 – the oldest fighter to win an alphabet title of any kind; and with the win over Shumenov at age 49, the oldest fighter in history to unify at least two titles.
All of the aforementioned bouts, with the exception of the win over Shumenov, aired live on HBO. As Hopkins was the last Golden Boy fighter to headline on HBO, it’s only fitting that he becomes the company’s first to return to the network in similar capacity.
Regardless of Stevenson’s status as reigning lineal champion, the winner of a fall clash between Kovalev and Hopkins will undoubtedly gain recognition as the best light heavyweight in the world.
Of course, it all begins with a win by Kovalev on Saturday.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox