By Jake Donovan
The light heavyweight unification title fight between Bernard Hopkins and Sergey Kovalev is set to take place on November 8 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Main Events' press office confirmed the venue Friday afternoon.
The bout will air live on HBO's World Championship Boxing series.
Hopkins (55-6-2, 32KOs) caused a major stir in the industry with the surprising news of agreeing to a showdown with Kovalev, which meant his return to HBO following a brief stint fighting on Showtime.
The news came as a shock, since all of the major stars among the Golden Boy Promotions stable have appeared on Showtime over the past couple of years. Hopkins was the last Golden Boy fighter to headline on HBO, coming in his title-winning effort over then-unbeaten Tavoris Cloud last May.
Golden Boy's mass defection to Showtime came as the result of HBO announcing a "ban" on the promoter's fighters. HBO grew tired of being offered fights in a showcase format, knowing that the next move was to take said fighters to Showtime.
An industry-wide peace offering was offered by Oscar de la Hoya, president of Golden Boy Promotions who reassumed full control of his company in the wake of his fallout with longtime CEO Richard Schaefer, who announced his resignation in June. de la Hoya pledged a willingness to work with all promoters and all networks, with his intentions simply to make the best fights possible. free of bias and politics.
Hopkins took the first leap towards putting something behind those words, in agreeing to face Kovalev on HBO. The legendary unified light heavyweight titlist was on course for a showdown with lineal light heavyweight king Adonis Stevenson, but claimed to have not been able to reach a deal in time.
A deadline was imposed on Hopkins to honor his mandatory challenge versus IBF #1 contender Nadjib Mohammedi. with the only allowable exception coming in a unification match. Hopkins was able to work out a deal with Kovalev in roughly 30 hours, announcing the fight on the eve of the Russian's two-round destruction of Australia's Blake Caparello.
Both fighters hold close ties to Atlantic City, which makes the location a natural home for the fight. The other venue considered for the bout was Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
However, the likelihood of the unification clash landing there diminished with the news of Roc Nation Sports - headed by famed rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z - winning a purse bid to secure the rights to a middleweight title fight between Peter Quillin and Matt Korobov. Roc Nation Sports is headed by Michael Yormark, whose brother Brett is the CEO of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center, with the venue one of two locations under consideration for the fight. A yet-to-be-announced venue in Washington D.C. is also in the running, with Roc Nation Sports currently holding a promoter's license in D.C. and New York.
All that considered, Atlantic City is the more fitting backdrop for the fight. The timing of the fight could hold even greater significance on Hopkins' career, depending upon how much longer he continues his career.
Atlantic City was the hosting city for Hopkins' pro debut more than 25 years ago, actually beginning with a 4-round loss to fellow debutant Clinton Mitchell. The fighting pride of Philadelphia managed to shake off the setback, going on to enjoy a record-breaking middleweight title reign - one that began on his third try at a title following a May '93 loss to Roy Jones Jr. and a Dec. '94 draw with Segundo Mercado, whom he stopped in seven rounds in their Apr. '95 rematch to claim his first belt.
Hopkins' middleweight reign came to a close in 2005 after having held at least one title for more than 10 years, and becoming the first fighter since Marvin Hagler to serve as undisputed middleweight champion.
Back-to-back losses to Jermain Taylor were followed by a move up to light heavyweight, and a return home to Atlantic City. Hopkins turned back the clock with a 12-round domination of Antonio Tarver in June '06, beginning a new chapter in his incredible career. Following an April '08 loss to Joe Calzaghe, Hopkins returned to Atlantic City shortly after the 20-year anniversary of his pro debut, once again shocking the boxing world in a near-effortless unanimous decision win over Kelly Pavlik, unbeaten at the time and more than 15 years Hopkins' junior.
The only title fight loss in Atlantic City for Hopkins came in his April '12 rematch with Chad Dawson, conceding the lineal light heavyweight championship he claimed in his win over Jean Pascal in May '11. Upon returning to the title fray, Hopkins returned to Atlantic City last October, scoring a 12-round points win over mandatory challenger Karo Murat.
His last fight came in April, turning back the challenge of Beibut Shumemov to unify two light heavyweight titles.
Kovalev (25-0-1, 23KOs) will now appear in Atlantic City for his third straight fight, after having never before played the casino town prior to 2014. The unbeaten knockout artist traveled to Wales to begin his title reign, stopping Nathan Cleverly in four one-sided rounds last August.
Three defenses have followed, including a 2nd round knockout of Ismayl Sillakh last November in Canada. The bout came on the televised undercard of Stevenson's stoppage win over Tony Bellew, with the HBO-aired doubleheader designed to set up a mouthwatering unification bout between the division's two biggest punchers.
Stevenson changed plans big time, opting to sign with adviser Al Haymon in March. The reigning light heavyweight king took his business to Showtime soon thereafter, joining Hopkins and angling towards a showdown that was targeted for September 27 in Canada.
The move left Kovalev - and HBO - short on quality opponents, which explains his two title defenses in 2014, knockout wins over unbeaten but untested Cedric Agnew in March and then Caparello earlier this month. Both bouts took place in Atlantic City, which leaves Kovalev in the Jersey gambling strip for his entire 2014 ring campaign.
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