By Jake Donovan
It looks a fight between top light heavyweights could be in our future after all.
Following the lead of Sullivan Barrera, who late last week publicly stated his willingness for such a fight, fellow unbeaten contender Artur Beterbiev is now prepared to enter negotiations for their ordered title eliminator.
The fight was ordered by the International Boxing Federation (IBF) on August 21, looking to establish a future mandatory challenger for unbeaten unified light heavyweight champ Sergey Kovalev. Barrera accepted terms no sooner than he was offered the fight; Beterbiev's promoter, Yvon Michel confirmed over the weekend that his fighter is now also on board.
"Artur Beterbiev and the Cuban Sullvan Barrera have both accepted the invitation of the IBF (to begin negoations for a title eliminator)," Michel announced through his social media account. "The winner will become mandatory challenger to Sergey Kovalev."
The two sides have until September 4 to reach an agreement, or else will be subject to a purse bid hearing.
Barrera (16-0, 9KOs), a Cuban now based out of Miami, is coming off of an 8th round knockout of Hakim Zoulikha on the July 25 undercard of Kovalev's three-round destruction of previous mandatory challenger Nadjib Mohammedi.
Less than a month later, he became the fifth challenger to have been offered the opportunity to face Beterbiev, the Montreal-based Russian knockout artist who has scored two televised wins in 2015. First came a 4th round knockout of Gabriel Campillo this past April on CBS, followed by a 7th round knockout of Alexander Johnson this past June on Spike TV.
It's worth noting that a considerable amount of baggage and politics came with the previous entrants. However, the same can be said of Barrera, who instead chose to rise above for the sake of furthering his own career.
Beterbiev is advised by Al Haymon, who since 2014 has also guided the career of World light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson (also promoted by Michel). The latter move led to a rift between Haymon and Main Events, who promotes Kovalev and was greatly impacted by plans being scuttled for a showdown with Stevenson which was targeted to take place last fall.
Such politics have turned the Stevenson-Kovalev pairing into a circus, but also played a part in Beterbiev's team opting out of a optional title shot versus Kovalev, instead choosing to go through the elimination process, if not only to add more experience as he is just nine fights deep into his pro career following a brilliant amateur run.
From the outside looking in, there came the suggestion that Bernard Hopkins passing on the chance to face Beterbiev was politically motivated. Hopkins is a shareholder with Golden Boy Promotions, who had a major falling out with Haymon and currently has a $300 million lawsuit pending against the high-powered adviser.
Hopkins told BoxingScene.com's Victor Salazar that his decision to decline the fight had nothing to do with Haymon, but rather his desire to fight for a title at super middleweight, which he passed over from middleweight to light heavyweight nearly a decade ago.
Similarly, Isaac Chilemba—who along with Kovalev and Barrera is promoted by Main Events—decided his own best course of action was to instead pursue a shot at the WBC title, which is owned by Stevenson. Main Events' Kathy Duva had previously stated that Chilemba would have no problem accepting a fight with any Haymon-advised boxer, but given the opportunities at his fingertips it was decided the best move for his career was to angle for a title fight with Stevenson.
Unbeaten light heavyweight contender Seanie Monaghan was then given the chance to face Beterbiev. Monaghan—who hails from Long Island, NY—is promoted by Top Rank, who for years has feuded with Haymon. While the Las Vegas-based promotional outfit has shown a willingness to work with Haymon on opportunities that made sense, negotiations for a Beterbiev fight proved to be a non-starter, prompting the team to take Monaghan's career in a different direction.
Also proving to be a non-starter was a Beterbiev fight with the next challenger in line, Jean Pascal. Both fighters work with trainer Marc Ramsey, in addition to Pascal already in line for a rematch with Kovalev in the first quarter of 2016.
Fortunately, the line ended with Barrera (16-0, 11KOs). Hopefully the next step is finalized terms—through good faith negotiations or a purse bid hearing—for a notable fight in a division whose hardest hitting action in recent times has sadly taken place outside the ring.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com.