By Keith Idec
Kathy Duva believed Sullivan Barrera would take the Sergey Kovalev fight this time.
The Cuban contender turned down a November 25 fight against Kovalev because it wasn’t a title fight at the time it was offered and Barrera thought it was worth more money. After Barrera and Kovalev won their respective fights that night in The Theater at Madison Square Garden, Duva – whose company, Main Events, promotes Kovalev and Barrera – offered the Kovalev fight to Barrera a second time, again in The Theater.
Barrera declined again and accepted another fight on Kovalev’s undercard. The difference is, his March 3 shot at unbeaten WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol figures to be more difficult than his 10-round, unanimous-decision defeat of the Dominican Republic’s Felix Valera (15-2, 13 KOs) on the Kovalev-Vyacheslav Shabranskyy undercard November 25.
Russia’s Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs) stopped Shabranskyy (19-2, 16 KOs) in the second round of his first fight since back-to-back losses to Andre Ward (32-0, 16 KOs). Beating Shabranskyy enabled Kovalev to win back the WBO 175-pound championship Ward vacated when he retired September 21.
When asked if she was surprised Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs) picked the emerging Bivol over Kovalev, Duva told BoxingScene.com, “Yes and no. At first I thought he would [fight Kovalev] because he seemed very anxious to fight Sergey. But in the end, he and his team made a decision that they would prefer to try and win this fight, and then be in a stronger bargaining position for the next one.
“He was offered more money to fight Sergey than he was to fight Bivol, but it was not as much as he thought he should get. So I guess he felt that this was the better course. He clearly is very confident he’s gonna win the fight [against Bivol], so if he wins it, it was a great decision. I respect his decision and his management’s decision.”
Barrera told BoxingScene.com before his victory over Valera that he had tentatively agreed to box Bivol in his following fight for a lower figure than he was offered to face Kovalev on November 25 (reportedly between $300,000 and $400,000). Duva confirmed that Barrera was offered the same purse to challenge Kovalev on March 3 as he was to fight him November 25.
The 35-year-old Barrera is the mandatory challenger for Kyrgyzstan’s Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs). Barrera, who has lost only to Ward, also is the most accomplished, credible opponent Bivol has signed to fight since he turned pro three years ago.
“Their feeling is that this is a very winnable fight for [Barrera],” Duva said, “and that they would be in a stronger position to bargain when the time came to make a unification fight with Sergey, rather than a voluntary [title defense]. In a unification fight, I’m not in as strong a position to ask for things like options. This is the decision they made. We’ll see how it turns out. In the meantime, we’ve got a very interesting fight between him and Bivol. A very competitive fight, a very interesting fight, certainly on paper.”
HBO will broadcast Barrera-Bivol before a main event in which Kovalev will make a defense of the WBO light heavyweight title against Igor Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs), a Russian southpaw who owns the IBO 175-pound championship.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.