By Keith Idec
Promoter Kathy Duva indeed followed through with the legal action she threatened after what she considers a legally binding agreement for a fall unification fight between light heavyweight champions Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson fell apart last month.
A civil lawsuit was filed Tuesday in a New York federal court on behalf of Main Events – the Totowa, N.J.-based promotional company for which Duva is chief executive officer – against Groups Yvon Michel (Stevenson’s promoter), Yvon Michel, Al Haymon (Stevenson’s adviser), Golden Boy Promotions, Showtime, Stevenson and John Does 1-8, eight unidentified parties who are culpable for the acts alleged in the complaint.
News of the lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by BoxingScene.com, was first reported Wednesday by Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix. It is alleged in the 40-page legal document that the aforementioned defendants have committed breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, interference with prospective economic advantage and tortious interference.
“Obviously, we took some time to investigate,” Duva told BoxingScene.com on Wednesday. “My attorney [Patrick English] weighed in. We also checked with some other attorneys, got some second and third opinions, and everybody told me they thought I had a great case.”
The basic foundation of the lawsuit is that Duva contends she struck a deal in late January with Michel via emails and text messages for Kovalev and Stevenson to take interim fights that HBO would broadcast before, assuming they won, the light heavyweight champions would meet in a highly anticipated showdown sometime in the fall, also on HBO ( https://www.boxingscene.com/duva-stevenson-obviously-scared-death-kovalev--76033 ). She seeks unspecified damages because HBO Sports executives had agreed to pay a $2.4 million license fee to Main Events and Michel’s company for the right to televise Kovalev-Stevenson.
Russia’s Kovalev (24-0-1, 22 KOs) successfully defended his WBO light heavyweight title by scoring a seventh-round knockout against then-unbeaten but overmatched Chicago contender Cedric Agnew (26-1, 13 KOs) on March 29 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Canada’s Stevenson (23-1, 20 KOs), according to Duva’s account, was to take his interim match by defending his WBC 175-pound crown against Chicago’s Andrzej Fonfara sometime this spring.
The Stevenson-Fonfara fight has since been scheduled for May 24 at Bell Centre in Montreal, but Showtime, not HBO, will televise it. According to an HBO spokesman, Stevenson, who hired Haymon after Duva says she and Michel came to an agreement, would agree only to face Fonfara on HBO, not Kovalev, before he accepted a more lucrative offer from Showtime for the Fonfara fight.
If Stevenson defeats Fonfara (25-2, 15 KOs, 1 NC), the Haitian-born, Quebec-bred southpaw is expected to pursue a unification fight against IBF light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins (54-6-2, 32 KOs, 2 NC). Hopkins is a partner in Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions and his past two fights have been broadcast by Showtime.
Among the allegations listed in the lawsuit is that Haymon, a seldom-seen yet extremely powerful adviser who represents superstar Floyd Mayweather Jr. and numerous additional high-profile fighters, acts as an unlicensed promoter. Haymon does not grant interviews to reporters, but Golden Boy Promotions chief executive officer Richard Schaefer told SI.com it’s, “very far-fetched to think Golden Boy is a part of this. We had nothing to do with it.”
Duva and her legal counsel obviously disagreed.
“My feeling is this is one of the reasons we have a legal system,” Duva said. “When somebody who’s big and powerful comes in and stomps on somebody who’s not, that’s why the system exists. I learned as a very small kid that the way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them. So I’m standing up to them. I’m not going to let them just walk in and take away an amazing fight that the fans wanted, that my fighter wanted, that I wanted, that a deal was done for, just because somebody else had another agenda and felt they could just walk in and take it away. It’s not fair, it’s not OK and I’m going to call them out on it.”
Duva does not, however, consider the lawsuit an insurmountable obstacle in regard to eventually making Kovalev-Stevenson a reality.
“Main Events has sued Bob Arum, Don King, the WBA, the WBC, and we still work with all of them,” Duva said. “That’s part of the deal [in boxing]. I can’t worry about that.”
Ultimately, after reviewing the situation with English and additional attorneys, Duva decided taking legal action was absolutely necessary.
“[The defendants] might not be happy, but they’re going to learn not to screw me over,” Duva said. “You can’t live your life in fear; you just can’t. We sat down, we looked at the case, we looked at the situation. Sergey Kovalev wanted this fight very, very much. The fans wanted this fight very, very much. And do I think it makes sense for me to say, ‘Oh, I’m going to be a nice girl, sit down and smile and not do anything,’ when you take it away? No, I’m going to let you know there’s a penalty for doing that. You broke the rules and you’ve got to pay the price. They broke the rules, in our opinion.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.