By Keith Idec
The doubleheader HBO will televise March 3 seems set up for Sergey Kovalev to face the Dmitry Bivol-Sullivan Barrera winner.
That’s one potential plan, according to promoter Kathy Duva, though not necessarily the only possible path toward a light heavyweight title unification fight later this year. Duva told BoxingScene.com that if the heavily favored Kovalev beats Igor Mikhalkin in the main event March 3 in The Theater at Madison Square Garden, she’ll also try to make another tantalizing showdown between Kovalev and fellow Russian knockout artist Artur Beterbiev.
Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs), who’s promoted by Duva’s Main Events, owns the WBO light heavyweight title. Beterbiev (12-0, 12 KOs) is the IBF 175-pound champion.
Kovalev, 34, and Beterbiev, 32, both won light heavyweight titles in November that Andre Ward relinquished when he retired September 21.
“I wouldn’t assume it’s next,” Duva said regarding Kovalev facing the Bivol-Barrera winner in his following fight. “It’s down the line. I wouldn’t assume it’s next. I don’t know what’s next. There are a lot of other possibilities. For example, there’s that Beterbiev fight hanging out there that Sergey really, really wants, and is an equally intriguing fight. That could occur first. Who knows?
“The thing about the division is there are so many good fights there. And it’s just a matter of coming up with the timing or the money or whatever it takes to make them happen, which we’re gonna try our best to do.”
The biggest obstacle in making a Kovalev-Beterbiev bout could be that Beterbiev is involved in litigation with promoter Yvon Michel. Their contract dispute probably won’t be resolved until sometime in the spring, which might prevent Duva from engaging in negotiations for Kovalev-Beterbiev.
Duva remains optimistic, however, about putting that fascinating fight together.
“Sergey wants it very much,” Duva said. “My understanding is Beterbiev wants it very much. At the moment, he’s in dispute with his promoter. Until he resolves that, it’s impossible to make that fight because I don’t know who to make it with. I think that once that gets resolved, once we know who to talk to, then we’ll see if we can make it. But I know the fighters want it, and that’s usually the thing that makes the fight happen, when the fighters really want it. And I know for a fact that they both do, so that’s a good start.”
Beterbiev beat Germany’s Enrico Koelling (23-2, 6 KOs) by 12th-round knockout to win the IBF light heavyweight title November 11 in Fresno, California. Beterbiev’s victory over Koelling took place on an ESPN card promoted by Top Rank Inc. because Bob Arum’s company won a purse bid for that IBF-mandated match.
Kovalev will make an optional defense March 3 against Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs), a Russian southpaw who owns the IBO title. Cuba’s Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs) is the mandatory challenger for the WBA title possessed by Kyrgyzstan’s Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.