By Keith Idec
NEW YORK — Clearly tired of discussing Adonis Stevenson, Sergey Kovalev declined comment regarding their ill-fated fight Tuesday during an informal news conference at a Manhattan restaurant for his fight Saturday night against Cedric Agnew.
It still was all everyone else in the room could talk about.
Promoter Kathy Duva – whose New Jersey-based company, Main Events, represents Kovalev – said Stevenson “is scared to death” and provided details of how Stevenson backed out of a multi-fight agreement with HBO that would’ve included a Stevenson-Kovalev light heavyweight unification clash sometime in the fall. An HBO Sports spokesman also confirmed the network ceased negotiations with Stevenson’s handlers Tuesday afternoon and passed on broadcasting Stevenson’s May 24 fight against Chicago’s Andrzej Fonfara.
“We had a deal,” said Ray Stallone, HBO Sports’ spokesman. “It changed. It is not the way we do it.”
Rival network Showtime will now televise the Stevenson-Fonfara fight on May 24 from Montreal’s Bell Centre.
If the Haitian-born, Quebec-based southpaw defeats Fonfara (25-2, 15 KOs, 1 NC), it could lead to a Bernard Hopkins-Stevenson showdown. The 49-year-old Hopkins (54-6-2, 32 KOs, 2 NC) also would need to beat Beibut Shumenov (14-1, 9 KOs) in their light heavyweight unification fight, which Showtime will televise April 19 from Washington, D.C.
HBO Sports passed on Stevenson-Fonfara after Stevenson’s representatives asked for more money to face Fonfara and refused to commit to facing Kovalev in his following fight if Stevenson won.
HBO televised a doubleheader featuring Stevenson (23-1, 20 KOs) and Kovalev (23-0-1, 21 KOs) in separate fights Nov. 30 from Quebec City, Canada, with a plan to eventually match the 36-year-old Stevenson against the 30-year-old Kovalev. Stevenson stopped England’s Tony Bellew (21-2-1, 13 KOs) in the sixth round of their one-sided WBC title fight at Pepsi Coliseum. Russia’s Kovalev knocked out Ukraine’s Ismayl Sillah (21-2, 17 KOs) in the second round of a scheduled 12-rounder that opened HBO’s doubleheader.
“Back in January, the end of January, I made a deal with Yvon Michel,” Duva said, referencing Stevenson’s Quebec-based promoter. “The next day, Yvon and I made a deal with HBO, with [HBO Sports executive] Peter Nelson. We exchanged emails. The deal was done. And yet, Adonis, we’ve seen the way he has reacted every time he has had Sergey’s name mentioned to him – stuttering, acting like he doesn’t want to talk about it. It was kind of obvious Adonis went and did the one thing that was left for him to do to get out of this fight. And that was to sign with a guy [powerful adviser Al Haymon] who we all know makes sure the public doesn’t get to see the fights they want to see. So no one was surprised when the news came out that [after] he had found new management, after a multi-million-dollar deal had been negotiated on his behalf, that he didn’t want the fight with Sergey. He’s running.”
Though there’s seemingly some uncertainty as to what constitutes a legally binding agreement, especially since Stevenson didn’t actually sign a contract, Duva didn’t rule out taking legal action against Michel for failing to deliver Stevenson.
“I had gone to Sergey and to [manager] Egis [Klimas],” Duva said. “We went over the deal. I explained the terms. Egis said yes. I went back to Yvon and said, ‘I have the OK on my side.’ And Yvon sent me a text [stating], ‘I have the OK on my side.’ That’s paper. We have a deal. So for Adonis Stevenson and his new management to run from this, it’s disheartening. But it’s a sign that clearly Adonis Stevenson is scared to death to fight Sergey Kovalev – as well he should be.”
The Stevenson-Kovalev controversy Tuesday all but completely took the focus off Kovalev’s fight against Chicago’s Agnew on Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall’s Adrian Phillips Ballroom in Atlantic City. The unknown Agnew (26-0, 13 KOs) is a huge underdog entering their 12-round fight for Kovalev’s WBO light heavyweight title, which HBO will broadcast as a “Boxing After Dark” main event, beginning at 10 p.m. ET.
Klimas seconded Duva’s claim that Stevenson never really wanted to fight Kovalev, who’s much younger and a bigger puncher than Hopkins, yet clearly less of a star.
“He’s running away,” Klimas said. “But again, it’s their plan. Is he running away because he’s afraid? Or is he running to get more money? Or maybe it’s both – fear and the money. You probably you can’t blame a man. He wants to get more money and he’s afraid. So it kind of makes sense.”
While disappointed they can’t present a fight fans are eager to see, Klimas is confident HBO will be able to make other appealing fights for Kovalev. Duva also announced Tuesday that Kovalev has signed a mulit-fight agreement to box exclusively on HBO.
“Stevenson, he’s going nowhere,” Klimas said. “He’s 36 years old. He has maybe one or two years at the most. Of course, he’s scared and afraid to go in the ring with Sergey Kovalev because it might be the end of his career. Bernard Hopkins, he’s a 49-year-old guy. Of course he’s a afraid to go against Sergey Kovalev in the ring, because it might the end of his career. He wants to get more money before he retires. He wants to get more money, more belts.
“Sergey is 30 years old. We have a long time to go. Even if, for example, we’re going to go to the age of Stevenson, we have another six, seven years to go. We’re not going to start chasing them and start worrying about what they’re going to do. Andre Ward’s probably going to be coming into the weight class. [Julio Cesar] Chavez Jr. possibly will come into the weight class. We’re talking about pay-per-view fights.”
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.