By Jake Donovan
Just as HBO began to fill up its spring boxing schedule, yet another vacancy surfaces.
The network is no longer committed to securing the rights for a May 24 fight between lineal light heavyweight king Adonis Stevenson and challenger Andrzej Fonfara. Whispers swirled the moment Stevenson signed with adviser Al Haymon earlier this year, competing the shift on Tuesday when a proposed increase in the already agreed upon license fee was rejected by HBO.
Stevenson had appeared three straight times on HBO amidst a Fighter of the Year campaign in 2013. The run began with a sensational one-punch 1st round knockout of Chad Dawson to claim the light heavyweight championship last June.
Two defenses followed, scoring stoppage wins over Tavoris Cloud and Tony Bellew on HBO’s airwaves. The win over Bellew was packaged with a showcase fight for unbeaten light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev, who knocked out Ismayl Sillakh in two rounds in the opening bout of their HBO doubleheader last November.
The show was designed as the first step to build towards a desired unification bout in the fall. HBO agreed to air Kovalev’s optional defense versus Cedric Agnew—which takes place this weekend in Atlantic City—and Stevenson’s bout with Fonfara two months later.
Kovalev will remain on the network, through this weekend and the foreseeable future. Stevenson, on the other hand, will now need to shop for a new home for his next defense, although the industry-wide believe if that it will head to Showtime, which has housed nearly all of the major fights involving fighters currently advised by Haymon.
HBO’s concern over securing rights to the May 24 bout stemmed from a reversal in its previous negotiations. All parties agreed to the license fee that was assigned to the fight. However, Stevenson’s camp approached the network to ask for a rumored significant increase, without the assurance that his next fight would in fact be against Kovalev, should both fighters win their upcoming bouts.
That said, the decision to pass on this fight has nothing to do with the network’s desire to still pursue the most attractive matchup the light heavyweight division presently has to offer. According to a network spokesman, HBO is “still happy to discuss Stevenson-Kovalev for the fall. If someone wants to call us on May 25 (the day after Stevenson’s fight with Fonfara), we will gladly engage in reasonable conversation to discuss a fight we absolutely want.”
There have been past concerns about this fight never happening, even before Al Haymon entered the picture. Following his stoppage win over Bellew, the question was posed to Stevenson of whether or not he wanted Kovalev in the future.
The defending lineal light heavyweight king avoided a direct answer to the question, instead insisting upon pursuing potential fights with Bernard Hopkins and super middleweight titlist Carl Froch. The declaration was made in an attempt to honor Canada, as both fighters claimed wins over Jean Pascal and Froch also scored a viciously one-sided 5th round stoppage of Lucian Bute.
With Stevenson potentially heading to Showtime, there exists the possibility of securing one of those desired fights. Hopkins is set to face Beibut Shumenov in a light heavyweight alphabet unification bout next month in Washington D.C., which will air on Showtime.
Froch is set to face George Groves on May 31, in a rematch to their controversial first fight last November in which Froch rallied to score a 9th round stoppage widely viewed as premature. HBO picked up the rights to the rematch, having also aired Froch’s revenge-fueled rematch win over Mikkel Kessler last May.
Kovalev’s bout with Agnew will mark the unbeaten knockout artist’s third straight appearance on HBO.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America.