By Jake Donovan
Event handlers in Russia seem to believe they have finally nailed down plans for Sergey Kovalev's homecoming.
The three-time light heavyweight titlist is set to defend his crown versus unbeaten mandatory challenger Anthony Yarde. Their long-discussed bout will take place on August 24 at Traktor Sports Palace in Kovalev’s hometown of Chelyabinsk, Russia.
News of the pairing’s finalization was confirmed on Friday by the Russian Boxing Federation, who will oversee the event, although BoxingScene.com has since learned that a fight with Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez is still being negotiated as of Friday morning.
Kovalev (33-3-1, 28KOs) reclaimed the World Boxing Organization (WBO) title this past February, scoring a landslide decision over previously unbeaten Eleider Alvarez to avenge a stoppage loss from last August. Less than two months later came the order to defend versus Yarde (18-0, 17KOs), the mandatory challenger from England who has been spent months waiting for his first career title fight to finally materialize.
Several factors contributed to the holdup, including logistical issues on the end of the event handlers funding the event. It was enough to force no fewer than two rescheduled dates before landing on August 24—only to serve as a holding point while sorting out final details.
The delay allowed Kovalev to look elsewhere for his next ring adventure, namely in the form of a high-profile showdown versus Alvarez, who remains in need of an opponent for a planned September 14 ring date.
There were talks of the Mexican icon—who currently reigns as the World middleweight champion—moving up the scale in looking to become a three-division titlist (his secondary super middleweight title win over Rocky Fielding notwithstanding). An undisclosed but confirmed career-best payday was extended to Kovalev, although any step-aside package he’d have to pay Yarde would actually result in his making less for such a fight.
The ante has since been raised, with Kovalev's team currently mulling the offer.
Should he decline, Kovalev will return home for his first fight in Russia since a July 2016 win over Isaac Chilemba back when he was still an unbeaten and unified titlist. It was the last successful defense of his first reign, suffering back-to-back losses to Andre Ward whom subsequently retired following their June 2017 rematch.
Ward’s exit from the sport freed up the titles, with Kovalev reclaiming the WBO strap following a two-round wipeout of Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in Nov. 2017. Just one defense came of his second title tour before running into Alvarez last August. His win in their pre-Super Bowl rematch this past February was his last ring appearance.
Yarde emerged as the mandatory challenger shortly after his 5th round knockout of Travis Reeves this past March. The knockout artist from Essex, England enters his first career title fight, stepping up in class but perhaps against a foe whom has seen better days.
The event marks just the second time Yarde enters a fight scheduled for 12 rounds, although he has never been past the 7th round of any given pro fight to date.
Also confirmed for the August 24 show is an intriguing cruiserweight crossroads bout between Russia’s unbeaten Aleksei Pepin (11-0, 10KOs) and resurgent veteran contender Ilunga Makabu (25-2, 24KOs).
A knockout is all but ensured, as Pepin has won nine straight inside the distance, while Makabu has closed the show in each of his last five starts, including a 5th round stoppage of Dmitry Kudryahov just two months ago in Ekaterinburg, Russia.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox