By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Surrounded by reporters, Eleider Alvarez attempted to clear up a misconception.
The Colombian contender clarified that he did not take any step-aside money to delay his WBC-mandated shot at light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson. Not even once, much less multiple times.
The unbeaten southpaw accepted other fights, which obviously paid acceptable purses, but not just money for allowing Stevenson to take questionable optional bouts while Alvarez patiently waited his turn for the title shot he had earned. Alvarez became the mandatory challenger for Stevenson’s title when he beat South Africa’s Isaac Chilemba by majority decision in November 2015.
Two-and-a-half years later, he still hasn’t challenged the champion Alvarez knows well from their time together in Quebec. Alvarez and his manager, Stephane Lepine, were forcing that issue last month, when they demanded so much money for facing another opponent that the Stevenson-Badou Jack fight that had been announced three months earlier appeared to be in jeopardy.
Around that same time, Yvon Michel, whose company promotes Alvarez (23-0, 11 KOs) and Stevenson (29-1, 24 KOs), received an unexpected phone call from promoter Kathy Duva. She sought a foe for Sergey Kovalev because Marcus Browne’s legal trouble caused her to secure another opponent.
Rather than wait around for the Stevenson-Jack winner, which would’ve been next for Alvarez, he quickly accepted the Kovalev fight. They’ll meet in HBO’s “World Championship Boxing” main event August 4 at the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City.
“We believed after Alvarez beat [Jean] Pascal that it was his turn,” Michel said Saturday, following a press conference to announce Kovalev-Alvarez. “When finally it was suggested Stevenson would fight Badou Jack, [Alvarez] was going to fight the winner next. We agreed to it. For the first time, he was going to be paid well for a step-aside fight.”
Then the call came from the promoter with whom Michel previously attempted to put together a Kovalev-Stevenson fight.
“Kathy called me and it was unexpected,” Michel said. “Because she had called me about a month prior to that to ask me if [Artur] Beterbiev was available to fight Kovalev. I passed it to the Beterbiev people, but I didn’t get an answer. So she called me [about Alvarez]. She made me the offer and the offer was, financially speaking, interesting.
“So I sat with the manager of Alvarez and his trainer [Marc Ramsay]. I said, ‘Who do you want to fight because, financially speaking, it was about the same on both sides?’ And the trainer said, ‘I prefer Kovalev.’ ”
The 34-year-old Alvarez hasn’t fought since he topped Pascal (32-5-1, 19 KOs, 1 NC) by majority decision June 3 on the undercard of the Stevenson-Andrzej Fonfara rematch at Bell Centre in Montreal. By the time he enters the ring to challenge Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs), Alvarez won’t have fought in 14 months.
That lengthy layoff notwithstanding, Michel is pleased with the path Alvarez traveled toward his title shot. He also expects a Stevenson-Alvarez fight to do big business as a light heavyweight title unification fight in Quebec because he is confident Stevenson will knock out Jack on Saturday night in Toronto and Alvarez will upset Kovalev in 2½ months.
“When you have a fighter with the talent [Alvarez] has, with the preparation and the experience he has, he really is at the peak of his career – technically, mentally, physically,” Michel said. “Look, he beat two former stars in Quebec [Lucian Bute and Pascal]. And when we valued the chance of Badou Jack fighting Stevenson, don’t forget [Jack] was limited to a draw with Lucian Bute and Lucian Bute didn’t last five rounds with Eleider.
“A lot of people believe that the delay between being the mandatory contender [for Stevenson] and having his chance at the title was something against him. But to the contrary, we used it to give him more experience, more maturity, to get important wins, to get more notoriety. And I believe he has everything to be a superstar in boxing. He has the charisma, he has the demeanor. In Quebec, he speaks perfect French, as well as Spanish. All the champions are great. But I really see Eleider Alvarez as among the three best light heavyweights in the world.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.