Sergey Kovalev has taken the next step in his quest to become a two-division titlist. has confirmed that the WBC has ordered a cruiserweight semifinal eliminator between Russia’s Kovalev and South Africa’s Thabiso Mchunu. The two sides have until February 24 to reach terms for a proposed fight in which the winner will become the number-two contender in the WBC cruiserweight rankings.

The title is currently held by Ilunga ‘Junior’ Makabu (29-22, 25KOs), who will next face former two-division titleholder Badou Jack in a voluntary title defense. The bout will take place on the undercard of the February 26 Jake Paul-Tommy Fury ESPN+ Pay-Per-View event in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The winner will then have to face mandatory challenger Noel Gevor Mikaelyan, followed by the winner of Kovalev-Mchunu as the second mandatory.

Kovalev (35-4-1, 29KOs) enjoyed a successful cruiserweight debut in his most recent fight, when he outpointed unbeaten Tervel Pulev over ten rounds last May 14 at The Forum in Inglewood, California. The bout was his first since an eleventh-round knockout defeat to Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in November 2019, thus ending his third light heavyweight title reign.

There was a time when Kovalev was regarded as the best light heavyweight on the planet and among the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighters. His first reign began with an August 2013 knockout win over unbeaten WBO titlist Nathan Cleverly, later adding the WBA and IBF belts in a lopsided November 2014 shutout of Bernard Hopkins. Kovalev saw his run come to an end with a November 2016 defeat to Andre Ward, who scored an eighth-round stoppage to turn away Kovalev in their June 2017 rematch.  

Kovalev saw significantly shorter title stays during his second and third reigns, and now—at age 39—in the twilight of his career as he pursues a second divisional crown.

Mchunu (23-6, 13KOs), 34, has twice fallen short on the title stage, though there is a case to be made that he was severely wronged in his most recent attempt.

The veteran southpaw from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa was considered unlucky to land on the wrong end of a split decision in favor of Makabu in their WBC title fight last January 29 in Warren, Ohio. Most observers thought Mchunu did enough to prevail but managed to win only on the scorecard of Nathan Palmer (115-113), overruled by judges Steve Weisfeld (115-113) and Jamie Garyua (116-112) who ruled in favor of Makabu in their rematch.

In his lone other title bid, Mchunu suffered a ninth-round knockout defeat to Oleksandr Usyk in their December 2016 WBO cruiserweight title fight.

Mchunu won four in a row prior to the disputed points loss to Makabu. The run began with a twelve-round decision over countryman Thomas Oosthuizen in December 2018 to avenge a defeat just three months prior. Mchunu then posted lopsided decisions over former WBA cruiserweight champ Denis Lebedev and 2016 Olympic Gold medalist Evgeny Tishchenko, who was unbeaten at the time of their March 2021 WBC title eliminator in Ekaterinburg, Russia.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox