By Keith Idec
FRISCO, Texas – Sergey Kovalev was at ease in his hotel room Thursday, as if there weren’t something unspoken hovering over him.
The former light heavyweight champion has a felony assault charge and an $8 million lawsuit with which he’ll have to contend after he encounters Eleider Alvarez on Saturday night. His manager, Egis Klimas, explained to BoxingScene.com that Kovalev has taken a positive approach to his seemingly troublesome circumstances because his Russian fighter is sure he hasn’t done anything wrong, certainly not what Jamie Frontz has accused him of doing.
“If it would be the truth, if it would be something serious, then you have to worry about it,” Klimas said. “But when you know it’s bullsh*t, then you know it’s somebody just trying to use you, somebody’s trying to use your name, and you understand that. Then it doesn’t come into your mind.”
The seriousness of Kovalev’s problem ultimately will be determined within a Southern California court room, not in the court of public opinion. A probable cause hearing in his case is scheduled for March 11 in San Bernardino Superior Court.
Kovalev will learn thereafter if he’ll go on trial for allegedly punching Frontz in the face one June night last year in Big Bear Lake, California.
However Kovalev’s case plays out, boxing obviously has an under-reported, complicated problem as it relates to violence against women and how to handle these cases involving fighters. This sport’s most powerful people are now navigating how to properly tend to their boxing business, all while remaining sensitive to an extremely serious social ill.
For the second time in three Saturdays, another main event in which boxers will be paid seven figures apiece will include one fighter facing charges stemming from a violent incident involving a woman.
On January 19, Adrien Broner boxed Manny Pacquiao in a 12-round welterweight title fight Pacquiao won convincingly at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Cincinnati’s Broner, whose career has been plagued by numerous legal entanglements, faces sexual misconduct charges in two separate cases that stem from incidents last year in Atlanta and Cleveland.
The case in Atlanta is based on allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman at Lenox Square Mall last February. According to misdemeanor charges filed following that incident, Broner groped that woman against her will.
The case in Cleveland is predicated on Broner’s arrest in June for forcibly kissing the mouth and neck of a woman at ANATOMY Nightclub+Ultralounge. He has been charged with gross sexual imposition, a fourth-degree felony, as well as a misdemeanor charge of sexual imposition and abduction, a third-degree felony, in that case.
Broner pleaded not guilty to those charges in November.
Showtime distributed the Pacquiao-Broner bout as the main event of a four-fight, pay-per-view telecast that cost $74.99 to view in HD. CBS owns Showtime and BoxingScene.com.
Showtime’s event also included an undercard bout that showcased Marcus Browne, who beat Badou Jack by unanimous decision to win the WBA’s interim light heavyweight title.
Browne was arrested three times within a 10-month period from December 2017 through October 15 for domestic violence incidents involving his longtime girlfriend and mother of his young daughter.
The 28-year-old Browne pleaded guilty Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge of criminal contempt in the second degree for allegedly attacking her last year.
Browne was sentenced to complete 26 sessions as part of a batterer’s intervention program. That sentence also included a conditional discharge and a full order of protection for the unnamed woman.
There never was serious consideration given to removing Broner or Browne from their fights January 19 because, like Kovalev, they were considered innocent until proven guilty. Even if they had been found guilty before that card, the thought of removing fighters from contracted bouts due to their legal issues presents complex problems for network executives who primarily are responsible for providing entertaining content, as well as promoters and regulators.
“Boxing really is still like Dodge City, where we tolerate almost anything,” promoter Lou DiBella told BoxingScene.com. “We have no national commissioner in this sport. We have no national administrative entity. It’s not like the other sports have all cloaked themselves in glory historically, when it comes to violence against women. But they’re starting to adapt and change with the times. Kareem Hunt’s not playing in the NFL and Greg Hardy’s out of the league.
“In boxing, there’s really no one overseeing the sport. And with respect to state officials, they have to deal with the innocent-until-proven-guilty element to this issue. In other words, part of the reason why you’re not seeing state commissions operate here is because they have to deal with the fact that there’s still a premise that people are innocent until proven guilty. In other professional sports leagues, that doesn’t hold them back from applying their own standards. Boxing doesn’t have anyone to impose standards.”
Whereas the NFL has encountered strong backlash from fans, media and advertisers for its mishandling of numerous domestic violence cases – most infamously that of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice – that hasn’t happened in boxing. In fact, Floyd Mayweather Jr. became the biggest star in boxing history and the highest-paid professional athlete of all time after he was convicted of domestic violence.
Mayweather served nearly three months in the Clark County Detention Center in 2012 after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery charges following a September 2011 incident in which Mayweather attacked Josie Harris, in front of two of their three children.
Kovalev is scheduled to face Alvarez again in a fight ESPN+ will stream from Ford Center at The Star, the Dallas Cowboys’ training facility. That’s the same venue where Hardy and running back Ezekiel Elliott have practiced for Jerry Jones’ Cowboys after they were charged in high-profile domestic violence cases.
Some employees of ESPN, owned by the Walt Disney Company, have harshly criticized Mayweather for his history of violence against women. Now the network is involved in streaming a fight featuring a renowned knockout artist who is alleged to have punched a woman in the face.
ESPN finds itself in a situation similar to the one Showtime occupied in the recent cases of Broner and Browne. Networks can place morality clauses in contracts to account for such cases, but removing Kovalev from this fight without affording him his right to due process would open up ESPN to criticism or worse.
This predicament also has thrust Kovalev’s promoter, Main Events, a company composed almost exclusively of women, in an uncomfortable position as we move toward Saturday night. Browne, who hadn’t signed a contract, was eliminated from consideration for a fight against Kovalev once it was revealed that the Staten Island native had been arrested twice to that point for his aforementioned transgressions.
HBO had expressed interest in airing a Kovalev-Browne bout August 4, before Browne’s second arrest came to light. Instead, Alvarez agreed to fight Kovalev that night and knocked out the favored fighter in the seventh round to take the WBO light heavyweight title from him.
Kovalev has absorbed a figurative beating since TMZ Sports first reported two weeks ago details of his arrest.
Kathy Duva, Main Events’ CEO, understands the intense criticism that has accompanied Kovalev’s ordeal. The Seton Hall University School of Law graduate also urged cynics to keep open minds.
“We don’t have any right to breach our contracts because we don’t like what somebody accused someone of doing,” Duva said. “There also is the right anyone who has been accused of anything has to defend themselves. We’re not gonna usurp their right to do that by passing judgment on them. If somebody is no longer available because he has been sent to jail, then they’re not gonna fight. I’ve never set myself up to judge people. I don’t think I should. I don’t think that’s my role. That’s why there’s a court system. That’s their job. The court system will determine whether or not a person is guilty.”
Kovalev will soon learn whether this problem is serious enough to send him to trial. That’ll be determined in a courtroom.
In boxing’s curious court of public opinion – where consumers can express disapproval by hitting networks, promoters and the fighters themselves where it hurts the most – that determination has been made repeatedly as it relates to violence against women. As understandably difficult as that is for many moralists to accept, you need not look any further than Mayweather’s subsequent ascent to unprecedented superstardom for proof.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.