SIX months ago Sergey Kovalev was a man without a title being written off as a busted flush.
He had just surrendered his WBO light-heavyweight crown to Colombia’s Eleider Alvarez in a sizeable upset and seemed to be struggling to exorcise demons from a couple of losses against Andre Ward. His mystique appeared to have deserted him; contenders like Alvarez no longer feared him the way so many once did.
However, earlier this month Kovalev, 33-3-1 (28), gained revenge over Alvarez, taking back his WBO title in the process, and now things are again looking up for the 35-year-old Russian. A man in demand, he has been linked to fights with Britain’s Callum Smith and Anthony Yarde, as well as a more likely one against IBF light-heavyweight champion and countryman Artur Beterbiev, 13-0 (13).
Beterbiev, in fact, was quick to issue a Kovalev call-out once ‘Krusher’ had retrieved his old belt on February 2. Speaking to TVA Sports, he said, “Now he has a belt and I also have a belt. This is the right time to do a unification fight. Come on, let’s do it. Let’s do it, Kovalev.”
Back in the groove, it didn’t take long for Kovalev to answer a so-called heir apparent eager to initiate one of those passing of the torch moments.
“I want to make my next fight as early as possible,” he said on social media, “and the actual possible date of the fight is in the month of May. The fight with Beterbiev is the most expected and one of the most interesting fights for boxing fans and for myself.
“In my interview in the ring after the fight [against Alvarez], I called out my desired opponents. If any of the boxing fans missed this interview, then you have the opportunity to find it on YouTube. Me and my team have a plan. I am ready to enter the ring against any light-heavyweight fighter, including Artur Beterbiev.
“If my team deems it necessary, the fight in May will be against him. If our plan does not include the May fight against Artur, then it will happen later on. But this fight will definitely come, I assure you.”
Beterbiev holds two amateur victories over Kovalev, even if Kovalev disputes both, and a fight between the pair as pros does indeed seem a natural one – whether in May or later in the year. Better yet, in terms of making the bout a reality, the Russian destroyers have signed multi-fight agreements with Top Rank, freeing them up to share a ring on ESPN.
Following yesterday’s revelation that Tyson Fury is now ESPN-exclusive, we now face the prospect of being told his rematch with Deontay Wilder will still definitely, probably, maybe happen – only not immediately, nor when we were initially led to believe it would.
A week ago, it appeared Wilder vs. Fury II was all set for New York on May 18, but those plans have since been put on the back-burner now that Fury has newfound bargaining power and issued a plan to “fight three times” this year. Though he still likely boxes in May, it’s hard to believe Wilder, the WBC world heavyweight champion, will feature in the opposite corner.
In fact, Bob Arum, one of the men behind Fury’s lucrative deal with ESPN, believes Wilder vs. Fury II is a fight that will benefit from a delay and a few more months for “the general sports fan to really get to know” the pair. He has September, not May, in mind for the fight.
“We envision this [rematch] can reach 1 to 2 million homes. The only way to do that is to allow the general sports fan to really get to know these guys,” Arum told the Los Angeles Times.
“If that takes each of them fighting another opponent first, then rolling them into a September fight, the money on the table then would be more than they can conceive of… that’s the way I look at it.”
It’s certainly one way of looking at it. Another is this: Wilder vs. Fury II is a rematch that needs to happen now – or at least by the time summer is over – simply because of the momentum generated by fight number one. After all, since that fight, the stock of both has never been higher; the need for a re-run never greater.
If the money men get it wrong, a delay to the rematch will serve only to dilute what was fast becoming a fascinating heavyweight rivalry. It slows its momentum. It squeezes the joy from it.
Moreover, what made Wilder vs. Fury I so captivating and so different was its cavalier, anti-establishment spirit. It was as fun as any heavyweight tussle in years and it was pure in its execution. There was no protracted build-up. There was no he-said-she-said, A-side-B-side nonsense.
Instead, Wilder and Fury simply showed an interest in fighting one another, sorted out a deal, and then shared a ring. It was boxing the way it used to be. It was boxing the way it should be. It made a convoluted sport seem simple again.
Mess around with it too much and Wilder vs. Fury II will be in danger of becoming the very thing it did its best to avoid becoming. It becomes Joshua vs. Wilder I [that fight never happened, by the way].
And, rest assured, nobody wants to go through that again.
“We are hoping to make the fight and figure out how with this new relationship they have with ESPN that it can be done,” said Shelley Finkel, Wilder’s adviser, choosing to stay upbeat. “I would want to try to make it with Showtime and ESPN.”
It’s a glimmer of hope. Nothing more at this stage.