The last time Kathy Duva and Main Events promoted a boxing show that was televised by HBO was almost seven years ago. Back then, the late Arturo Gatti was rounding out his exceptional boxing career with a loss to former reality television star Alfonso Gomez.
But why the long break? Why hasn’t Main Events worked with HBO for so many years since?
“That’s a good question,” Duva told Bleacher Report with a laugh. “They weren’t buying anything I was selling!”
It wasn’t for lack of trying. Duva said she did her best to sell Main Events-promoted fighters to HBO over the years. The television giant just wasn’t interested.
One such fighter was popular Polish heavyweight Tomasz Adamek. Duva said she could never quite convince HBO’s network executives that the American fight audience would get behind a fighter from the other side of the world.
But things have changed now. Where before HBO seemed reluctant to welcome Eastern European fighters to its airwaves, Duva said it appears now the big wigs over there are truly beginning to embrace the idea wholeheartedly.
It’s boxing’s Eastern European explosion, so to speak, and the charge is led predominantly by middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin (promoted by Tom Loefller’s K2 Promotions) and Duva’s hard-hitting light heavyweight, Sergey Kovalev.
Main Events has promoted international fighters to raucous HBO success before, most notably Gatti, an Italian-born Canadian, and former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, an England-born Canadian. Both were big stars born outside of American soil that fought on HBO and made lots of money doing so.
On Saturday night in Atlantic City, WBO light heavyweight titleholder Kovalev will face undefeated prospect Cedric Agnew in what Duva and company hopes to be the first of many successful showcase bouts for him on the network.
This is particularly important now, especially for HBO.
According to Yahoo! Sports' Kevin Iole, HBO might have just lost lineal light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson to their rival, Showtime, for good. The report also indicates the potential Stevenson-Kovalev showdown is probably derailed for the foreseeable future.
Short of perennial super middleweight champion Andre Ward moving up to 175, if HBO is to maintain a presence in the light heavyweight division, it will be through the power-punching Kovalev.
Duva said Main Events’ timely return to HBO was one part opportunity and one part execution. She said it’s easier to get chances than it is to capitalize on them. The key is doing both.
“I asked them to give us a chance. We got the opportunity for Kovalev to fight for the [WBO] title when he beat Nathan Cleverly.”
Duva said HBO had given some of her fighters opportunities over the previous seven years.
“There were times during the last seven years when we had fighters on HBO as opponents. It’s not that we didn’t get the opportunity…but we just didn’t have someone win at the right moment.”
Kovalev did, and in fine fashion. Not only did he defeat Cleverly across the pond in front of the Welshman’s home crowd, but he also bashed the former titleholder down to the canvas in just four rounds.
He didn’t just win the fight—he made a lasting impression.
Fighters in recent past just couldn’t get things like that done for Main Events.
Duva’s middleweight, Curtis Stevens, had a shot against Golovkin last year. He fought bravely and well but was ultimately handled by way of Round 8 stoppage.
“He came a little short, but he made a lot of fans that night. He’ll be back in the mix.”
Adamek had his chance, too. The former light heavyweight and cruiserweight titleholder was just too small to stand in front of gigantic heavyweight Vitali Klitschko. Adamek was brutalized in 2011 by way of Round 10 technical knockout. It was a one-sided beating that put Duva and Adamek right back at square one.
But Duva did something smart back in 2011. She forged a relationship with NBC to help her build Main Events’ fighters an audience.
It’s how she’s moved fighters like Kovalev from virtual unknowns to potential HBO sweethearts, and it’s how she was able to rebuild fighters like Adamek into top-level contenders again.
It’s how she’ll build Stevens back up too.
“Fortunately, now that we have a television series, we have the luxury of being able to [do some things]. I can build my fighters back up. I can get them ready for another shot. And, you now, when you get the opportunity, you just got to win.”
“In this case, Kovalev winning is the thing that made the difference. There’s no doubt, and he’s gone on to capture a lot of people’s interest. And as long as that’s the case, we’ll be OK.”
It sure seems like that will be the case. Kovalev is a hard-punching stalker who has knocked out most of his opponents within just four rounds. He’s a lean, mean fighting machine with good technique and an affinity for aggression.
And with HBO and NBC, Main Events has a firm path forward in regards to getting him in front of people.
Duva is psyched about her network affiliations and for good reason. While Duva feels the door at Showtime is slammed shut to everyone but cash cow Floyd Mayweather and fighters promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, she said things couldn’t have worked out better for her.
“You cannot build a star on Showtime. It can’t be done. The audience there is not big enough.”
Bloomberg’s Cliff Edwards reported last year that HBO had about 28.7 million subscribers while CBS Bottom Line reported Showtime was up to around 23 million at about the same time. The gap used to be much wider, but HBO still has a solid lead on its rival.
That’s good enough for Duva, who said HBO is the perfect place to be.
“HBO can build a star, so I’m happy with where we are...It’s been a terrific experience thus far and we hope it continues.”
Sergey "Krusher" Kovalev (23-0-1, 21 KOs) faces Cedric “L.O.W” Agnew (26-0-0, 13 KOs) March 29 at the Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. The broadcast begins live on HBO Boxing After Dark at 10 p.m. ET. Junior welterweights Thomas Dulorme and Karim Mayfield kick things off as the co-feature. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.