No matter what happens in November between Bernard Hopkins and Sergey Kovalev, the winner will not be the rightful “he’s the man who beat the man” kingpin of the light heavyweight division.
That’s a tagline owned by Adonis Stevenson until he’s beaten in a 175-pound championship fight.
But that’s about it.
Because the gesture apparently made by Team Hopkins at Golden Boy Promotions on Thursday and subsequently agreed to on Friday by Team Kovalev at Main Events has a chance to make the sort of impact on the sport’s imminent future the Haitian-born “Superman” can only dream about.
SI.com’s Chris Mannix reported Golden Boy executive Eric Gomez contacted Main Events CEO Kathy Duva with an offer to unify the IBF and WBO shares of the light heavyweight title—held by Hopkins and Kovalev, respectively—in a bout that would take place in Brooklyn or Atlantic City on Nov. 8.
The bout will be broadcast by HBO, which has not shown a Golden Boy match since March 2013.
Hopkins had been nearing a late Friday deadline imposed by the IBF that would have forced him to either take a bout with mandatory (but comparatively anonymous) challenger Nadjib Mohammedi or be stripped of his title if he was unable to secure a unification with either Kovalev or Stevenson.
Stevenson appeared to be the favorite for that bout as recently as April, when a 49-year-old Hopkins retained his IBF slice of the fiefdom (and won the WBA’s) with a defeat of Beibut Shumenov in Washington, D.C., then all but dismissed Kovalev as a foil thanks to diverging television allegiances.
Kovalev is under contract to fight on HBO. Hopkins’ last two fights have been broadcast on Showtime.
“I'm loyal to Showtime and I'm loyal to Richard Schaefer and I'm loyal to Al Haymon and I'm loyal to Showtime,” Hopkins said then. “So what I'm saying to you is that if Kovalev comes over here on our side, if he crosses the street, then we've got a bed for him and we'll let him into the house.”
Instead, following the lead of Golden Boy founder Oscar De La Hoya, it’s “B-Hop” who’s on the move.
De La Hoya went public earlier this year with a desire to end the prolonged Cold War between his operation and Bob Arum’s Top Rank, a behind-the-scenes stalemate which had been blamed for preempting a number of potentially fan-friendly and lucrative matchups across multiple divisions.
That olive branch was followed soon after by reports of a growing chasm between De La Hoya and his own company’s CEO, Richard Schaefer, who’d long balked at dealing with Arum.
In fact, Schaefer quit Golden Boy in early June in a blow initially spun as potentially fatal for De La Hoya, but the swerve toward a more collegial relationship with other outfits—in this case, Main Events—has instantly flipped Oscar’s script from desperate final actor to would-be boxing savior.
Is the Hopkins-Kovalev fight a turning point for boxing?
“It’s an unexpected triumph of business in Atlantic City,” HBO’s Jim Lampley said to open Saturday’s broadcast. “Where B-Hop has turned the sport on its ear.”
Hopkins joined Kovalev at ringside after the Russian dispatched Blake Caparello to defend his belt in Atlantic City, and the appearance was a chance to draw a compelling early contrast between one guy who’s scored his last 13 wins by KO, and another who’ll turn 50 less than 10 weeks after the fight.
“I’ve always run to the fire, not away from the fire,” Hopkins told HBO’s Max Kellerman, as Kovalev stood a half-step to his left. “I'm an alien. I come from an era that’s not the era of today, I just happen to be here through hard work and to show at this stage something you’d never imagine I could pull off.
“Pay attention and don’t get sick that night.”
For a sport long responsible for its own recurring ills, it’s an encouraging sign of a return to health.
Unless otherwise cited, all quotes were obtained first hand.