Kathy Duva quite likely would have been in a much different mood on Tuesday afternoon, during a mini presser at the Croton Reservoir Tavern on W. 40th St., if Adonis Stevenson hadn't gone and sent the best laid plans of Main Events and HBO and his own promoter awry.
Stevenson, the Haitian-born Canadian, did something a whole lot of pugilists have been doing lately, and signed on with Team Al Haymon on Feb. 18. If he had went with the flow which was funneling towards a showdown with Sergey Kovalev, in the most intriguing light heavy matchup in many moons in September, then Duva's face and voice wouldn't have featured twinges of ire, as they did when she relayed her disappointing day.
But the 36-year-old Stevenson decided, or was helped to decide and then signed off on a completely different plan than what Duva told me she'd hashed out, along with HBO, and Yvon Michel, the promoter for Stevenson.
“We had a deal done two months ago,” Duva revealed. She said that on Jan. 23, she and Team Kovalev and then Michel decided on mutually agreeable terms which would net a Sergey-Adonis showdown. Michel was on board, and all assumed that Adonis was in the fold.
The next day, Jan. 24, Duva continued, Michel and HBO matchmaker/exec Peter Nelson agreed to terms, which included fights beyond the interim one, and the biggie, for both boxers. Michel told Duva his lawyer would type up a contract, and then send it over. She's still waiting, she said. At first, when no contract with specifics requested from the Stevenson/Michel side arrived, she didn't get worried.
“The foot dragging, I'm used to it,” she said. “We had a deal. We exchanged emails.”
And then they didn't…
Stevenson hurled a drop-off-the-table curveball, hooking up with uber advisor Haymon, and suddenly, the two fight plan of attack was in flux. Now, the early fall faceoff between the two men who'd been on a parallel track, who'd fought on the same card last November, to help whet fans' appetites, get them savoring the prospect of this clash of 175 pound titans was not on the to do list. Instead, as it stands today, Stevenson is aligned with Haymon, and is a Showtime fighter.
Yes, the Cold War trenches have been dug deeper, with Duva aiming icy barbs at Haymon, who she said is well known for keeping fight fans from seeing the events they crave. “He's the man best known for making sure the public doesn't get to see the fights they want,” she told me. “It's true, isn't it? Ask Mayweather and Pacquiao.”
So, is the prospect of a Kovalev-Stevenson fight dead? “Not this year,” she said. “But Adonis is running. He's running.” Her ice storm dropped some pellets on Showtime, which she said features stars built by HBO.
Duva said that if she chose to bring this matter to a courtroom, she is confident she'd prevail, she'd be able to convince an arbiter that a contract, of sorts, had been fashioned, mostly via email exchanges, with the pertinent principals.
“My husband (the late promoter Dan Duva) used to say, 'Contracts don't fight, fighters do,'' she stated, indicating that her likely reaction will be to push to elevate Kovalev, without indulging in lawyer-centered undercard action. “We're going to let HBO build Sergey into a star, as they've done countless times, since they started in boxing…In the light heavyweight division, he is the best fighter in the world.”
Two weeks ago, IBF champ Bernard Hopkins was in NYC, talking up his April 19 clash in DC, against Beibut Shumenov, who holds the WBA crown at 175. Hopkins made it clear he was angling toward a fall clash with WBC champ Adonis, who'd just announced his allegiance to Haymon. WBO champ Kovalev and company still held out hope that the parallel path of him and Adonis hadn't been altered since then, and, in fact, it was only today when an HBO boxing person told me that HBO had decided they weren't going to pursue a May 24 Stevenson bout against Andrezj Fonfara, which was on their docket. That decision to blow off that May pairing came, I was told, when Adonis' new representation wanted to tweak terms ie money already agreed to by the old team Adonis.
Now, with Haymon calling shots, Stevenson was asking for “a significant increase” to his purse to fight Fonfara. Not only that, but there was no longer a package deal, for a Fonfara fight, and then a match with Kovalev, on the table. That indicated to HBO, the source said, that Stevenson wanted to jet. The HBO source too said they weren't closing the door on a Kovalev-Stevenson fight, it must be noted. “We're happy to discuss it for the fall,” I was told. Bottom line, according to the HBO source: “We had a deal. It changed. It is not the way we do it.”
I requested a comment from Al Haymon, who takes press queries about as often as I get haircuts, through an emissary, and hadn't heard back at posting time.
I also emailed Yvon Michel, to get his side of the story, and a response to the assertion that a deal had been hashed out, and then rescinded, but also hadn't heard back at time of posting.
Showtime boxing boss Stephen Espinoza did return a request for comment. He said that indeed, Stevenson, whose talents he said he's admired for several years, would be fighting Fonfara, on Showtime, in May. “When we heard that Adonis had no deal in place (with HBO), that he was available, wasn't locked up, we made an offer for his next fight,” he said. HBO, it was his understanding, he said, had the right to match those terms, and declined. Espinoza said Adonis had been slated to fight on the Jean Pascal-Tavoris Cloud undercard, on an August 2012 promotion which got scrapped because of a Pascal injury. “This opportunity came, and we jumped at the chance,” he said, of the May 24 Adonis-Fonfara clash, slated for the Bell Centre in Montreal. “The Hopkins vs. Adonis fight is a natural for both, they're both interested, but both have business to deal with first, so it's a little premature to delve into that.”
Duva clearly isn't enthralled by the pairing. Hopkins, she said, breathing down on age 50, is going to be “irrelevant” in the next year or two. She's betting that Kovalev won't much miss a beat, that HBO will do their thing, and craft compelling scraps for him, raising his profile to an exalted space. “Sergey is going to become that with or without Adonis, who is what, 38?”
Much or all of the motivation for this move by Adonis, she thinks, is because he is avoiding a clash with the the 30-year-old Russian. She thinks that Adonis might not even come out better financially, because she can't see Hopkins taking a smaller slice of the pie, even if Adonis and Bernard fight in Montreal, where Adonis will fill the room, whereas Kovalev would have made a concession to Adonis' ability to put arses in seats.
“Hopkins won't take the short end,” Duva opined. “Also, I think Adonis is scared to death of Kovalev. And the fans are getting screwed. And Al Haymon owns that.”
She said she was reserving the option to pursue a legal route to dealing with the screwed up Kovalev-Stevenson formulation, because, she said, “We exchanged writing, and that's a contract. Bottom line, Adonis Stevenson was scared to make a deal to fight Sergey…as well he should be.”
Oh yeah, Cedric Agnew was in the room, game face on, while this matter was being discussed and Duva was venting. The Chicago-born hitter, training in Houston, was hard to hear when he was talking about his confidence going into the Saturday clash, which will unfold in Atlantic City, and on HBO. I tried to read his brain, wondering if his chill 'tude indicated he might be a little tight. Duva said that she thinks Agnew, who owns a 26-0 mark (13 KOs) against B- level foes, and under, is coming to mess up Kovalev's path as much as Stevenson did.
Duva, on an up note, said that tix are moving well, a testament to Kovalev's burgeoning fan-base, which had her breathing a sigh of relief, considering we're heading into Final Four hoops territory, which can make ticket sales for fights sluggish. Agnew did pass, I think, a test I often pose to an underdog, when I asked him if he was sure he'd beat Kovalev. “Yeah,” he said, not in the most forceful of fashions.
“No doubt?” I pressed.
“No doubt” he would, he said, more firmly.
Duva apologized well into the Q n A, for getting off track, into the Stevenson/Haymon affair, after Team Agnew advisor Bill Benton made it clear that people in that room, mostly press, weren't seeing his kid as a viable foe. He handled ex heavyweight contender Ike Ibeabuchi many moons ago, he said, and writers who hadn't done their homework before Ike fought David Tua had to hustle to get in the know after he got the better of Tua. “After the fight, they knew who he was,” Benton said, making clear we'd have to get up to speed on Agnew Saturday night. “Everybody's overlooking him, God I hope so.”
His son Bobby Benton, at 35 one of the most baby-faced trainers you'll see holding a bucket, helped in the Austin Trout corner when he beat Miguel Cotto two years ago, and he said he'll be on the winning side in AC, too. He said the chill Agnew, who actually broke into a couple of grins when I split him off, and chatted with him, the Benton and promoter Malcom Garrett, has a nasty side, and can show it in the ring. Bill Benton, in the game since 1977, compared him to Matthew Saad Muhammad, and said if the judges are on point, “and we get a fair shake, he'll have his hand raised Saturday. His speed is unbelievable.”
But the Cold Warring, with Duva not being shy about Haymon presence being a net detriment to the sport, dominated this event. Sure, Kovalev had a happy face on, considering he was exulting in the multi-fight deal he'd inked with HBO that day. But the mood in that room was set, I venture to say, by Duva, who was mad as hell, and not shying away from saying why. Haymon's wide angle sphere of influence was now going to result in a must-see bout being yanked away from the fans, she said, and she wondered why some of the bigger name boxing writers weren't examining those chips falling the way they had been of late, and noting a tectonic shift in the way business was being conducted by people who'd she'd regarded as business contemporaries, but now seemed to have been relegated into the bitter adversary zone.
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