No new facts regarding why Adonis Stevenson has cut ties with HBO were revealed at today’s press conference in Montreal, held to officially announce his upcoming title defense against Polish contender Andrzej Fonfara. And yet that and Sergey Kovalev remained the main topics of conversation; Fonfara was an afterthought.
This is boxing in the 21st century. The most anticipated matches, the fights everyone wants to see, get pushed to the side and to hell with the fans and taking on the best. It’s about money, first and last. It’s business, nothing more.
This much we know: a deal was in place, even before the Stevenson-Kovalev double-header this past November, to see the two light-heavyweight power-punchers clash in the fall of this year on HBO. Terms had been agreed upon and all the major players were on board. Except Stevenson. When push came to shove, Adonis would not commit.
Even Yvon Michel, Stevenson’s promoter and effectively his manager until recently, was in favor of the HBO deal and recommended Adonis sign on. But “Superman” refused. Instead what he did sign in February was a managerial deal with Al Haymon, highlighting the fact that up to this point, Stevenson, legally, had no manager. As soon as that happened, everyone in the boxing business knew the Kovalev match was on life support. HBO no longer does business with Haymon, the man behind Mayweather; only Showtime does.
Sure enough, the Fonfara bout will be Stevenson’s first with Showtime. And there’s nothing HBO can do about it. It was HBO which put money into Stevenson’s and Yvon Michel’s pockets for the Chad Dawson, Tavoris Cloud and Tony Bellew matches, but Showtime outbid them for the Fonfara bout. Once Michel had the offer from Showtime in hand he contacted HBO and asked if they wanted to beat it. HBO declined.
Aside from all the boxing fans who had to wipe the drool from their chins every time they contemplated a showdown between two of the biggest punchers in the sport, the person evidently most disappointed by all this is Kathy Duva of Main Events Inc., Kovalev’s promotional firm. As far as she is concerned the deal for a Superman vs Krusher fight was as good as sealed and delivered, conditional only on the two boxers winning their upcoming matches.
“A deal is a deal and you don’t go back on it,” she told veteran boxing scribe Kevin Iole. According to her, she contacted Michel the second she heard about Adonis signing with Haymon to make sure everything remained in place. “I called Yvon and Yvon said, ‘Oh there is no problem. It’s fine. There is nothing wrong.’ ” She has since provided emails which appear to back up her version of events while Michel has since confirmed that the terms discussed were generous to Stevenson: 70 percent of the gate and 60 percent of the television revenue.
However, the fact remains no actual dotted lines carry any signatures. While a verbal agreement appears to have been in place between Duva, Michel and HBO, clearly Stevenson was not enthusiastic. The fact Michel could not deliver his fighter must be a source of some embarrassment for Quebec’s premier boxing impresario, but there were no signs of awkwardness or agitation at the Montreal Casino today. “It’s just business,” was the catch-phrase repeated over and over again by Michel and Stevenson, the word “business” a magical one, making all skepticism and difficult questions disappear.
Indeed, Stevenson will now pocket more money for the Fonfara match and, presumably, for future contests. And the contractual obstacles to a fight with Bernard Hopkins, something Stevenson clearly desires, are now out of the way. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to envision Stevenson looking at his options and deciding it makes more sense to collect paydays for matches of lesser risk before taking a chance with a legit 175 lb. knockout artist who is in his prime. If you could make big money fighting either a 50-year-old ex-middleweight who hasn’t won inside the distance in almost a decade, or a savage puncher who has knocked out almost 90 percent of his opponents and actually killed a man in the ring, which would you choose?
And, in Stevenson’s defense, the case can be made that a Stevenson vs Kovalev clash can only get bigger, that in another year or so the hype and money generated could be truly monumental.
But even when viewed in this light, for many boxing fans, what Stevenson is doing is unforgivable. The fact remains that a real champion is supposed to be about fearlessness, about seeking out the biggest challenges, about wanting to prove something beyond just winning. The ultimate goal is supposed to be domination, the record books, greatness. It’s supposed to be about proclaiming to the whole world, “I can lick any sonofabitch in the house.” And giving the fans the excitement they crave by proving it over and over again.
But not, it seems, if you’re an Al Haymon fighter.
Haymon, it must be noted, is currently the most successful and prolific manager (or advisor, if you prefer) in boxing. And if his work with Floyd Mayweather Jr. is anything to go by, he has a simple, winning formula which no boxer can resist: the biggest reward for the least risk. To hell with the fans. To hell with the champions of the past and boxing’s rich history. To hell with pride and competition and greatness. Does any of that stuff pay the bills?
So, is Adonis Stevenson ducking Sergey Kovalev? In a word, yes. But it makes good financial sense. And in these times of advanced capitalism, when cash trumps all and everything and everyone is for sale, who can fault him? You see, it’s about money, first and last. It’s business, nothing more. — Michael Carbert