Unification in the Light Heavyweight Division is a Long Ways Off
By Steven Weinberg | Contributing Writer and Photographer
Published: March 09, 2018
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The “other” boxing event last Saturday night occurred on HBO and was meant to sort out the muddled mess in the light heavyweight division. Five months ago the division was poised to rival the welterweights with many possible exciting and fan-friendly matchups. After last Saturday night, the division is still disordered.
The main event, between Sergey Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) and Igor Mikhalkin (21-2, 9 KOs), ended as it was supposed to – with Kovalev victorious. A nasty cut above Mikhalkin’s eye caused the doctor to stop the fight at 2:25 of the 7th round. This was Kovalev’s second fight against an unheralded opponent after suffering back-to-back defeats at the hands of pound-for-pound king Andre Ward. It was the first defense of his regained WBO title.
After the fight, Kovalev said two telling things: that he does not feel that he is 100% back and that he will take any big money fight. Absent from his interview was the usual calling out of a favored future opponent. Rumors have swirled for years that Kovalev is not making the money he should considering his reputation. It was reported that Kovalev earned 75% of the PPV take from Kovalev v. Ward II, and after only a reported 125,000 PPV buys, likely took home very little money, especially compared to Ward’s $6.5 million purse. At 35 years old, it is no wonder that Kovalev is showing more interest in earning a paycheck than glory.
In Kovalev’s defense, he did say before the fight that he believes the light heavyweight division should be unified, which Saturday’s main undercard – Dimtry Bivol (13-0, 11 KOs) v. Sullivan Barrera (21-2, 14 KOs) for Bivol’s WBA title - was meant to set up. Barrera, who like Kovalev, had previously only been beaten by Ward, has twice turned down fights with Kovalev, stating the money was not right. Instead, Barrera took the Bivol fight for less money, gambling that if he beat Bivol and won the WBA belt, he could command more money against Kovalev. Unfortunately, the gamble for Barrera did not pay off as Bivol TKO’d Barrera at 1:41 of the 12th round.
Kovalev and Bivol share a promoter in Main Events. In theory, a unification bout between the two, for the WBO and WBA belts, should be easy to make. After his fight though, Bivol, like Kovalev, was non-committal about his future. This was only Bivol’s 13th professional fight, and he acknowledged that he still has much to learn. Despite Max Kellerman slobbering over Bivol, calling him the best at 175 pounds, Bivol said as champion; he is not going to chase anyone, opponents need to come to him. The take away from Saturday night can only be that Kovalev is not interested in Bivol because there’s no money to be made, and Bivol is not interested in Kovalev because he does not have enough experience.
Badou Jack (22-1-2, 13 KOs) and WBC champion Adonis Stevenson (29-1, 24 KOs) are set to face each other on May 19th. Jack previously vacated one of the WBA junior belts, avoiding Bivol in the process, in pursuit of Stevenson. Stevenson has avoided Kovalev for years. Kovalev, however, has expressed interest in facing the winner because it would be an attractive big money and unification fight. Jack is the only man in the division who has expressed interest in meeting Kovalev, should he defeat Stevenson. While Kovalev v. Jack is most likely the next big light heavyweight fight, if it is to occur, it will not be until the fall. The only remaining question will be if Kovalev’s and Jack’s handlers can work together.
Left out of any light heavyweight discussion is IBF Champion Artur Beterbiev (12-0, 12 KOs). He has been embroiled in legal issues with Canadian promoter Yvon Michel, and Top Rank has denied the recent rumors that Beterbiev is now under their banner. Since winning the IBF title after a protracted period of injury and legally induced inactivity, it appears that Beterbiev’s career is once again on hold.
In the three and half years since Sergey Kovalev gained three of the light heavyweight belts, month after month fans held out hope that an undisputed unification bout would be held with Adonis Stevenson. After Andre Ward defeated Kovalev and retired, and the three belts were scattered to the wind, fans are simply hoping that two belts can be unified. Unfortunately, fans will now have to hope that Badu Jack defeats Stevenson on May 19 if there is to be any chance that the light heavyweight division will once again be unified.
(Feature Photo: Abbie Parr/Getty Images)