LAS VEGAS — Those who follow boxing know what a tremendous matchup the rematch between unified light heavyweight titlist Andre Ward and former titleholder Sergey Kovalev is.
They are two of the elite pound-for-pound fighters in the world and they waged a highly entertaining fight in November that ended with Ward winning a controversial decision.
They meet again on Saturday (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET) at the Mandalay Bay Events Center but at least one of the promoters of the fight is highly concerned about the business it will do, having been washed away in the ocean of coverage of Wednesday’s announcement that Floyd Mayweather would exit a two-year retirement to take on UFC superstar Conor McGregor in a 12-round junior middleweight boxing match on Aug. 26 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Ward-Kovalev II has been a relatively low-key promotion but it appeared to gaining at least some traction and for any pay-per-view event the most critical window for publicity is in the final few days.
So when news broke of the deal being finalized for Mayweather-McGregor — which is being televised by Showtime PPV, HBO’s bitter rival — it took over the sports world and left Ward-Kovalev II possibly dead in the water.
When Main Events CEO Kathy Duva, who promotes Kovalev, heard the news her first thought?
“It was, ‘OK, we’re dead,'” she said on Thursday following the final pre-fight media conference.
She has been in involved in boxing for decades and been involved with some of the biggest pay-per-view fights, including Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson, both Lewis-Evander Holyfield fights, Oscar De La Hoya-Fernando Vargas and many others. She knows the business and knows how bad the announcement of Mayweather-McGregor can be for her event.
“It’s going to affect us, absolutely it’s going to affect us,” Duva said. “I can’t quantify it but let’s face it — it’s going to have an affect. [Wednesday] morning I felt we were starting to turn a corner a little because I was starting to feel the interest and the excitement. And we’ve had some really good interactions with the press. Everything we were doing was going really well.”
And then Mayweather-McGregor swallowed them whole. Mayweather-McGregor will also crush attention for the live HBO fight on Aug. 26 between Miguel Cotto and Yoshihiro Kamegai, who battle for a vacant junior middleweight title. HBO officials said they have no plan to move the fight even though it will compete directly with Mayweather-McGregor.
And with Mayweather-McGregor taking place just three weeks before the Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin middleweight world championship fight, also at T-Mobile Arena and on HBO PPV, that fight can’t help but be injured with it taking place so close.
Kovalev, along with manager Egis Klimas and trainer John David Jackson, walked out of the final news conference as Ward’s team was making its comments, is perhaps even more upset about it than Duva.
While Ward has a guaranteed purse of $6.5 million from his promoter, Roc Nation Sports, regardless of how the fight sells, Kovalev’s only compensation will come from his percentage of the pay-per-view and ticket sales, neither of which is expected to be strong. The first fight generated about 165,000 buys and the rematch, even before Mayweather-McGregor overwhelmed it, was not expected to do much more.
“I think [Kovalev] is frustrated too. His paycheck is dependent, unlike his opponent, on the business we do,” Duva said. “We’re all frustrated. I hope we do what we did last time. I’m worried we won’t, and it’s a shame because it is such a good fight. We’re really collateral damage here. That’s the risk we take.”
Promoter Michael Yormark of Roc Nation Sports didn’t see things as dire as Duva and even though he tried to put a pretty picture on the development he did not sound convincing.
“At the end of the day it’s done,” Yormark said of the Mayweather-McGregor announcement. “I understand typically a promoter doesn’t do that when there’s a big fight but it is what it is. You try to take a positive out of a negative. It puts the spotlight both with boxing fans, combat fans, the mainstream, on that fight. It drives people to boxing websites. That’s where we’re very visible. You take the positive out of it and it is what it is.”
Yormark later said he didn’t think the announcement will hurt Ward-Kovalev II.
“I don’t think it hurts us at all. The media coverage we’ve had has been double what we had in November,” Yormark said. “People that are going to buy the pay-per-view are going to buy the pay-per-view. They’re not all of a sudden distracted by Mayweather-McGregor.”
Of course, there are those they are trying to get the message out about the fight to who might not realize the fight is even happening. Whatever damage Mayweather-McGregor might do to Ward-Kovalev II, Yormark said it will be worse for others.
“The fight that really gets hurt is the Canelo-Triple G fight and it obliterates the Cotto fight, unfortunately,” he said. “Doing [Mayweather-McGregor] three weeks before Canelo-Triple G I think hurts that fight significantly. I’m not overly concerned [with Ward-Kovalev II] and even if I was there’s nothing you can do.
“You just keep working it and working it and working it.”