For years, the name that rang in the ears of light heavyweights Sergey Kovalev and Eleider “Storm” Alvarez was that of world champion Adonis Stevenson.
Back when Kovalev held three belts in 2016 — before his first of back-to-back losses to Andre Ward — the biggest fight in the division was a unification bout with Stevenson. But with Stevenson seemingly unwilling to make the fight and Kovalev unable to leave HBO for the fight, it went unmade.
Alvarez, who like Stevenson is based in Montreal, shares promoter Yvon Michel and adviser Al Haymon with Stevenson and was his mandatory challenger for more than two years. The fight should have been easy to make but for reasons that still have never been explained it wasn’t.
Now neither are concerned about Stevenson as they found their way to each other with Kovalev scheduled to defend his world title against Alvarez on Aug. 4 (HBO, 10 p.m. ET/PT) at the Mark G. Etess Arena at the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, which opens on June 28 as it takes over what used to be the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J. Kovalev-Alvarez will be the first major fight in the one-time boxing hotbed of Atlantic City since Kovalev outpointed Bernard Hopkins to unify three belts at Boardwalk Hall in November 2014.
“Both have been avoided a lot by the same guy and so, tired of waiting for that guy to step up and face them, despite multiple attempts to put those fights together as Yvon can well attest, they have decided to simply fight each other,” Main Events CEO Kathy Duva, Kovalev’s promoter, said at the kickoff news conference in New York on Saturday.
“I don’t want to hear about Adonis Stevenson anymore. I am focused on Sergey Kovalev. I am really motivated. It is a huge fight against a really high-class opponent. Kovalev is right now the best fighter of the division. I wanted to fight in a world championship bout to show my talent and now I finally have the opportunity.”
Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) and Alvarez (23-0, 11 KOs) seemed quite happy to be fighting each other even though both have wanted a fight with Stevenson.
“Alvarez has earned his title shot but ‘Chickenson’ dodged him, just like he dodged me,” said Kovalev, who will make the second defense of the vacant title he won after Ward gave it up when he retired last year. “I want to fight the best in my division. Alvarez took the fight with me without hesitation. I respect that and I am excited to face him in my return to Atlantic City.”
Said Alvarez: “I am extremely happy. I said yes as soon as I had the offer. I waited for a long time to get a shot at a world title. I don’t want to hear about Adonis Stevenson anymore. I am focused on Sergey Kovalev. I am really motivated. It is a huge fight against a really high-class opponent. Kovalev is right now the best fighter of the division. I wanted to fight in a world championship bout to show my talent and now I finally have the opportunity.
“I know it is a really hard fight, but I will work hard to become world champion. This is my dream. I am a boxer who loves challenge and who performs at my best when I am challenged. I now have what I want.”
The fight came about in an unusual manner. Russia’s Kovalev, 35, who fights out of Los Angeles, and contender Marcus Browne had agreed to terms but after the New York Daily News reported last month that Browne was recently been arrested twice on misdemeanor domestic violence charges, Duva declined to finalize the fight.
Meanwhile, fed up with waiting for his title shot, Alvarez (23-0, 11 KOs), 34, a Colombia native, insisted on being paid a healthy step-aside fee to allow Stevenson (29-1, 24 KOs) to take a defense with former two-division titlist Badou Jack (21-1-3, 13 KOs) with the guarantee that he get the winner next. That demand was preventing Michel from finalizing Stevenson-Jack.
“Alvarez has earned his title shot but ‘Chickenson’ dodged him, just like he dodged me. I want to fight the best in my division. Alvarez took the fight with me without hesitation. I respect that and I am excited to face him in my return to Atlantic City.”
When Browne was dropped from the fight with Kovalev, Duva, whose company is celebrating its 40th year in business this month, called Michel to inquire about Alvarez’s availability to fight Kovalev.
The fight was signed the next day with both promoters solving their problems and creating two attractive fights: Kovalev-Alvarez and Stevenson-Jack, which will take place on Saturday (Showtime, 10:05 p.m. ET/PT) at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Despite all odd way that the fight came together, Kovalev-Alvarez looms as one of the more intriguing fights in a hot weight class.
“Eleider Alvarez is a great competitor. That is probably why Stevenson refused to fight him,” said Egis Klimas, Kovalev’s manager and the reigning and two-time Boxing Writers Association of America manager of the year. “Sergey will face anyone, any time, any place. If Adonis is too scared to take the fight, Sergey is happy to step up and fight Alvarez. He earned this opportunity.”
Said Stephane Lepine, Alvarez’s manager: “The offer from Kathy Duva arrived and we were really happy. Fighting against Sergey Kovalev, an established and recognized name of the boxing world, on HBO, we couldn’t ask for any better opportunity. For me, it was a no brainer. We had to accept that amazing offer. We were also too tired to wait for Adonis Stevenson.”