Usually in boxing, as in life, if it sounds too good to be true it usually is.
That was my feeling when Main Events promoter Kathy Duva said she hoped to match unified light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev with Russian countryman, two-time Olympian and Kovalev conqueror (in the amateur ranks) Artur Beterbiev.
It would shape up as a terrific fight between two aggressive punchers who don't particularly like each other.
Sure, I was confident that Duva would make an honest offer to promoter Yvon Michel to make the match, which she did and which Michel acknowledged to her. Kovalev, on the heels of his third-round wipeout of mandatory challenger Nadjib Mohammedi on July 25 in Las Vegas, is lined up for a Moscow homecoming fight on Nov. 28. Kovalev facing Beterbiev (9-0, 9 KOs), a fight with a built-in storyline, the right location as well as the prospect of an exciting fight, sounded good to me.
But I knew it wasn't going to happen. It was always going to be a hard fight to make even if HBO, which has Kovalev (28-0-1, 25 KOs) under contract, had given the OK for Duva to offer the fight to a boxer managed by Al Haymon, whose fighters are banned from HBO (which was going to make an exception for Beterbiev).
So it came as no shock whatsoever to me that Michel responded to Duva's offer in an email on Wednesday declining the fight, even though he said her offer was fair. She was offering Beterbiev a career-high purse for his first main event ($500,000), 25 percent of Canadian pay-per-view and closed circuit revenue (Beterbiev is based in Montreal) and asking only for the right for Kovalev to have an immediate rematch (with a 50-50 financial split), as opposed to the usual three options for a non-mandatory fight most promoters usually seek.
That is clearly a good faith offer.
Michel was polite, said he appreciated Duva's "honest offer" and said he hoped Beterbiev could meet Kovalev in the future. But they were going to pass on her offer for Nov. 28. Michel explained they decided instead that Beterbiev would fight in an IBF-sanctioned eliminator to get the title shot (even though he was offered one in which he could win the IBF belt plus two others).
The IBF has ordered an eliminator between Beterbiev and former champ Bernard Hopkins, who almost surely will not accept the bout, meaning Beterbiev would wind up facing the next leading available contender.
The winner of the eliminator would become a Kovalev mandatory with the title fight likely not taking place for about a year. It would give Beterbiev a bit more professional experience but also put him in a position in which Haymon could force a purse bid and not have to give a rematch clause. With all of the investor money backing Haymon's Premier Boxing Champions chances are he could win a purse bid over whatever HBO might be willing to throw at the fight down the road. Kovalev, of course, can't fight off HBO without permission, which would be unlikely to be granted.
Michel assured Duva that rejecting the fight has nothing to do with their recent poor relationship, which bottomed out when champion Adonis Stevenson, another Michel and Haymon client, backed out of a commitment to meet Kovalev in a highly anticipated unification fight last fall.
Duva was disappointed in the Beterbiev camp's decision, writing back to Michel, "You told the media that Beterbiev would take this fight if our offer was fair, which it clearly was. Sergey and I are quite disappointed that you have turned it down without even making a counter offer. Sergey was in a similar position in 2013: After he won an eliminator to face Bernard Hopkins for the IBF title, he was offered a fight against Nathan Cleverly for the WBO championship immediately. Though a Hopkins fight would have been more lucrative, Sergey would have had to wait for months during which anything could happen. Without a moment's hesitation Sergey chose to take the immediate, guaranteed title shot in his opponent's backyard.
"Of course, Sergey went on to fight Hopkins and unify three light heavyweight belts in a major promotion. As you, yourself, said to a reporter last week, when you get your first title shot, you take it. You say that you want to bury the hatchet, but actions speak louder than words. It seems that you would rather posture and look for purse bids rather than actually make a fight.
"I hope that I am wrong and you will prove it by at least attempting to negotiate a fight, whether it be for Kovalev to fight Stevenson or Beterbiev. After all, Sergey is the only one contractually bound to a TV network and you have never once made an offer to me to make either of these fights that the fans so want to see. In the meantime, we will continue to make fights for Sergey against the best fighters who are actually willing to face him. As his star continues to rise, the terms I have offered to you for Beterbiev and Stevenson will not be open for long."
Bottom line: There is no Kovalev-Beterbiev fight. I never thought there would be one. It was, as I knew, too good to be true.