The final hurdle was cleared to the much anticipated fight between unified light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev and former world champion Jean Pascal on Friday as the IBF granted Kovalev an exception to his mandatory defense.
Kovalev promoter Kathy Duva of Main Events and InterBox promoter Jean Bedard, who represents Pascal, made a deal for the fight in early December, but the March 14 HBO main event, due to take place in either Montreal or Quebec City, was contingent upon two pieces of business being finalized. The first was that Pascal had to come through a fight against Roberto Bolonti on Dec. 6. Although Pascal did not win, he also did not lose. The fight was ruled a second-round no contest when Bolonti was unable to continue because of an accidental foul.
The second was that the IBF had to grant Kovalev the exception because, after routing Bernard Hopkins to unify three alphabet belts on Nov. 8, he inherited the mandatory defense Hopkins had due against Nadjib Mohammedi of France.
Main Events, which promotes Kovalev and Mohammedi, paid the IBF the standard nonrefundable $20,000 fee for it to consider the request. On Friday, the IBF informed Duva that the exception had been granted, writing to her that its board of directors participated in a conference call to discuss the exception and that "a majority of the directors have determined that the exception to regulations should be granted to Sergey Kovalev."
"All I have to say is that I want to thank the IBF and that Sergey and Main Events are looking forward to kicking off what is sure to be a great promotion with Jean Pascal and our friends up north at InterBox," Duva told ESPN.com.
The exception came with some conditions: The fight must take place March 14, the contracts for the bout must be submitted to organization by the close of business Dec. 29, and the contracts must not contain any clause that will interfere with the winner making the mandatory defense in his next fight -- meaning no rematch clause.
Also, the IBF said that Kovalev and Pascal "must agree in writing that they will fight the IBF mandatory within 90 days of the March 14, 2015, bout or by Friday, June 12, 2015."
One of the factors that helped Kovalev secure the exception is that Mohammedi is in no hurry to fight Kovalev for the title, and Main Events sent the IBF a letter on his behalf saying that he was fine with allowing Kovalev to take another fight before the mandatory bout.
Mohammedi (36-3, 22 KOs), who is expected to appear on the Kovalev-Pascal undercard, recently began working with trainer Abel Sanchez and wants more time with him before fighting for the title. They have only been together for one fight, Mohammedi's first-round knockout win on the Kovalev-Hopkins undercard.
"The best will meet the best, that is one thing," Egis Klimas, Kovalev's manager, said. "We are very, very appreciative of the IBF ruling. It's good for the sport because that way we can fight the best fighters that are available."
Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 KOs), 31, of Russia and living in Los Angeles, hoped to fight world champion Adonis Stevenson. Their camps made a deal early in the year, but Stevenson walked away from it, supposedly to fight Hopkins. But when the Stevenson camp dragged its feet to make that deal, Hopkins sought out Kovalev instead.
Meanwhile, Pascal (29-2-1, 17 KOs), 32, of Montreal, was Stevenson's mandatory challenger, but when they could not make a deal for this year -- mainly because of Stevenson's demands -- Pascal decided to stay busy against Bolonti. He eventually agreed to fight Kovalev rather than go through a difficult negotiation, and perhaps a purse bid, with Montreal's Stevenson.