Light heavyweight world titleholder Sergey Kovalev and contender Marcus Browne were poised to meet this summer in a fight that had been agreed to but was not yet signed -- and now it won't be signed.
After Browne's legal issues recently came to light in a report in the New York Daily News -- he faces two misdemeanor domestic violence charges -- Main Events CEO Kathy Duva, Kovalev's promoter, quickly went to Plan B and got a deal done in short order with an even more highly regarded contender, Eleider "Storm" Alvarez.
The contracts were signed Wednesday and Kovalev and Alvarez will meet this summer in an HBO-televised main event with light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol (13-0, 11 KOs) slated to make his third defense against an opponent to be determined in the co-feature, Duva told ESPN.
The card will take place in July or August at a site to be determined, Duva said. She originally planned for Kovalev's next fight to go on July 14 at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, but she abandoned that so the fight would not compete with the recently announced and higher-profile Manny Pacquiao-Lucas Matthysse fight on the same night.
According to the Daily News report, Browne (21-0, 16 KOs), 27, a 2012 U.S. Olympian from Staten Island, New York, was arrested twice in four months over incidents with the mother of his daughter and for violating a restraining order to stay away from her. He had his first court appearance related to the second incident on Thursday.
Duva said she was concerned that Browne's legal issues could force him out of the fight and she didn't want to take a chance of having to cancel the event or go looking for a new opponent on short notice.
"We had been going back and forth for four weeks with the contract and they were asking for changes and it wasn't easy," Duva said. "Then in the middle of it we read in the Daily News that he had these two domestic incidents. At that point I'd be committing malpractice if I didn't find an alternative. You just don't know if something is going to happen again. He could be sent to prison, there could be another incident. I don't know what's going to happen, but I do know that when a fight goes down the promoter pays for everything."
She said she spoke to HBO Sports executive vice president Peter Nelson and "we both agreed it was a good idea to look for Plan B."
So she reached out to Canadian promoter Yvon Michel, who was having his own issues with Alvarez, (23-0, 11 KOs), 34, who has been the mandatory challenger for world champion Adonis Stevenson since 2015 but not gotten his shot. And he finally piped up and wanted to be paid a step-aside fee and guaranteed a shot at the winner of the May 19 fight being planned between Stevenson (29-1, 24 KOs) and former titlist Badou Jack (21-1-3, 13 KOs). Michel was unable to promote that fight or put tickets on sale at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Stevenson's and Alvarez's hometown, until the situation with Alvarez was resolved.
"When I called Yvon last week, he was having problems with the Stevenson-Jack fight because of his situation with Alvarez," Duva said. "I said, 'You have a problem, I have a problem', and he jumped at my offer for Alvarez. We stayed in touch and on Monday he said he was ready to go. We got a contract out to him on Tuesday at 5 p.m., we made one minor change he asked for and when I came into the office at 11 a.m. on Wednesday the contract was signed.
"Yvon is a good promoter and he's professional so it was an easy fight to make because we were in a position where we needed the other. Alvarez gets his world title fight and Sergey gets to face a good opponent, which is what he really wants. The Browne situation is volatile so we had to do this. My job is to make sure my fighter has a fight. I saw giant red flags waving in my face with the Browne situation. Why put myself through that? It's an uninsurable risk. So now you have the two guys who can't get a fight with Stevenson, because he won't fight them, fighting each other. It's a good story and a good fight. If people really want to make a fight it gets done pretty easily."
Browne's camp was disappointed with the turn of events and is considering its legal options. Browne was in position for a mandatory shot at world titlist Artur Beterbiev (12-0, 12 KOs) this summer and the bout was headed to a purse bid. But when Browne got the higher-profile, bigger money fight with Kovalev, he withdrew from the purse bid to go after Kovalev's version of the 175-pound title.
"We are extremely disappointed that the Kovalev fight was cancelled," Keith Connolly, Browne's manager, told ESPN. "I was under the impression that we had the deal with Main Events. That is the only reason Marcus pulled out of the IBF purse bid with Beterbiev. Marcus would have been ready, willing and able to fight this summer."
Russia's Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs), 35, who fights out of Los Angeles, will be making the second defense of his second title reign. His first ended when he lost his three title belts to Andre Ward by disputed decision in November 2016 and then got knocked out by Ward in the eighth round of the rematch last June. But when Ward retired, Kovalev stopped Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in the second round in November to win one of the vacant belts, and then he made his first defense by seventh-round knockout of Igor Mikhalkin on March 3.