For the first time in its 45 years of boxing coverage, HBO will televise a women's fight.
Cecilia Braekhus, the undefeated and undisputed women's welterweight world champion, will face former women's middleweight world titleholder Kali Reis, who is dropping down to challenge Braekhus on May 5 at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, promoter Tom Loeffler announced Thursday.
"I am so proud to help present the first female bout to be televised live on HBO," Loeffler said. "Undefeated world female welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus, boxing's only undisputed world champion, will have her hands full against former WBC world female middleweight champion Kali Reis."
The bout will open the "World Championship Boxing" telecast (11 p.m. ET/PT) headlined by unified middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 KOs) attempting to tie Bernard Hopkins' 160-pound division record of 20 consecutive defenses when he takes on Vanes Martirosyan (36-3-1, 21 KOs). Martirosyan stepped in on short notice to replace the suspended Canelo Alvarez, whom GGG was supposed to meet in a rematch at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on a major HBO PPV event.
Braekhus, widely regarded as the best female boxer in the world pound-for-pound, had been slated to appear on the May 5 event all along. Her fight was elevated on Thursday to the HBO broadcast when former pound-for-pound king and four-division world titleholder Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez was forced off the card due to issues obtaining a work visa because of political unrest in his home country of Nicaragua.
Gonzalez (46-2, 38 KOs), who hoped to rebound from a knockout loss in his junior bantamweight title rematch with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in September, was due to face Mexico's Pedro Guevara (30-3-1, 17 KOs), a former junior flyweight world titlist, in a 10-round bantamweight fight.
"It is very frustrating for Roman because he has completed 172 rounds of sparring and is eager to return to the ring," manager Carlos Blandon told ESPN.
The plan for Gonzalez now is for a possible fight in Nicaragua this summer followed by a return to the United States in the fall, probably to appear on Golovkin's next undercard, Loeffler said.
Gonzalez's issues are good fortune for Braekhus (32-0, 9 KOs), 36, a Colombia native who fights out of Norway, where she is a major star. Braekhus' popularity in Norway and her intense lobbying efforts convinced the Norwegian government to lift a 33-year ban on professional boxing so she could fight at home.
On May 11, Braekhus will be the first recipient of the Christy Martin Award as the female fighter of the year at the annual Boxing Writers Association of America awards dinner in New York.
"I'm honored to fight on the same card as the best male fighter in the world, Gennady 'GGG' Golovkin," Braekhus said. "I've heard so many magnificent things about fighting in Southern California and the passion boxing fans have for great fights. Cinco de Mayo at the StubHub Center will truly be a special night for the boxers and the fans."
Braekhus has held at least two world titles since 2009 and will be making her 22nd consecutive defense. She is being trained for the first time by former women's star Lucia Rijker, whom she has been working with in Los Angeles for the past six weeks.
"This has been a tremendous camp, particularly since I am able to work in the beautiful weather out here," Braekhus said. "I've not fought in America in 10 years and this is truly one of the high points in my career and I want to thank my fans all over the world for continuing to push me to great heights. I know how tough Kali Reis is, and I'm ensuring every step in camp will prepare me for victory."
Said Rijker: "It's been great working with Cecilia. She is so talented, and even more, so very dedicated to working hard and continuing to learn every day. We can't wait to show boxing fans at the StubHub Center and those watching all over the world what we've been working on."
In her eighth professional fight, Braekhus won a six-round decision on the Arthur Abraham-Edison Miranda II undercard in Hollywood, Florida, in 2008.
Reis (13-6-1, 4 KOs), 31, of Providence, Rhode Island, lost her middleweight title by unanimous decision to Christina Hammer in a November 2016 unification fight, but she has won three bouts in a row since, albeit against modest opposition.
"I am very excited for this opportunity," Reis said. "I'd like to thank Cecilia and her team for this once in a lifetime chance to fight the No. 1 pound-for-pound undisputed champion. My team and I have been hard at work knowing she will bring her A-game. So will we. This is such a great card and I am grateful to be a part of it."
In one of the untelevised bouts, top prospect Ryan "Blue Chip" Martin (21-0, 12 KOs), 25, of Cleveland, will take on Breidis Prescott (31-12, 22 KOs), 34, a Colombia native fighting out of Miami, in a 10-round junior welterweight fight. Prescott is best known for an upset first-round knockout of Amir Khan in 2008.
"I am going deliver the same welcome gift to Martin that I gave to Amir Khan, a two-fisted sleeping tablet," Prescott said.