Light heavyweight champion and Adonis "Superman" Stevenson and titleholder Sergey "Krusher" Kovalev, two of the boxing's fiercest punchers, are on a collision course, but they have business to attend to first.
Montreal's Stevenson will make his mandatory defense against England's Tony Bellew on Nov. 30 (HBO) at the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City and, in the co-feature, Kovalev will defend his belt against Ismayl Sillakh in a doubleheader announced this week. HBO, which is invested in both fighters, is pushing hard for them to eventually meet in a potentially explosive fight next year.
The network orchestrated their appearance together on the doubleheader to build toward the much-anticipated showdown.
But first things first for the titleholders, who both face serious opponents next month.
"I respect Bellew. He is my mandatory contender and it is the responsibility of a champion to give an opportunity to the most deserving contender," Stevenson said.
"I beat (Chad) Dawson and (Tavoris) Cloud, who were the best at the time, and for now Bellew is the best I can face. This is my goal -- beat the best available all the time. Bellew is brave an courageous and I like that. This is what makes good fights.
"The belts are going to stay in Quebec. I don't say it will be easy and I will be well prepared. Bellew will be knocked out, believe me. This is what I do for living, knock out opponents in spectacular fashion."
Stevenson (22-1, 19 KOs), 36, was a top super middleweight contender when he got a shot at light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson in June. He moved up in weight and destroyed Dawson in 76 seconds to win the lineal world championship. In his first defense on Sept. 28, Stevenson battered former titleholder Cloud into a seventh-round knockout.
Bellew (20-1-1, 12 KOs), 30, will be getting his second world title opportunity. In 2011, he lost a disputed majority decision to then-titlist Nathan Cleverly. In a May rematch of a previous draw, Bellew outpointed Isaac Chilemba in a title eliminator to become Stevenson's mandatory challenger.
"I am leaving with the belt, he is no 'Superman,'" Bellew said. "He was lucky with Dawson, who he got by surprise. He went crazy in the ring (celebrating the knockout) because he had never expected to win. Cloud never tried to win. He was overrated. He got a gift against (Gabriel) Campillo and got beat by a man twice his age (Bernard Hopkins, in a March title loss).
"On November 30th, I will hit him back. I will leave my guts on the ring, but I swear I am leaving with the belts. He will never be able to follow the rhythm I will impose. He never fought 12 intense rounds and I will knock him out late."
Kovalev (22-0-1, 20 KOs), 30, a Russia native living in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., won his version of the 175-pound title in August, going to Cleverly's home country of Wales and blowing him out in four lopsided rounds. He will be making his first defense when he faces Sillakh.
"I think that Sillakh's skills deserve respect and that he will offer a tough challenge for Sergey," said Main Events promoter Kathy Duva, who represents Kovalev. "Each actually asked to fight the other. They are regional rivals, so I expect fireworks because there is a lot of pride at stake.
"As far as Stevenson is concerned, I don't want to get caught looking ahead, but it seems to me that a fight between him and Sergey is inevitable at some point. Sergey is ready to fight him anytime."
Sillakh (21-1, 17 KOs), 28, a Ukraine native living in California, was a decorated amateur and one of the hottest contenders in the division before he was shockingly knocked out by Denis Grachev in April 2012 in a major upset. But Sillakh has rebounded to win four fights in a row to put himself in position for the shot at Kovalev.