LOS ANGELES -- Unified light heavyweight world titleholder Sergey Kovalev is headed home to Russia to defend his three belts against Isaac Chilemba on July 11 at the DIVS Palace of Sports in Ekaterinburg, Russia, Main Events announced Saturday at a news conference.
The fight will only be Kovalev's third in Russia. He has fought most of his career in the United States and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and son.
Kovalev, who will be making his eighth title defense, will be returning to the same arena where he fought the last time he had a fight in Russia, which ended in tragedy. He knocked out Roman Simakov in the seventh round in December 2011. Three days later, Simakov died as a result of injuries suffered in the bout, one Kovalev has been reticent to discuss.
But Kovalev (29-0-1, 26 KOs) said he is happy to go home to defend his title in his first fight since a one-sided, seventh-round knockout of former champion Jean Pascal in their rematch on Jan. 30 in Pascal's hometown of Montreal.
"I am so excited to fight in my home country of Russia. It gives me great pride to bring my titles home at last," Kovalev said. "I would like to thank my manager, Egis Klimas, my promoter, Kathy Duva and Igor Altushkin, of Russian Copper Company, for making this dream of mine a reality. Chilemba is a tough opponent and I will be ready for him on July 11."
Duva, CEO of Main Events and promoter of both fighters, said, "I'm so happy that we are finally able to bring Sergey back to Russia to defend his titles in his home country for the first time."
Kovalev, 33, will face Chilemba (24-3-2, 10 KOs), 28, a native of Malawi who fights out of South Africa, with a deal already signed to fight former super middleweight champion Andre Ward in November in one of the most significant fights that can be made.
"This is no easy fight for Sergey, though," Duva said. "Sergey wanted a challenging opponent for his return to Russia and someone who would help him prepare for Andre Ward in November, assuming he emerges with a win."
As part of the Kovalev-Ward deal, both fighters were allowed to have interim bouts. Kovalev beat Pascal and next faces Chilemba. Ward was supposed to fight his first interim bout in November but pulled out with a knee injury and then returned to easily outpoint Sullivan Barrera on March 26 in his 175-pound debut. Ward (29-0, 15 KOs), 32, of Oakland, California, might also have a summer fight before the showdown with Kovalev.
When Main Events and Roc Nation Sports, Ward's promoter, made their deal, one of the terms agreed to was that the interim fights had to take place before the end of June. However, Duva told ESPN.com that the companies have signed a contractual amendment that will allow for bouts in July.
Chilemba is coming off a debatable majority decision loss to Eleider Alvarez in November in world title eliminator on Alvarez's home turf in Montreal and can throw a big wrench into the plans for Kovalev-Ward with a victory.
"I thank Main Events for yet another opportunity for me to redeem myself and I thank my trainer Buddy McGirt for believing in me," Chilemba said. "I have met a lot of obstacles and every time I think I've got it right, I fall again, but I know my goals and I never stop following my dreams. When I received a call from (manager) Jodi [Solomon] regarding this opportunity, I was over the moon.
"I thank Sergey and his team for putting their titles on the line to face me. All I want to say to them is they are in for a surprise. They gave the wrong guy an opportunity. I'll work my ass off and I'm in to win it. Russia here we come!"
Duva said, "Isaac Chilemba has the right style and came 'this close' to becoming the WBC mandatory contender (for champion Adonis Stevenson). We, and many observers, thought that the scorecards easily could have gone his way (against Alvarez). Fortunately, we are in a position to give Isaac his world title fight and the opportunity to become a unified world champion. This is a perfect situation for all involved and I can't wait to go to Russia."
The fight will be televised live in Russia on Channel One, but American television coverage has been not finalized. Although Kovalev has a contract with HBO, there is no guarantee the network will be able to put on the fight -- which will take place on a Monday afternoon (United States times).
"Broadcasting sports events live from certain regions of Russia can be a challenge," Duva said. "HBO Sports is exploring carrying the event in the U.S. It's too early to be definitive. We know they love Sergey."