Dmitry Bivol to defend light heavyweight title vs. Jean Pascal

Light heavyweight world titlist Dmitry Bivol will defend his belt on Nov. 24 at the Mark G. Etess Arena at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, just not against the opponent he expected to be facing.

Bivol will make his fourth defense against former world champion Jean Pascal, who quickly accepted the fight -- announced on Tuesday -- when Joe Smith Jr., who was close to a deal to face Bivol, accepted a better offer last week to instead challenge titlist Artur Beterbiev on a date to be determined in December.

Bivol-Pascal will headline a "World Championship Boxing" doubleheader on HBO (10 p.m. ET/PT). It will be one of the final fight cards on the network before HBO exits the sport at the end of the year after 45 years as the industry leader. The opening bout of the card has not yet been determined.

It will be the second major boxing card at the recently opened Hard Rock Hotel & Casino since it brought big-time boxing back to Atlantic City in August for the first time since late 2014.

"Our first card there on Aug. 4 was a sellout, and we expect to build on that momentum by bringing Dmitry back to be in the main event on Nov. 24," Main Events promoter Kathy Duva said.

Bivol (14-0, 11 KOs), 27, of Russia, won his last fight on that Aug. 4 show, a lopsided unanimous decision over Isaac Chilemba, in the co-feature of Eleider Alvarez's upset seventh-round knockout of Sergey Kovalev to win one of the light heavyweight world titles.

Now Bivol is in the main event against one of the division's most recognizable names.

"Not too long ago, Pascal fought for three world titles and I watched on TV," Bivol said. "Now he wants to take my title away, and I am very happy to accept this challenge and look forward to my next title defense on HBO."

Said Vadim Kornilov, Bivol's manager: "Jean Pascal is a name everyone has heard, and we look forward to a competitive fight with this great (former) champion." Bivol's aim is to eventually unify world titles after facing Pascal.

"It's very important for me," he said. "It's every boxer's dream to be the champion, the unified champion. It's a big step to dream about -- like (undisputed cruiserweight champion) Oleksandr Usyk."

Pascal (33-5-1, 20 KOs), 35, of the Montreal suburb Laval, came out of a brief retirement in July when he moved up to cruiserweight and knocked out Quebec rival and former MMA fighter and minor league hockey player Steve Bosse in the eighth round of a novelty fight, only Bosse's second as a pro boxer.

Pascal was scheduled to fight another cruiserweight bout against Gary Kopas on Nov. 9 in Sydney, Nova Scotia. However, that fight is off now that Pascal, who will come back down in weight, has secured a world title opportunity against Bivol.

"This is the most important fight of my life and I could not be more motivated," Pascal said. "I'm making boxing history on Nov. 24th. I'm known as a champion who never turned down any challenges, but I want to be two-time champion and I want to be immortalized in the Hall of Fame when my career is over. To fully cement my status as a Hall of Famer, I must win this fight and I will win this fight.

"Bivol is a very good fighter and a difficult challenge, but greatness has never been achieved without overcoming difficult challenges. My Canadian fans should be very excited because all of the light heavyweight belts will be in our house for Christmas this year."

If Pascal wins, all four major 175-pound belts could be held by Quebec-based fighters -- Beterbiev, if he beats Smith; Adonis Stevenson, if he beats Oleksandr Gvozdyk on Dec. 1; and Alvarez.