According to ESPN.com's Dan Rafael, HBO is in danger of losing any chance at putting together a light heavyweight fight between WBC and Ring Magazine champion Adonis Stevenson and WBO titleholder Sergey Kovalev, as Showtime has made an offer for Stevenson's May 24 mandatory title defense against Andrzej Fonfara:
We'll know soon if HBO is going to blow Stevenson-Kovalev. They have a deadline coming to match Showtime's offer for Stevenson-Fonfara.— Dan Rafael (@danrafaelespn) March 25, 2014
HBO coulda wrapped up Stevenson 2-fight deal while ago but got really cheap all of a sudden and it looks like it'll come back to haunt them.— Dan Rafael (@danrafaelespn) March 25, 2014
As Rafael and many others have pointed out, HBO is struggling to find relevant fights right now. They have Pacquiao-Bradley II and Cotto-Martinez on tap for pay-per-view, and those are two terrific fights, but otherwise, this is what's coming up:
- March 29: Sergey Kovalev vs Cedric Agnew, Karim Mayfield vs Thomas Dulorme. An on-paper mismatch in the main event, one that figured to be a pitstop before the big fight with Stevenson. Now, it appears maybe not. Mayfield-Dulorme is a fine fight, but nothing that's going to turn heads.
- May 17: Juan Manuel Marquez vs Mike Alvarado. A very good fight, two exciting name fighters who should put on a good show, and the winner gets the Pacquiao-Bradley II winner later in the year (on pay-per-view).
- POSSIBLE: May 24: James Kirkland vs Willie Nelson. Kirkland's always fun, and Nelson's a decent fighter, but this isn't the sort of fight that people think of when they think "HBO-worthy," at least not as a main event.
- May 31: Carl Froch vs George Groves II. Great pick-up by HBO, no doubt. Nothing more to say, no argument. Great fight, glad HBO nabbed it.
- June 14: Ruslan Provodnikov vs TBA, Demetrius Andrade vs Brian Rose. There aren't many particularly enticing options for Provodnikov, but it could at least be a promising action fight against someone like Hank Lundy. Andrade-Rose is an alright fight at 154, and it gives Andrade some HBO exposure.
It's a tough spot right now. With Stevenson now with Al Haymon, Showtime offering on the fight with Fonfara is not really a big surprise. It puts HBO in a bit of a bind, because Stevenson-Fonfara isn't a particularly good fight, in all reality, but then again, is it worse than Kovalev-Agnew? Is it even worse than Stevenson-Bellew last year?
Stevenson-Kovalev is a fight HBO clearly wants to make, and one fight fans want to see. Unless Stevenson flat-out does not want to fight Kovalev and has no intention of doing so at all, the network should probably take the "hit" on the Fonfara fight, and get some kind of deal for the Kovalev fight.
Of course, that assumes that Stevenson actually wants to fight Kovalev, and it's hard to say we've seen real evidence of that. And that's not to say it's "fear" -- Adonis would almost surely rather set up a fight with Bernard Hopkins, potentially, which would have to happen on Showtime, as Hopkins is a Golden Boy fighter and promoter. The Hopkins fight is bigger money. It's also just simply a bigger deal for legacy, and the time for it to happen is a lot shorter than the time for the Kovalev fight to potentially happen.
When HBO replaced Ross Greenburg with Ken Hershman, the former head guy at Showtime, it was supposed to be a good thing. And maybe it still will be. Maybe HBO realizes that this is going to be sort of a transitional year. Showtime, Stephen Espinoza, Golden Boy, and Al Haymon made some massive moves in 2013. Industry-changing moves, in fact. HBO now has Top Rank and some of the other, lesser (to put it bluntly) promoters to work with, but the marquee stars and strong matchups just aren't really out there right now.
If HBO is playing the long game, that's another story, and maybe that's being overlooked here. This could be the year where they look to keep building guys like Kovalev, Gennady Golovkin, Provodnikov, maybe a refocused James Kirkland for as long as that lasts, and so on, and then in 2015 and forward, the momentum comes back their way a little bit. There's no doubt that Showtime has the more "together" product at the moment, because Golden Boy has more guys who have hit their stride and made names for themselves -- a lot of them doing so on HBO, of course.
Wars aren't won in a day, and maybe this isn't even a situation where there's going to be a "winner" -- except for THE FANS! Right? Right, you guys? If some new names get the HBO rub over the next year or so, then this isn't going to seem like that big of a deal. I think, personally, that Stevenson is hunting for the Hopkins fight, and isn't really interested in Kovalev. That's why Stevenson-Kovalev might "fall apart," which is a stretch, really, considering it's never exactly been close to happening or any sort of guarantee. It's been a design, but not one with a real plan other than it seemed to make sense because they were both on HBO.
When Stevenson signed with Haymon, the whole dynamic changed, and it seemed obvious what was going to happen sooner than later. HBO didn't have Stevenson locked up, and this was bound to happen. Maybe they'll throw a bunch of money at the situation, or maybe they just take is as another thing to not worry too much over -- let the 36-year-old guy go off and chase the 49-year-old guy, they might be thinking. How much future is there, and honestly, how big a fight is Stevenson-Kovalev, really? Is it worth a major investment from HBO, or might this be a more fan-friendly way of paying too much for something that might not be worth the money, like we've seen in the past with Chad Dawson, Bradley-Alexander, and other notable money flops?
In other words, is the fact that Stevenson-Kovalev is a GOOD fight clouding the vision of those who don't see that maybe it's not that BIG of a fight? Would it be more responsible of HBO to not overpay for Stevenson-Fonfara in the hopes of putting together Stevenson-Kovalev, something else that may end up costing more than it's really worth?