With a mandatory challenger in place, Sergey Kovalev and his team are requesting an exception from the IBF to face Jean Pascal in March, without having to vacate one of Kovalev's three world title belts. Kovalev-Pascal is already set to go for March 14, and it's to be expected that the IBF will grant the exception.
The biggest reason for that is that Main Events, who promote Kovalev, also promote mandatory challenger Nadjib Mohammedi. Mohammedi (36-3, 22 KO) defeated Anatoliy Dudchenko on June 21 to earn his title shot. At the time, the belt was held by Bernard Hopkins, who combined that with the WBA title. Kovalev beat Hopkins on November 8 to win those belts, unifying them with his WBO title.
Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 KO) vs Pascal (29-2-1, 17 KO) is obviously a bigger money fight, but at some point, if he wants to keep all his belts, Kovalev will have to face Mohammedi, even if it's not a particularly attractive fight for TV. But for now, he'll probably get the exception.
Kathy Duva says she expects to finalize the Kovalev-Pascal deal by the end of the week, while the IBF will likely come to a decision on their part of the matter within 10 days.