To Russia with love

Photo by Emily Harney

Photo by Emily Harney


IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev makes his homecoming to Russia when he faces Isaac Chilemba in Ekaterinburg. It’s fight that will take place in the early afternoon in the States and be shown later on HBO on tape delay. Main Events had worked for over a year to make this a reality.


The question is: Will this be a one-off for Kovalev?


“The goal is to do this whenever we want to or need to,” explained Kathy Duva, the head of Main Events.”And we turned down a very nice offer from China and actually it was a little more lucrative offer from China. Sergey just said, at that point, he was really committed to going to Russia. As his star rises in Russia and he becomes more famous – because this is really going to be the first time he’s fighting in Russia during Russian prime time when regular Russian people can watch him live – it’s a big deal and, once that has happened, then the stars are the limit.”


Duva added,”The model is a little different there, they don’t have a pay-per-view model, at this point, but they do have sponsorship money, the likes of which is not available here, and they have the technological ability to go to pay-per-view.”


As HBO Sports faces its much-discussed budget crunch, fighters and their representatives have to be creative in getting more than two fights in a calendar year. Perhaps the new reality is for fighters like Kovalev – who have the option of fighting overseas – to fit in that extra fight. License fees for fights that are broadcast in the afternoon (like Gennady Golovkin’s upcoming bout on Sept. 10 in London against Kell Brook) or tape delay cost less to the network.


“Absolutely,” said Duva. “If you have a fan-base somewhere in another country, then you have the freedom to go there. I don’t know if there was ever a time when guys were fighting at the level of Kovalev and Golovkin are and were able to fight three, four and five times a year on HBO – even when budgets seemed much bigger – they weren’t fighting with that kind of frequency. That twice-a-year thing has been going on for a long time.”


(Perhaps the last full-time prizefighter at this level was James Toney, during his heyday from 1991-1994, when he fought 23 times as he was willing to take fights on lesser paying platforms like ESPN between his higher-paying gigs on HBO. That option no longer exists, at least for now.)


Regardless, Duva said you need clients who are willing to look at the big picture and those who get this…want to actually fight.


“What we have here are fighters who demand to fight more than twice a year,” she stated, “so if I should have a situation where – and clearly we don’t bring in as much money from Russia for fights in the United States as we will here – but we can go back and forth and we’re getting money from the United States that’s more comparable to Russia when (Kovalev) fights here. So it kind of balances out and makes sense, actually.”


With the HBO purse strings tightening, there is a new reality with which all promoters must deal. For Main Events and K2 Promotions (with which Tom Loeffler has spoken openly about Golovkin fighting in Kazakhstan next year), it means doing homecoming promotions. For Top Rank Promotions, it’s about putting fights like Terence Crawford-Viktor Postol on pay-per-view.


Duva tells, “I’m in a very different position than some of my competitors and I’ve had to spend my entire career adjusting, so this is natural to me. My whole life has been about, ‘Don’t count on it. Don’t count on it. Find another way, always.’ So it doesn’t change anything I’m doing. I don’t know what HBO’s plans are or what their budget issue is. I don’t pretend to; I have no idea. I’m not privy to that so I have no opinion about it and, as far as my own business is concerned, I’m not doing anything differently than I’ve done before.”


And should Kovalev beat Chilemba and Andre Ward defeat Alexander Brand on Aug. 6 – as expected – the two are in line to face each other on Nov. 19. But the wheels are already in motion for that event. “We’re already meeting; we’re already making plans – knock on wood. I hate to do that before but there’s no alternative. All those type of decisions that have to made leading into a promotion are already being made. Stuff is happening,” said Duva.


So the promotion has already begun between Main Events and Roc Nation Sports.


“So we’ll be ready to hit the ground running two minutes after the last bell on Aug. 6,” says Duva.





Speaking of RNS, in a bit of a surprise late last week, it was revealed that David Itskowitch, who was put in charge of their boxing department back in 2014, was resigning from his post. Now is this more evidence that another iceberg has hit boxing’s version of the Titanic and did Itskowitch make sure a lifeboat was available to him? There are rumors that he could be joining Richard Schaefer in his new promotional venture, Ringstar Sports.


Itskowitch would only release the following statement via email: “I’m appreciative of the opportunity that Roc Nation Sports gave me to build their boxing division. I value the relationships that I formed while I was with the company and I am extremely proud of all that we accomplished in two years. I’m looking forward to new challenges in my career.”


Now, I’m being told that Dino Duva will be running things, which I’m sure will be awkward for Kathy as they meet about Kovalev-Ward. Yeah, boxing is a funny business.





There’s been a lot of reaction to the upcoming bout between Golovkin and IBF welterweight titlist Kell “Special K” Brook. This one email was particularly interesting to me:


“Yo Steve,


“Hope all is well. No need to beat around the bush here but can the people (you know, the demographic) that can even almost remotely compare Canelo (Alvarez) fighting (Amir) Khan to ‘GGG’ now fighting a welter in Kell Brook admit to just one thing? Canelo fought Khan when GGG was AVAILABLE to fight. GGG is fighting Brook because Canelo won’t. (And let’s face it: Pretty much every single named middle in the world have made themselves UNAVAILABLE.) Isn’t that the difference, those two worlds? At this point, after negotiating with (Chris) Eubank (Jr.) for damn near a month, and Eubank was the one calling him out, what was GGG supposed to do? I want the demographic to tell me if there is no Eubank, no Billy Joe Saunders, no Daniel Jacobs, no legit middle, who in God’s name was GGG supposed to fight to appease these morons?


“Now, I’m not comparing Kell Brook to Floyd (Mayweather Jr.) (I mean, I think he beats him now) but can we also stop with the ‘Can we expect a guy who got hurt by Carson Jones take a punch from GGG?’ story? (Sorry, I know you said that, lol.) Did anybody say, ‘Well, how can Floyd fight Canelo or Oscar (De La Hoya) when he was buzzed by DeMarcus Corley?” It’s a fight; it happens. I am 100% totally fine with this fight and actually a little intrigued. Way, way, way more so than Canelo vs. Khan.


“The fact is GGG is the most hated boxer on the planet. In sports, there is always a bad guy and it’s usually the best guy. Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, etc. What is weird is that GGG is so humble, really wants to fight the best, but in the PBC era, I think people would rather him take the Danny Garcia/Peter Quillin, etc. route. Weird times in boxing, for sure.”


Nathan Branson, Project Manager


Nathan, as always, thanks for your thoughts. And yeah, I agree that, while what Golovkin and Alvarez are doing are identical on the surface, a more nuanced view will show you why they’re actually different. That said, while I think Brook is the best 147-pounder on the planet (something I’ve said for more than a year), he didn’t come remotely close to cleaning out that division. Also, in the past, as fighters had success in challenging highly regarded champions in higher weight classes, they usually did so with a tune-up or two beforehand. Here, Brook – who is indeed a big welterweight – is taking a Bob Beamon-sized leap.


As for your point about Brook being hurt in the past, just like Floyd getting buzzed by DeMarcus Corley…no argument, here. Ya got me. Stuff happens in fights and the great Muhammad Ali getting drilled by Henry Cooper didn’t preclude him from taking punches from George Foreman in later fights.


Just my opinion, I think Tom Loeffler loved the idea of fighting in Britain in a big event and once Chris Eubank Jr. (or is it “Eu-balk”?) passed on the fight, when Eddie Hearn presented this option, it was an offer K2 Promotions couldn’t resist. It’s a big event, an international stage and Matchroom Boxing does all the nuts-and-bolts work on the promotion.


But as I wrote on Friday as the news broke, it is a no-win situation for GGG.



PB(oooooooooo)C ON ESPN


Did anyone see the latest edition of the PBC on ESPN?


This one was particularly amusing because the main event between Mario Barrios and Devis Boschiero (who was so placid in his approach that he had Ray Mancini texting ESPN broadcasters protesting Boschiero’s usage of “Boom Boom” as a moniker) was so uneventful that, 30 seconds into this bout, the crowd at the Sun National Bank Center in Trenton, New Jersey voiced its displeasure loudly.


Boos could be heard loudly from the dozens who came out for this event.


It was actually comical to see this unfold. ESPN might have been better off if its technical difficulties after the opening bout persisted. But it was soooo bad, it was kinda good. And soon, Joe Tessitore (who was sober for this broadcast, by the way) and Teddy Atlas were making snide remarks about the (in-) action they were witnessing. On the bright side, Atlas did drop some knowledge on the great Sam Langford.


But yeah, this is the legacy of Brian Kweder as ESPN will soon be done with boxing and pursue a deal with UFC, it seems. Later that night, SportsCenter had expansive coverage of the most recent UFC card, with a live remote from Las Vegas, while they gave scant mention to this card in the end.





The Kovalev-Chilemba broadcast on HBO starts at 10:15 p.m., ET…Jose Ramirez looked good in crushing the over-matched Tomas Mendez in four on UniMas…Cesar Juarez upset Albert Pagara by stopping him in eight. Pagara didn’t just lose but showed some frontrunning tendencies in this fight, which is more alarming…From what little I’ve seen, I like this nucleus of young Lakers talent led by D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram…This looks like it’s going to be a spectacular season of “Ray Donovan” on Showtime…OK, I think I’m going to a Rams pre-season game just for kicks…The HBO special “Terence Crawford: My Fight” was pretty good…I can be reached at and I tweet (a lot) at I also share photos of stuff at and can also be found at




Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,