By Jim Dower
WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovlalev and WBA 175lb. champion Dmitry Bivol (13-0-, 11 KOs) could be facing each other in a unification fight in 2019, according to promoter Kathy Duva.
She says she wants to wait until 2019 before putting together the Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) vs. Bivol fight. Duva thinks by next year, Bivol’s popularity will have increased to the point where she can put together a big fight between the two Russian light heavyweight champions to interest the boxing public in high numbers.
12 months isn’t very long for the boxing world to have to wait for a great fight between Bivol and Kovalev. It won’t be big enough by next year to be a pay-per-view worthy fight on HBO. Bivol isn’t from the U.S, and he hasn’t had enough time to build a large fan base. Duva will need to match both fighters well to build the fight up. It won’t work if Duva puts Bivol in with retread opponent Igor Mikhalkin, and then throw Sullivan Barrera in the ring with Kovalev. Duva needs to find guys that the fans want to see fighting Bivol and Kovalev. With Artur Beterbiev signing with Top Rank, he’s likely out of the picture for Bivol and Kovalev. Top Rank likely keep Beterbiev in a separate lane from those guys forever.
Bivol looks like he might have too much hand speed, skills, stamina and youth for Kovalev right now. If that fight gets made in 2019, it’s likely that Kovalev will see his brief title run end with the WBO. It won’t be the end of the road for Kovalev. If the World Boxing Association can add another title with their organization, then Kovalev would be in good position to snatch another world title even if he’s destroyed by Bivol.
Bivol and Kovalev recently fought on the same card earlier this month on HBO on March 3 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Bivoi stopped his mandatory challenger Sullivan Barrera in the 12th round, while Kovalev defeated Igor Mikhalkin by a 7th round knockout in a one-sided fight that wasn’t competitive. Kovalev wasn’t matched against the best opponent, but he’s expected to be defending against #1 WBO Marcus Browne next. That fight should produce some fireworks. We’ll see if Kovalev is as good as Duva says he is. She rated Kovalev as No.1 in the 175 lb. division and the 27-year-old Bivol at No.3. Kovalev will have to prove he’s No.1 by beating a good fighter in Browne. This is someone that Kovalev should be able to beat without any problems if he’s the #1 guy at 175, as Duva says he is.
Duva has almost given up on a unification fight between Kovalev
Duva can’t afford to wait too long before she makes the Kovalev-Bivol fight. Kovalev is 34-years-old, and it’s only a matter of time before he loses his WBO title to one of his challengers.
“I think it’s fair to say 2019,” Duva said to RingTV.com. “By then I think Bivol will be a big enough name that the fight will be as big as it should be. That’s the kind of fight we need to do a big gate and have significant international sales in addition to the HBO fees.”
Whether Bivol’s popularity increases significantly by 2019 will depend largely on the match-making that’s done for him. His last fight against Barrera was a good one in terms of impressing boxing fans and getting more attention to his career. But he’s going to need to keep fighting the best opposition in boxing if he wants his popularity to increase significantly in just one year. The way promoters protect their top fighters, Bivol isn’t likely going to get any of the talented contenders to face him. Bivol will need to take whoever Duva can dig up for him. Bivol might have already scared the top promoters from wanting to match their fighters against him.
It takes a long time for fighters to build their fan base, and Bivol has only been a pro since 2014. The guys that Bivol needs to fight him are currently busy or waiting for a title with another champion right now. I’m talking about Badou Jack, Marcus Browne. With those fighters out of the equation, Bivol’s best options are Joe Smith Jr. and Juergen Braehmer. Either of those fighters would be good. Anthony Yarde and Oleksandr Gvozdyk would be good options for Bivol, but those guys are looking to get title shots against other champions. They’re not going to want to fight Bivol after having worked their way into position to challenge foir a title against one of the other champions. Gvozdyk is ranked #2 with the World Boxing Council, and he’s trying to get in position to challenge WB champion Adonis Stevenson for his belt. Yarde is ranked No.2 with the WBO, and he’s waiting for an eventual title shot against Kovalev.
The best thing that could happen for Bivol and Kovalev is if Badou Jack defeats Adonis Stevenson. With Jack as the WBC champion, he might be more inclined to fight Kovalev or Bivol in a unification than Stevenson. Jack hasn’t been shy when it comes to taking risks with his career. He would probably be willing to fight Bivol or Kovalev if he could get the green light from his promoters.
HBO is really high on Bivol’s talent, especially promoter Max Kellerman. He was saying earlier this month that Bivol might be the best fighter in the light heavyweight division right now after his win over Barrera. It would be excellent to see how Bivol does against the likes of Beterbiev, Badou Jack, Gvozdyk and Kovalev. The 40-year-old Stevenson would be a great fight for Bivol. It’s doubtful that Stevenson would agree to a fight against Bivol, because he could recognize how much of a threat he would be to him. Stevenson will be 41 in September. He’s still fighting at a high level, but he’s not been fighting the dangerous guys. Stevenson has been padding his record against the likes of Andrzej Fonfara, Thomas Williams Jr., and Tommy Karpency.