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How HBO lost Adonis Stevenson to Showtime

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How will Adonis Stevenson cope with the pressure of being a heavy favorite?  (Getty)

As fingers point in multiple directions in the fallout over the mess that saw Adonis Stevenson wind up on Showtime for his next fight rather than HBO, one salient point is being overlooked:

None of this would be an issue if HBO had done its job last year and made certain not to televise an otherwise meaningless doubleheader featuring Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev without first having an agreement in place for them to meet on HBO in their next fight.

But HBO failed to lock the fighters up when it had the opportunity. That failure has directly led to the disastrous situation that boxing once again finds itself in, where everyone involved is blaming someone else, where the fight fans want to see can't be made because of politics and where blame for the lack of a deal abounds.

This much is not in dispute: On Jan. 23, Kovalev promoter Kathy Duva of Main Events and Stevenson promoter Yvon Michel of GYM agreed via email to the terms and the revenue splits between them.

The next day, the two got on the telephone with Peter Nelson, the director of programming for HBO Sports, and the threesome agreed on the financial aspects of a deal. It would include Kovalev facing Cedric Agnew, a bout that will be held on HBO in Atlantic City on Saturday, and Stevenson meeting Andrzej Fonfara on May 24, with Stevenson and Kovalev then meeting in the fall.

It's at this point that the stories begin to differ. Michel said that he recommended that Stevenson take the deal HBO offered, but said Stevenson, who at the time was operating without a manager, declined. An attorney who was helping Stevenson at the time, Michel said, also recommended he accept.

Not long afterward, Stevenson hired Al Haymon, the high-powered manager with the ever-increasing stable. And it was from there that the deal to pit Stevenson and Kovalev crumbled.

It has left in its wake hard feelings, finger pointing and visceral anger from not only those involved but from angry fans who are venting on social media about not getting to see a fight they have been desperate to see.

Stephen Espinoza, the executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports, is gloating after having scuttled the carefully laid out plans of his archrival. Stevenson-Kovalev was to be a major point of HBO's rebuild after losing Floyd Mayweather to Showtime in 2013.

HBO Sports executives are scurrying trying to figure out what happened and trying desperately to enhance a non-PPV schedule that looks fairly barren. An HBO source said Haymon asked for 40 percent more than HBO had agreed upon to pay Stevenson. The same course said further than Haymon told the network he would only negotiate a one-fight deal, for Stevenson-Fonfara, and wouldn't talk about a potential bout with Kovalev even if HBO had agreed to the 40-percent increase.

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Stephen Espinoza. (Tom Casino/SHOWTIME)

Duva is fuming after losing out on a deal she was convinced had been agreed upon.

Michel is defending himself against charges he went back on his word.

Stevenson is denying allegations he's ducking Kovalev.

And the fans are fuming because one of the fights that they most wanted to see -- Stevenson-Kovalev -- won't happen now because of all this nonsense. Stevenson will be a heavy favorite to defeat Fonfara, and if he wins, he'll likely face the winner of the April 19 bout on Showtime between Bernard Hopkins and Beibut Shumenov.

It's galling to Kovalev manager Egis Klimas, who said he did everything he could to facilitate a fight with Stevenson.

"We had a deal and that's why we are fighting [Agnew] because it was part of the deal to get the fight with Stevenson," said Klimas, who said Kovalev has a multi-fight deal with HBO.

The problems getting the Stevenson-Kovalev fight done go back to HBO's failure to make it last year, which would have headed off the trouble that arose this year. Haymon was involved with Mayweather's fight with Canelo Alvarez last year when talks to put Stevenson and Kovalev on HBO in separate fights on Nov. 30 were going on. It is unlikely, though not impossible, that he would have gotten involved with Stevenson at that point considering what he was dealing with at the time.

A slot on HBO is huge for a boxer, and there weren't a lot of fans clamoring at that time to see Stevenson fight Tony Bellew or Kovalev face Ismayl Sillakh. But HBO put those two fights on the same show last year with the expectation that in 2014, they'd meet. It was a show designed to wet the whistle, so to speak, for the bigger one to come.

But HBO had no agreement in place other than each side saying it was interested in it. That was its fatal flaw. It could have and should have used the carrot of the Nov. 30 date as a means to make an agreement for a fight between them in early 2014.

Duva wanted Kovalev to face Stevenson as soon as possible, and was willing to do it last year, she told Yahoo Sports. But she said Michel kept wanting interim fights, which is why there was the Nov. 30 doubleheader and then the talks of separate fights this year against Agnew and Fonfara.

According to an email that Duva sent to Michel and which she forwarded to Yahoo Sports, Duva agreed to terms at 4:27 p.m. ET on Jan 23.

After speaking to Kovalev manager Egis Klimas, she wrote to Michel, "This is all acceptable to us. I have just spoken to Sergey's manager. We have a deal on our end. Best, Kathy"

Several hours later, at 8:06 p.m. ET, Michel responded, "We also have a deal on our side!! :-) "

Michel said the deal he referenced was an agreement between he and Duva on how to split promoter-based revenue.

But Michel said he was unable to convince Stevenson to accept the money HBO was offering, even though he advised that Stevenson should take it.

"I can't force a fighter to take a deal if he doesn't want to take it," Michel said. "In my opinion at that time, I told him he should accept because I felt it was the best we were probably going to see. But he wanted to get more money and there wasn't anything I can do. We negotiated in good faith, but Adonis never approved the deal."

Michel said that when Haymon became the manager, he no longer spoke directly with Stevenson and that all talks were routed through Haymon.

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Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy (Getty)

But Duva said there was representations made after the Jan. 24 call involving Nelson, Michel and herself that a deal had been reached.

Nothing was signed, she said, but that is standard for the industry. Several other promoters said the same thing and agreed with Duva that when there is a meeting of the minds on the major point, a deal is done and it is a verbal contract.

Her late husband, Dan Duva, ran Main Events before his death and would regularly sign contracts on the day of the fight.

"Don King and Bob Arum and Dan Duva hated each other and let me tell you, I lived through it," she said. "No one hated each other with more passion than those three men during the late '80s and in the '90s. But when they said they had a deal, they had a deal. And the fights got made, because in the end, they wanted the sport to thrive."

Duva said Michel told her that Stevenson agreed to the deal after the Jan. 24 conversation with Nelson. She said she was dumbfounded when she later heard he was saying he had not agreed.

"It's crazy in this business that people say is sleazy, but when we agree on the terms, we have a deal and a deal is a deal and you don't go back on it," she said. "We had an email exchange back and forth where we agreed on all the terms. That is a deal. We have a deal made. We do that with Bob Arum [of Top Rank] and we know we have a deal.

"It was represented to us, and you can ask Peter Nelson this, because I'm quite sure it was represented to him as well, that Adonis had been consulted. You can ask Peter, but Yvon told Peter that he sat down with Adonis and Adonis' lawyer and they agreed to all this. The day that the word came out that Al Haymon had taken over as Stevenson's [manager], I called Yvon and Yvon said, 'Oh there is no problem. It's fine. There is nothing wrong.' "

There was trouble, though, and the deal fell apart. Duva speculated that the reason is that Michel "lost control of his fighter" after the fighter hired Haymon.

Duva was angry that Richard Schaefer, the CEO of Golden Boy, inserted himself into the situation. Schaefer has a close relationship with Haymon and most of the fighters who fight for Golden Boy are Haymon clients. Duva said she felt Schaefer was trying to drive a wedge between her and Kovalev with comments he made to BoxingScene.

"I applaud Al and I applaud Yvon Michel for doing what's best for their fighter by maximizing his revenue. So my question is, why would Kathy Duva not be supportive of that? Why wouldn't she want Kovalev to go and fight where the most money is? That is the question that I would ask if I was Kovalev, or his manager. That's what I would ask if that was my promoter.

Why does a Kovalev-Stevenson fight or a Kovalev-Hopkins or Shumenov fight have to be on HBO? Who benefits? Kathy Duva? Certainly not the fighter. You should be able to see where you can maximize the revenues. And if maximizing the revenues means that a certain fight should be on HBO, then it should be on HBO. And if it should be on Showtime, then it should be on Showtime."


Schaefer, of course, has a vested interest because he does business only with Showtime, he has a close relationship with Haymon and is partners with Hopkins. He told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday that he made the comments because Hopkins was involved and he wanted to stand up for Hopkins. Also, he said he is a friend of Haymon's and didn't like to hear Haymon being unfairly attacked.

HBO quit doing business with Golden Boy last year not long after Floyd Mayweather signed a deal with Showtime.

But Duva blasted Showtime and said it is impossible to build a fighter on Showtime.

"How Richard Schaefer got into this I don't know, but Al can't speak for himself so I guess somebody has to do it for him," Duva said. "Well, Schaefer's out there saying, 'Sergey Kovalev should be asking his promoter why he's fighting on HBO.' The answer is pretty simple: Every major star in boxing, including every star in his stable, was built on that network.

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Sergey Kovalev. (Getty)

"Aside from that fairly obvious answer, the fact is that this is a thinly veiled attempt by him to create problems between me and my fighter. This, if you want to know the truth, is why fights don't happen now. I'll tell you why my fighter is on HBO, because HBO is where every major star in boxing has been made for the last 30 years. ...

"I just got sick of this. They're winning the public relations war, because HBO doesn't fight back for whatever reason. I guess it's their corporate policy. But HBO is the platform where the biggest stars are made and where the biggest fights happen. Look at the ratings of a guy like Abner Mares, who was built on Showtime, and compare that weak number to the ratings of a guy who was built on HBO. It's not even comparable."

Several sources told Yahoo Sports that there are problems at Golden Boy between Schaefer and Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya, and that Schaefer is looking at working more with Haymon.

Schaefer said he is known for long-term relationships and admitted things are, and have been, bumpy at times between himself and De La Hoya. The key, Schaefer said, is trying to work through the problems.

"A couple of years ago there were these rumors around that Oscar and me had these issues, but everything got worked out," Schaefer told Yahoo. "I've been married a long time; actually, tomorrow it will be 21 years. Sometimes, you have issues and you work them out. But you know what? Sometimes you don't work them out and you wind up not working them out. That's why sometimes marriages end in divorce. Sometimes, they don't.

"I have been 14 years here and I have friends who have been friends of mine since childhood. As I said, I've been married 21 years. I'm not the kind of guy who walks out if there is the slightest problem. You try to work them out. Sometimes you're able to work them out and sometimes you are not."

Schaefer said he felt Haymon was attacked unfairly and, as a friend, he wanted to stick up for him.

"But this is how I am: If someone unfairly attacked Don King, I would stick up for Don King and say, 'No, this is not right,' " Schaefer said. "That's how I am."

This is a mess that could get worse. The best that can come of it, at least in the short term, is a Hopkins-Stevenson fight. But if Shumenov, a good fighter, beats Hopkins on April 19, that would leave a Stevenson-Shumenov fight that few would be interested in seeing.

Michel disagreed and said Stevenson would make more in that event for fighting Shumenov than he would have by fighting Kovalev.

That's debatable, but HBO could have headed it off by making a deal for Stevenson-Kovalev last year. It failed to do so and now it must accept the consequences of that failure.

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Promoter Kathy Duva says a fighter can't be built on Showtime (RIch Graessle/Main Events)

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