Only hours after sources at HBO confirmed to Yahoo Sports on Tuesday that the premium cable network opted not to renegotiate its deal with WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson, rival Showtime announced it had reached a deal for the power-punching Stevenson to fight Andrzej Fonfara on May 24 at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
Showtime Sports' executive vice president and general manager Stephen Espinoza said the deal is for the Fonfara fight, but added, "There is a structure which allows us to continue for multiple fights beyond that."
Showtime has IBF light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins facing WBA champion Beibut Shumenov on April 19 in Washington, D.C. If Hopkins beats Shumenov in that bout, Showtime would likely then pit him with Stevenson. Hopkins told Yahoo Sports last year that he had great interest in facing Stevenson.
"Both Adonis and Bernard have business they need to take care of, but yes, that is a fight we would be interested in doing," Espinoza said.
The big news out of all this is that it appears to make a fight between Stevenson and WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev much more unlikely to occur. That has the potential to be one of the great fights of the year and is one of the most anticipated matches that could be made in the sport.
Now, however, it seems like it may be moving down the path that the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight has been on for the last four-plus years.
HBO had put Stevenson on the air three times in 2013, including once in a doubleheader with Kovalev with the eye toward putting the two champions together. Why talks with Stevenson fell apart depends upon who you listen to, as is often the case in boxing.
An HBO source said the network reached a deal with Stevenson earlier this year to carry his fight with Fonfara with an eye toward a fall unification match with the power-punching Kovalev.
But, according to this source, when Stevenson hired Al Haymon to manage him not long after that deal was completed, Haymon wanted to renegotiate for far more money. Haymon does not speak to the media, but you can bet that Haymon does not believe there was a finalized deal with HBO.
Espinoza said he knew of no legal issues or disputes that would get in the way of a Stevenson-Fonfara fight.
HBO no longer does business with Haymon, the powerful manager who now mostly works with Golden Boy Promotions and Showtime.
Stevenson's loss, if it is for a long term, could be hurtful to HBO, which was using him along with middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin and super middleweight champion Andre Ward as one of its cornerstones in its rebuilding effort after it lost Mayweather last year to Showtime.
HBO has Kovalev under contact. Kovalev fights Cedric Agnew on Saturday in Atlantic City and would be open to facing Stevenson in the fall. HBO could still bid on that, but if Showtime does televise the Stevenson-Fonfara fight, Showtime would have the right of last refusal and could match any offer HBO makes to Stevenson.
That would thus make it unlikely that there is a Stevenson-Kovalev fight in 2014.
Espinoza said "of course we would have interest in a Stevenson-Kovalev fight if Kovalev were available," but he said he is excited to land Stevenson for the May 24 show.
He said he had spoken with the late trainer Emanuel Steward several years ago, who raved about Stevenson.
"What first piqued my interest in Adonis was hearing Emanuel Steward talk about him in 2011, or perhaps earlier," Espinoza said. "At that point, Emanuel is someone I revered within the sport, particularly in terms of his opinion of fighters, told me that he thought Adonis might be the hardest puncher he had ever trained. Once Emanuel said that, given the source, it was something to sit up and take note of. I started following Adonis way back then, which candidly was even before I was at Showtime. They were conversations I had simply because I was friendly with Emanuel."
Espinoza said he had Stevenson scheduled on an undercard bout on Showtime in 2012, beneath Jean Pascal-Tavoris Cloud, but when Pascal was injured, the entire card was scrapped.
Stevenson then made a name on HBO, but Showtime finally landed him.