It's become almost a sport for boxing writers, me included, and fans to rip WBC/lineal light heavyweight title holder Adonis Stevenson, 37, for kicking the can down the road when it comes to touching gloves with WBA/IBF/WBO title holder Sergey Kovalev 27-0-1 (24).
As most fans know there hasn't been a blockbuster light heavyweight title bout since the 2004 rematch between Roy Jones and Antonio Tarver. Last year's title clash between Bernard Hopkins and Sergey Kovalev was well received but in all honesty, not nearly to the extent of Jones-Tarver II. However, it's definitely not a reach to suggest that a title unification bout between two big punchers like Kovalev and Stevenson would be a huge fight.
Since its inception in 1903, the light heavyweight division has always been treated as the red-headed step child between the two glamor divisions above it, heavyweight and below it, middleweight. Kovalev vs. Stevenson would be must see, though.
This coming weekend Stevenson 25-1 (24) will defend his title against former WBC super-middleweight title holder Sakio Bika 32-6-3 (21) at the Pepsi Coliseum, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. The heavily muscled Stevenson is at least a full division bigger than Bika who isn't even a decent sized super-middleweight. Also, Bika, 35, tends to slap and get wild with his punches during the heat of battle, and he also has a history of usually coming up a little short whenever he's stepped up in class. It's doubtful that he'll stand up to Stevenson's southpaw power for 12 full rounds. And if Stevenson does stop Bika, the boxing establishment will make a big deal out of it since Sakio has never been stopped before in his career. Oh yeah, when it comes to Matchmaking 101, Bika fighting Stevenson is as close to a totally safe bet as you'll find.
Assuming for the sake of argument that Stevenson gets by Bika, and then Kovalev defeats Nadjib Mohammedi 37-3 (23) this coming June or July in his next fight, the path is open for them to finally meet. Or is it? In Stevenson's case, it may be smarter if he strings the Kovalev fight out a little longer if he can. As long as he doesn't lose in the interim or isn't stripped of the title, which I doubt will happen, the bigger the fight with Kovalev becomes. This translates into a bigger payday for both he and Sergey. And for Stevenson, who will be 38 in five months, you have to think he's cognizant of that and is looking to make the most money he possibly can when he does face Kovalev.
The perception among many boxing observers that Stevenson fears fighting Kovalev because he's afraid of losing to him, that isn't such a bad thing, just ask Floyd Mayweather. Let's face it, the upcoming supposed “Fight Of The Century” on May 2nd between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao is a ‘stop the world event’ for one reason, and it's not because Pacquiao is so great and unbeatable. No, it's because by Mayweather appearing as if he feared fighting him for the better part of the last five years, it helped build Pacquiao up as being the only fighter in boxing close to Floyd's size who has a legitimate shot to erase the “0” from the right side of his record.
Mayweather didn't fear fighting Pacquiao and always planned to do so, only on his terms, and that's exactly how it worked out for him. Floyd knew the longer he delayed the potential fight, the bigger it would be when it finally came to fruition. Had Floyd and Manny fought in 2010, it may have been a better test as to who the greater fighter was at their best, but it wouldn't have been for as much money as it is in 2015 and the odds of him losing were greater.
Stevenson doesn't have five years to milk the fight with Kovalev like Mayweather did with Pacquiao, but he still has some time. With Kovalev having already established himself as a star with the Hopkins win, half the work is done as far as building up the fight. Kovalev is pretty much identified as a no nonsense catch n' kill style fighter, and a showdown with a puncher with rippling muscles like Adonis Stevenson is a natural. By Stevenson not jumping up and down demanding the fight every time he's asked about it, that is not hurting him or the future gate. Perhaps he's taking a hit from a perception vantage point, but so did Mayweather before he finally agreed to fight Pacquiao for more money than any fighter has ever been paid for one night’s work in the ring.
The fact is, Kovalev vs. Stevenson is a highly anticipated bout even for hardcore boxing fans. Actually, it could be one of the two or three most anticipated fights that could be made in the next year or so. It's been over 10 years since there's been a monumental light heavyweight confrontation with all the bragging rights and title hardware on the line. The rematch between Roy Jones and Antonio Tarver was big mostly because of the disputed, at least in the eyes of some, majority decision that went in favor of Jones. But Kovalev-Stevenson may be the most anticipated light heavyweight unification bout since Michael Spinks won a 15 round unanimous decision over Dwight Muhammad Qawi in March of 1983.
During the years 1981 and 1982 Spinks and Qawi were simultaneously cleaning out the division and on a collision course which would settle who was the true champion at 175. They also had a little history between them since they both trained at Joe Frazier's gym on North Broad St. in Philadelphia during the late seventies and very early eighties. They sparred with each routinely for a time before both were top contenders. And I can speak from firsthand experience having witnessed many of the rounds they sparred each other, that the worst round they sparred was ten times better and more intense than any one of the 15 rounds they fought with the undisputed title on the line. Unfortunately, because they were familiar with each other, their fight wasn't memorable due to them knowing just how dangerous the other was. That and they had the perfect style to neutralize the other since Michael, who was a boxer-puncher, boxed and used the ring against Dwight the swarmer the night they fought.
As for Kovalev and Stevenson, there's not a chance in the world their confrontation won't produce fireworks for however long it last. Sergey brings it every time out and Stevenson knows he'll have to meet his aggression with his own power punching or Kovalev will run him out of the ring. The longer the potential Kovalev-Stevenson bout simmers, the better it will be economically for both fighters, you can count on that.
Stevenson will probably continue to get bashed in the media if they don't fight sometime this coming fall. But we can't blame Adonis if he's working the angle with Kovalev the same way Mayweather worked and stalled the fight with Pacquiao, can we? Because when they finally do get together, everyone will be interested and hyped up to see it.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com