In a boxing landscape littered with alphabetized fiefdoms and multiple titleholders in the same weight class, identifying an indisputable world champion is a quest as seemingly hopeless as that undertaken by the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes, who wandered about for years holding aloft a lit lantern, even in daylight, in search of anyone who met his exacting criteria for being an honest man.
If noted cynic Diogenes were somehow to return in 2017 as a fight fan, his journeys would prove no more fruitful than those he undertook in the fourth century BC. For a time, even a heavyweight as renowned as Joe Frazier could only lay claim to being the “world champion” of the New York State Athletic Commission. That designation constituted dominion over not just a sliver of the planet, but a few flecks that had peeled off that sliver.
Which brings a sport’s perpetually perplexed masses to the curious but hardly unique case of WBC light heavyweight titlist Adonis “Superman” Stevenson, who retained his bejeweled green strap with a two-round blowout of Andrzej Fonfara in the Showtime-televised main event at the Bell Centre in Montreal. After winning much more emphatically than he had in his first meeting with Fonfara (29-5, 17 KOs), in which he was obliged to go the distance in winning a wide unanimous decision on May 24, 2014, also in the Bell Centre, Stevenson (29-1, 24 KOs) again proclaimed himself as the absolute, unquestioned ruler of the 175-pound class. If you are from Stevenson’s birth country of Haiti, or a resident of French-speaking Quebec, which the southpaw slugger now calls home, you might even believe that.
“I’m the greatest at 175,” the 39-year-old Stevenson immodestly told Showtime’s Jim Gray during a brief in-ring interview after he had fed so many counter left hands down Fonfara’s gullet that the Chicago-based Pole might have to go on a no-leather diet. “I’m the greatest. That’s it, baby. Me, I’m the greatest. I’m the king. So I don’t have to call anybody, baby. I’m `Superman,’ baby.”
That part about not needing to call out anybody was a not-so-veiled reference to another rematch, the one pitting WBA/IBF/WBO light heavyweight champ Andre Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) against the man he dethroned on a razor-thin and disputed unanimous decision, Sergey Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs), which will be televised via HBO Pay Per View on June 17 from the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Although Stevenson has loudly and frequently expressed his desire to mix it up with the Ward-Kovalev winner, his career path – or that chosen for him by his seldom-seen-and-never-heard manager, Al Haymon – suggests the broken-field maneuvers of retired NFL running back Barry Sanders. There is ample evidence to suggest that Stevenson, Haymon or both will continue to evade Ward and/or Kovalev and instead move on to Stevenson’s WBC mandatory against Eleider Alvarez (23-0,11 KOs), who scored a majority decision over former WBC light heavyweight ruler Jean Pascal (31-5-1, 18 KOs) in the lead-in to Stevenson-Fonfara II.
“Whoever Al Hayman put me (in with), I’m ready, baby,” Stevenson said, again giving Haymon all the credit (or blame) for his choice of mostly low-risk opponents, which is not unlike that of Don King-promoted fighters who frequently begged off any responsibility as to the direction of their own careers.
Like Frazier prior to the expansion of his championship reign, Stevenson – and it should be noted that no one can or should question the impressive power he packs in his left hand – is consigned, at least for now, to an area that is less global than highly regionalized. Consider the makeup of the light heavyweight division, or at least that portion of it in which Stevenson is so comfortably ensconced. Twenty-seven of “Superman’s” 30 professional bouts, including his last 14, have been staged in Canada, with 26 in Quebec province. It might be argued that Stevenson, a resident of Blainville, Quebec, is a less a champion of the WBC or the world than of French-speaking Quebec, which apparently has become the destination for resettled light heavyweights from other countries. Pascal is a Haitian who also came to the Great White North, where he made his home in Laval, Quebec; Alvarez, a 2008 Olympian who represented Colombia, is based in Montreal, as is former IBF super middleweight ruler Lucian Bute, a native of Romania who now campaigns as a light heavy, and Artur Beterbiev, a transplanted Russian.
There is nothing wrong with a fighter preferring to happily remain in his comfort zone, and Stevenson is certifiable box-office gold in Quebec. It was much the same with former light heavyweight and cruiserweight champion Virgil Hill, a 2013 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame who obliged a procession of challengers to trek to North Dakota if they wanted a shot at whichever title he held at the time. But Stevenson’s big-fish-in-a-small-pond status is more confining that might appear at first glance.
For one thing, Stevenson – who went off as an 11-1 favorite over the overmatched Fonfara – almost certainly would be an opening-line underdog to the Ward-Kovalev II winner, and probably the loser as well, especially if that bout were to be held outside of Quebec. For another, Stevenson’s main claim to being The Man at light heavyweight was severely diminished when The Ring magazine, which always has been preferential to lineal title-holders, withdrew its recognition of him as the division’s top dog. It should be noted that the so-called “Bible of Boxing” still lists Tyson Fury as its heavyweight champion, even though he has been stripped of his WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO titles by those sanctioning bodies, hasn’t fought since his stunning unanimous decision over longtime champ Wladimir Klitschko on Nov. 28, 2015, has blown up to 300-plus pounds and apparently has done enough cocaine to overdose a rhinoceros.
The Ring’s cold-shouldering of Stevenson could be because of his relative inactivity (prior to the rematch with Fonfara, he had fought just four times in 37 months, WBC defenses against a non-Murderer’s Row of Dmitry Sukhotskiy, Sakio Bika, Tommy Karpency and Thomas Williams Jr. It could be because, compared to Ward and Kovalev, Stevenson doesn’t pass the comparative eye test; he is a one-trick pony, that trick being his turn-out-the-lights power. In any breakdown of attributes, he comes off as far less well-rounded than the highly skilled Ward and less versatile than Kovalev, who would appear to be just as heavy a hitter and possibly even more so.
But the main knock against Stevenson is that he, or Haymon, has opted to mostly play it safe in a profession where those who choose to take the biggest risks are more often the ones who receive the biggest rewards. While it might be argued that the difficult-to-bridge gap between Stevenson and the Ward-Kovalev II winner likely owes to the standard barrier between those pledging fealty to Showtime and HBO, it should be noted that Stevenson was with HBO in 2013 prior to his crossing the premium-cable street, as it were. He even shared an HBO card with Kovalev on Nov. 30, 2013, in which Stevenson scored a sixth-round stoppage of Tony Bellew in Quebec City, and Kovalev starched Ismayl Sillah in two rounds. It is the contention of Kathy Duva, Kovalev’s promoter, that Stevenson switched TV outlets in a blatant attempt to avoid her fighter. Bernard Hopkins, the oldie-and-still-goodie at that time, also alleged that Stevenson was zigging when B-Hop was zagging.
The business of boxing is such that financial and contractual snags prevent many desirable matchups from being made, but it would appear in this instance that having Stevenson in its lineup has not provided as much bang for the buck as Showtime might have anticipated. To this point in 2017, for those keeping score, Showtime has clearly had higher-visibility and more-competitive fights than HBO, its primary competitor, and providing coveted dates for someone who turns 40 on Sept. 22 and has yet to jump into the deep end of the pool would appear to be at least a slight misuse of the company’s resources.
But that is not to say that Stevenson lacks appeal or intrigue. He has a puncher’s chance in any fight, including possible clashes with Ward or Kovalev, is still the lineal champion at 175 pounds, and has the distinction of being the last fighter of any significance trained by the late, great Emanuel Steward, who was 68 when he died of colon cancer on Oct. 25, 2012. Stevenson still wears the traditional Kronk Gym gold-and-red colors with pride, and his affection for Steward remains evident, even if his present trainer is “Sugar” Hill (real first name: Javon), a moniker that more suggests a pole dancer at a Montreal gentleman’s cabaret than Manny’s old-school Detroit grittiness.
“I have the linear championship,” Stevenson said a few days before he mistreated the unfortunate Fonfara. “Do you know what that means? There is one king and that is me. If you want to be the king, you have to defeat the king. That’s the way it has always been.”
Maybe so, but it takes more than strutting around with a crown and fur-collared robe that resembled a Halloween costume to make a self-proclaimed king a true monarch of the ring. A matchup with Eleider Alvarez is a nice enough fight, if it comes to that, but the fact remains that Adonis Stevenson isn’t getting any younger and his window of opportunity for expanding his image far beyond his Quebec boundaries is beginning to close. If he gives Ward or Kovalev the slip one more time, no amount of boasting and chest-thumping is apt to sway those would-be subjects who remain unconvinced as to his claim to the throne.
“He’s just simple,” Showtime analyst Paulie Malignaggi said in assessing Stevenson’s no-frills style. “He looks for a big counter left hand. That’s pretty much what he did all night. Once he hurt (Fonfara), then he started leading with left hands. Simple game plan. He’s a simple fighter. But he’s got very big power and that’s not so simple.”
Here’s another simple observation: Make Stevenson vs. the Ward-Kovalev II winner because, quite frankly, Stevenson needs that fight more than either one of his two primary rivals for division supremacy does. There is some red tape that will need to be snipped, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Or at least there should be.
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