According to a press release, Saturday’s light heavyweight title fight between Adonis Stevenson and Badou Jack at the Air Canada Centre is the most noteworthy fight in Toronto since June 22, 1984, when Aaron Pryor defended his 140-pound title against Nicky Furlano. That may be true, but it’s a poor comparison. Stevenson vs. Jack is a very intriguing match. At last glance, Stevenson, who will be making the ninth defense of his WBC belt, was a consensus 7/5 favorite with most of the early money on the challenger. By contrast, Pryor vs. Furlano was judged to be such a mismatch that bookmakers didn’t bother to post a line.
Looking back, Pryor was then undefeated, 34-0, and had won 26 straight by knockout. Furlano was 28-7-1 and had won only nine fights inside the distance. A local man, he would have the crowd in his corner, but that figured to be of no use to him unless the fight lasted the 15-round distance and few thought he could stay upright for long against a wrecking machine like Aaron Pryor.
As it turned out, Furlano was on the deck in the very first round and the fight was perilously close to being stopped. But he weathered the storm and ended Pryor’s knockout skein, a moral victory although Pryor won by a wide margin.
Pryor vs. Furlano played out in a small arena on the campus of the University of Toronto. The announced attendance was 4,000. The Air Canada Centre can be configured to hold slightly more than 20,000 for boxing. The fight likely won’t come anywhere close to attracting that number, but for serious boxing fans it’s a must-see event. It will be paired on Showtime with the WBC featherweight contest between Gary Russell Jr. and Jojo Diaz at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Stevenson vs. Jack is the nightcap.
Badou Jack (pictured between statues of Toronto Maple Leafs legends Borje Salming and Syl Apps in the promenade outside the Air Canada Centre) was born in Stockholm, Sweden. As an amateur, he was a five-time Swedish national champion and represented Gambia, the birthplace of his father, in the 2008 Olympics. He lives in Las Vegas with his wife Jasmine and their two young children and trains at the Mayweather Gym.
Jack (21-1-3, 13 KOs) suffered a devastating defeat in February of 2014 when he was stopped in the opening round by Derek Edwards at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York. The fight lasted only 61 seconds. By his reckoning, he was the victim of a lucky punch (what else was he to say?) and the way that he has turned his career around lends credence to that rationale.
Three fights after the Edwards mishap, Jack claimed the WBC 168-pound title with a 12-round majority decision over previously undefeated Anthony Dirrell. He successfully defended the belt with a split decision over George Groves and went on to win the WBA light heavyweight title with a fifth round stoppage of Nathan Cleverly. Between Groves and Cleverly, he boxed draws with Lucien Bute and James DeGale.
About those draws….TSS ringside reporter Ronan Keenan called the Bute decision “inexplicable” and “egregious,” siding with the judge who scored the bout 117-111 for Badou Jack. (A banned substance, ostarine, was detected in Bute’s post-fight urine specimen and the verdict was overturned, making Jack the victor by disqualification.) In the DeGale fight, it appeared to most everyone that Jack pulled it out after scoring a knockdown in the final stanza. The crowd booed the decision.
Jack sent Nathan Cleverly into retirement. His performance suggested that he was improving like fine wine, but the same could perhaps be said of Adonis Stevenson (29-1, 24 KOs) who has won 16 straight, 13 inside the distance, since suffering his lone setback, an embarrassing second round knockout at the hands of journeyman Darnell Boone (a loss he would eventually avenge). In his last start he demolished Andrzej Fonfara whose corner stopped the bout 28 seconds into the second frame.
Stevenson, born in Haiti but a resident of Montreal since the age of seven, is 40 years old, but doesn’t have much mileage on him. He had only 40 amateur bouts and didn’t have his first pro fight until the age of 29 after spending time in prison. He was one of the last fighters trained by Emanuel Steward at Detroit’s fabled Kronk Gym. Although he hasn’t fought the stiffest competition since winning the title, only Gennady Golovkin among active title-holders has reigned longer.
“I’m stronger, I’m younger, I’m faster; I’m the better guy,” says Badou Jack. That may prove true, but Stevenson has fight-altering power in his left hand. “If Badou comes in aggressive, this could end very quickly,” he says.
We’ll find out Saturday night. I wouldn’t miss it.
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