Boxers are prone to grow old overnight. Adonis Stevenson, who turned 40 last September, would seem to be especially vulnerable. But don’t write Stevenson off quite yet. True, there were times tonight when he looked his age, but he had just enough in his tank to stave off the challenge of Badou Jack and retain his WBC light heavyweight title by virtue of the fight ending in a draw (115-113 Jack; 114-114 twice). The tie ended the skein of 16 straight wins for the self-styled Haitian-Canadian “Superman” who looked very much the loser at the sound of the final bell.
Jack started slowly, clearly wary of the power in Stevenson’s left hand. That seemed to be a smart strategy when he took control of the fight in the middle rounds as Stevenson appeared to be tiring, but ultimately the slow start cost him the fight. It was Jack’s third draw in his last four starts and his fourth draw in his last 11, albeit one of those draws was overturned in his favor when his opponent (Lucien Bute) failed his post-fight drug test.
In his previous outing Badou Jack (21-1-4 by our reckoning) won the WBA version of the light heavyweight title with a fifth round stoppage of Nathan Cleverly. But Jack abandoned the belt rather than acquiesce to the WBA’s dictate that he make his first defense against Dmitry Bivol.
Stevenson (21-1-1) lives to fight another day and by retaining his belt he will be in the driver’s seat when he negotiates his next title defense. If it happens to be a rematch with Badou Jack, the roles will be switched from an odds standpoint with Jack chalked the favorite.
In the overture, a battle of southpaws and former Olympians, Gary Russell Jr. (29-1) successfully defended his WBC featherweight title with a unanimous decision over previously undefeated Joseph “Jojo” Diaz (21-1) at the MGM Grand National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. The scores were 115-113 and 117-111 twice.
Russell, whose lone defeat came in a close fight with Vasyl Lomachenko (one of the judges had it a draw), dedicated the fight to his father who is also his trainer. The elder Russell celebrates his birthday tomorrow (Sunday).
At the pre-fight press conference, Diaz paid his respects to Russell, saying that Russell had the fastest hands in the sport, but said he would exploit flaws in Russell’s game that he had gleaned from watching tapes. Diaz had some good moments early and late, but wasn’t able to exploit Russell’s flaws, whatever they may be. With his fast hands and superior workrate, Russell basically swept rounds 6-11, building a lead that Diaz could not overcome with his late rally. There were no knockdowns, but Russell touched the canvas in rounds 11 and 12 from body shots that were each ruled a slip. The verdict pleased the fans as Russell, who resides down the road in Capital Heights, had the crowd in his corner.
Heading into the fight, Russell said he was targeting the winner of the June 9 battle between Leo Santa-Cruz and Abner Mares and also expressed an interest in fighting Carl Frampton. However, there’s a new man on the scene that he may want to consider. Earlier today, fighting in his hometown of Leeds, England, Josh Warrington upset IBF title-holder Lee Selby, winning a split decision.