Adonis Stevenson vs Andrzej Fonfara II. Eleider Alvarez vs Jean Pascal. Two major showdowns with serious implications, both happening on the same card this Saturday night. A world title bout and a match to decide who gets the next shot. From the perspective of a serious fight fan, it doesn’t get much better.
Both duels are intriguing and if they lead to decisive outcomes, they will have a significant impact on the light heavyweight division, not to mention what awaits the winner of the imminent Andre Ward vs Sergey Kovalev rematch. The 175 pound weight class is easily one of the more intriguing in boxing right now, and this month is going to see some major movement, which in turn should lead to even more compelling clashes in the near future. Or so we hope.
Of course such intrigue becomes more likely when the lineal champion of the division, the man who beat the man, as they say, actually decides to get off his duff and defend his title. Saturday’s match will be the first for Adonis Stevenson since last July, just his second since September of 2015. And while Adonis is both the WBC light heavyweight king and the lineal title holder, he’s also one of the less popular champions among hardcore fans, and not just for his sparse activity.
Since winning the title in spectacular fashion back in 2013, “boxingheads” have been waiting in vain for “Superman,” a thunderous puncher with an 80% knockout ratio, to face an adversary they would regard as a truly serious test. If he vanquishes Fonfara for a second time on Saturday night, he will notch the eighth defense of his championship, but for some, it will represent the eighth consecutive time he has scored a win over yet another no-hope challenger.
Of course, this view is not fair or accurate. First of all, Andrzej Fonfara is a worthy opponent. As he proved in his first meeting with the champion three years ago when he gave Stevenson one of his toughest fights, rebounding from two knockdowns and a cut to cause Adonis more than a bit of trouble in the bout’s second half. A right hand put Stevenson down in the ninth and while the champion showed his mettle by taking the next two rounds to seal a one-sided points win, in the final stanza Fonfara dug in and went toe-to-toe with one of boxing’s most dangerous punchers. At fight’s end, the crowd gave both men a standing ovation.
Some, having rated Fonfara as a long-shot who should have been dispatched with ease, saw that match as exposing Stevenson as a one-dimensional slugger with little to fall back on if his power didn’t overwhelm an opponent. This view served well fans of Sergey Kovalev, insisting as they were that Stevenson was ducking the Russian and that “Krusher” should be regarded as the real king at 175. But in addition to shortchanging Fonfara, this analysis conveniently overlooked the fact that Adonis had in fact won at least eight rounds. Even factoring in the challenger’s knockdown, it was still a dominant victory for “Superman.”
And in the time since, that win has only become more significant as Fonfara went on to reaffirm himself as a major force in the division, despite an upset KO loss to Joe Smith Jr. The bottom line is that Stevenson vs Fonfara II is, at least on paper, a competitive fight and considering the fact that the champion is 39-years-old and “The Polish Prince” is “Superman’s” most formidable challenger since he faced, well, “The Polish Prince,” an upset certainly isn’t out of the question.
However, even if Stevenson looks impressive on Saturday and scores an emphatic win, it will not come close to satisfying the champion’s many critics who condemn him for having steamrolled one soft touch after another while avoiding Sergey Kovalev. If many die-hard fans remain frustrated over Al Haymon’s coddling of his fighters, the championship reign of Adonis Stevenson may well qualify as Exhibit A in the case against the PBC style of management.
But what if the critics are wrong? What if the truth is that Stevenson has in fact pursued matches with the very fighters he is accused of having avoided? According to Stevenson’s promoter, Yvon Michel, this in fact is the case.
“The truth is, Adonis has always been willing to take on anybody,” stated Michel in an exclusive interview with The Fight City. “The fact he has never faced Kovalev, Hopkins or Pascal, it’s not his fault. He has never ducked anyone. In truth, all three of those boxers had the opportunity to fight Adonis, but they made different choices. They decided not to. But to justify themselves they say ‘Stevenson is ducking’ and people believe it, but it’s not true.”
“Let me set the record straight,” continued Michel. “Yes, there was an effort to make a Kovalev vs Stevenson fight [in 2014], but at that time the more established champion was Bernard Hopkins; he had the WBA and IBF titles. And I remember well, there was a meeting with Hopkins and Richard Schaefer and Bernard told Adonis, ‘Come to Showtime and I guarantee we’ll do a unification fight.’ That is the main reason Adonis left HBO to go to Showtime. It was not that Adonis didn’t want to fight Kovalev, but more that he wanted to fight the legend, the real champion, Bernard Hopkins.
“But then Hopkins got into a dispute with Schaefer and Bernard went to HBO and now it was Kovalev who had the chance to fight Hopkins. So after that, Cathy Duva made the move with the WBC to have Kovalev become the mandatory challenger for Adonis in an effort to overcome the dispute between HBO and Showtime and make the match happen. Kovalev defeated Pascal and the WBC ordered the fight but then two days before the purse bid, Duva and Kovalev pulled out of the match because, they said, they were negotiating a contract with HBO so they couldn’t make the commitment.
“So then Pascal, because of his win over Lucian Bute, he was the mandatory challenger and had the opportunity to face Adonis, but he chose to fight Kovalev instead. He believed he would receive more money for a Kovalev match and also I’m sure he believed he had a better chance to win against Kovalev, so he also turned Adonis down. We wanted that fight; it was Pascal who made a different choice, not Adonis. [Ed. note: A fact Stevenson forced Pascal to admit publicly at last month’s “Boxe Mania” press conference.]
“Another example: Joe Smith Jr. knocked out Fonfara and then Hopkins. I called Smith’s promoter, Joe DeGuardia, because I believed Smith vs Stevenson would be a very good fight. But unfortunately we didn’t get along. In his mind, Smith was going to sell out the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island so they wanted to negotiate on that basis. But on our side we were saying, ‘You believe Smith will sell out the place, but we can’t know for sure that’s going to happen.’ So it was a roadblock in terms of negotiating a contract and we just couldn’t come to an agreement. But then Smith’s people and the media said the fight wasn’t happening because Adonis was afraid to fight him, which was not the case at all. So all of these fighters — Kovalev, Hopkins, Pascal, Smith Jr. — they like to say that Adonis avoided them, but it simply isn’t true.
“And now Adonis is fighting Fonfara. Is this the match to take if you just want easy fights? In fact, the first battle with Fonfara is maybe the toughest fight of Stevenson’s career. Yes, Fonfara had a bad night against Smith Jr., but he also knocked out Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Chad Dawson and he beat Nathan Cleverly in one of the toughest fights of recent years. So he’s a legitimate contender and a legitimate threat and I’m expecting a very entertaining battle.
“But I believe that, even at 39 years of age, Adonis is still the best light heavyweight in the world. And I know that the truth of the matter is that he really hopes he can face the winner of the rematch between Ward and Kovalev. But if that doesn’t happen then he will fight his mandatory contender who will be the winner of the Eleider Alvarez vs Jean Pascal match, which is also a very intriguing fight. So no matter what, after this Saturday, you will see Adonis Stevenson in a very dangerous match against either the winner of Kovalev vs Ward II, or the winner of Alvarez vs Pascal.”
Those last sentences are no doubt music to the ears of die-hard boxing fans everywhere, but Michel and company surely realize that many of those fans are now more than just a little skeptical. First things first: Stevenson has to turn back the challenge of a determined Andrzej Fonfara on Saturday night. But assuming he does, let’s hope everyone involved understands that it’s long past time to finally get some of these truly dangerous matches signed and sealed.
Kovalev, Ward, Alvarez and Pascal all represent serious tests for Adonis Stevenson, the likes of which he hasn’t faced in quite some time. Given that 2017 has already been a stellar year for boxing, here’s hoping a truly big championship fight for “Superman,” one that should go a long way in terms of defining his reputation and legacy, is finally ours before it ends. — Michael Carbert