Boxe Mania At The Bell Centre: Prelude To A Showdown

Last night was not the first time Eleider Alvarez and Adonis Stevenson have shared a ring. With both pugilists under contract to Groupe Yvon Michel, they’ve fought under the same spotlight on a number of occasions in Montreal and Quebec City and every time both men have exited with another win on their record. But the next time might be different. Stevenson is the WBC light heavyweight champion; Alvarez the number one contender. And if they are standing in the same ring again before the end of the year, they will likely be in opposite corners.

It’s an intriguing match-up and for the sake of all concerned, here’s hoping it happens as soon as possible. Alvarez has officially been in line for a title shot since he outpointed Isaac Chilemba back in 2015. And Stevenson, for his own credibility, needs a title defense against someone who represents a legitimate threat. Even more so after last night.

Andrzej Fonfara was a decided underdog heading into his rematch with “Superman,” but at the same time there was every reason to believe he could provide something of a stern test, or at least one sterner than being steamrolled in three-and-a-half minutes. After all, his first meeting with Adonis, while mostly one-sided, saw Fonfara win a few rounds from the champion and knock him down. He had since notched wins over Julio Chavez Jr., Nathan Cleverly and Chad Dawson, but last night he was a spent force, even more feeble than when he was stopped by Joe Smith Jr. in one round a year ago.

Meanwhile, Eleider Alvarez may not look like the second coming of Archie Moore, but he is a big, strong light heavyweight and with his victory over Jean Pascal last night he solidified his position as one of the division’s top contenders, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Cleverly, Joe Smith Jr. and Artur Beterbiev. Undefeated, he now boasts victories over three legit top-shelf talents: Chilemba, Lucian Bute and Pascal. No one deserves a title shot more and no one can dismiss his chances against any of the belt-holders. And the bet here is he lasts longer against Stevenson than three-and-a-half minutes.

Alvarez (right) and Pascal at the weigh-in.

That said, he likely cannot afford the lapses we saw last night against a faded Pascal if and when he battles Adonis. Pascal can punch a bit, but if Jean throws hand grenades, Stevenson fires high-explosive artillery shells. For the most part Alvarez boxed with authority and despite one judge inexplicably scoring the bout a draw, he clearly earned the win. But on several occasions Pascal landed heavy shots, initiating exchanges and piercing “Storm’s” defense with left hooks or right hand leads. Alvarez for the most part stood his ground and fired back, but if Stevenson lands the same kind of shots, Eleider won’t be standing his ground; he’ll be lying on his back.

In truth, the Alvarez vs Pascal co-feature was a perplexing fight to watch. First of all, as Sean Crose wrote the other day, at this late stage no one wants to see Pascal take more punishment than necessary. He is clearly near the very end and there were moments last night when he looked every bit the part of an over-the-hill warrior: indecisive, frustrated and there to be hit. But the truth is, Pascal initiated many, if not most, of the meaningful action in a match marked by both uneventful intervals and brief, but violent, exchanges.

Alvarez controlled the bout with his jab.

Alvarez’s game plan was to control the fight behind his jab, keeping Pascal on the back foot and at the end of his punches, an effective strategy for the most part as the former champion could not consistently position himself or find openings to strike. But there were several stretches where Alvarez did more looking and posturing than punching before Pascal would launch an attack and try to steal the round with sharp leads followed by flurries of power punches. Meanwhile, more than once Alvarez had Pascal hurt and seemingly on the cusp of defeat but the Colombian was content to simply hold his advantage and pile up points instead of forcing the issue and trying for the knockout.

More than once fans in the Bell Centre booed the lack of activity from the two fighters, both of them waiting for the other to lead so they could counter. Alvarez, at times patient almost to the point of paralysis, never wavered from his tactics, his jab controlling the action and limiting Pascal’s forays. The contest followed a pattern of long lulls, followed by sudden and thrilling exchanges during which both men would land their share of blows. Again, Pascal did succeed in stealing a few rounds, but not enough to derail the methodical Alvarez.

Pascal’s attacks were effective but infrequent.

How might this conservative style play out against Adonis Stevenson? It’s difficult to say with any certainty, but if it doesn’t bring Eleider Alvarez victory and the WBC title, it will certainly result in a more competitive contest than what Andrzej Fonfara could provide last night. Though in fact, the opening 90 seconds of the match saw a confident looking challenger, seemingly determined to assert himself, boxing with some effectiveness. Moving to his left and snapping out an aggressive jab, Fonfara worked to keep Stevenson honest, using foot feints to discourage the champion from attacking and even darting in a few times to throw his right hand. But then, during one of his sorties he got nailed by a counter left hand and with a single punch the outcome was decided.

Say what you like about Fonfara and whether or not his chin was irreparably damaged by Joe Smith Jr.; fact is last night was an impressive display of raw power from Adonis Stevenson. Consider that the blow which hurt the challenger midway through the opening round and, for all intents and purposes, decided the outcome, was a short counter left hand thrown as Stevenson was moving backwards after getting tagged by a Fonfara right. Perhaps the mandible of “The Polish Prince” has become decidedly fragile, though you wouldn’t have thought that after watching his 12 round war against Cleverly in 2015, but in any case, to land a devastating blow in such a situation speaks to punching power of an otherworldly stripe.

Fonfara tried to keep his footing after taking the punch but then, in a delayed reaction, collapsed in sections to the canvas. No doubt mortified at having been floored so early in the match, he then made the mistake of getting up too quickly, springing to his feet at the count of two instead of allowing his head to clear. When action resumed the dazed challenger, his legs rubbery, was an easy target for Stevenson’s deadly left. By my count Adonis landed no fewer than 19 hard left hands before the bell saved Fonfara, at least momentarily, from certain doom.

It was a pummelling that no one could realistically expect the challenger to recover from quickly, but his trainer, Virgil Hunter, demanded that he did. As round two got underway, Stevenson proceeded to land six more lefts — at least two of the booming, head-snapping variety — and then trapped Fonfara on the ropes. Hunter, fearing for his fighter’s safety, mounted the ring steps and waved his hand and just like that the match was over.

To almost everyone the end appeared premature, but at the same time it was obvious that, barring some kind of miraculous interruption, there was no way Fonfara was getting through that second round on his feet. Stevenson, who appeared in excellent form, especially given the fact he hasn’t fought in almost a year, just couldn’t miss with the punch that is, without question, one of the most dangerous weapons in all of boxing. And this is why so many fight fans are disgruntled about having been denied a Stevenson vs Sergey Kovalev match. Both boxers possess extraordinary power and a clash between two devastating punchers who happen to be atop the same division is one the sport must not let slip through its fingers.

For his part, Stevenson, bizarrely dressed in a red robe and wearing a crown for his post-fight interviews, asserted he is willing to face anyone before stating in the same breath that the choice of his next opponent is up to his manager, Al Haymon. No doubt this is not what fight fans, many of whom regard Stevenson as having shamelessly ducked Kovalev, wanted to hear. It is sometimes difficult to know what to make of this enigmatic fighter who, inside the ring, is a deadly serious competitor and a fearsome puncher, but who wore a Superman cape before the fight and then donned a silly looking crown after another knockout win. The schtick would be comical, maybe even charming, if we could figure out how seriously to take it.

Blows like this convinced Virgil Hunter enough was enough.

In any case, one thing we can take seriously is that Stevenson vs Alvarez is likely what we’ll see next. And the fact is, Alvarez, give or take a Tony Bellew, represents the most formidable opponent Stevenson has faced since he ripped the lineal and WBC titles from Chad Dawson with a single vicious left hand back in 2013. Considering that “Storm” now boasts back-to-back wins over two of the most beloved of Montreal boxers, Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal, Stevenson vs Alvarez becomes a match freighted with significance for The Fight City. Promoter Yvon Michel stated at the post-fight press conference that serious negotiations for the contest are to take place within 30 days, the fight to be scheduled within the three months following.

No doubt public interest, not to mention the money and the stakes, would be higher for a battle with the winner of the upcoming Ward vs Kovalev rematch, but the obstacles to such a bout are numerous. Michel acknowledged last night that a unification fight, given the circumstances, is unlikely at this time. But even if that’s the case, all but the most bitter fight fans would have to admit that Eleider Alvarez testing his skills against the power of Adonis Stevenson is one hell of a consolation prize. “Superman” vs “Storm” on an autumn night in Montreal? Sounds good to us.           — Michael Carbert              

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