Boxing’s current landscape, which emphasizes branding and marketing over logical, compelling match-ups, is littered with vilified champions. Danny Garcia’s recent string of dangerously overmatched foes ahead of a unification bout against Keith Thurman reeks of the sport’s exploitative tendencies, as does Canelo Alvarez’s ducking of Gennady Golovkin behind a litany of excuses, ranging from outright deception to straight up bizarre. Few current fighters, though, provoke as much vitriol as WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson.
To the annoyance of many (but to the surprise of no one), Stevenson loudly inserted himself into the post-Kovalev vs Ward conversation, first by expressing his pleasure at the result on twitter and then by posting a video where he called for a unification fight with Andre Ward, who had wrested Sergey Kovalev’s WBA/WBO/IBF titles via controversial unanimous decision. However, while Stevenson may have been thrilled to see “Krusher” Kovalev suffer his first professional defeat, the Russian emerged as the victor in the court of public opinion, as most observers believed he deserved to win a close and fascinating contest. As a result, the only conversation that mattered following Kovalev vs Ward was talk of an immediate rematch, which has once again relegated Stevenson to the light heavyweight margins.
This is truly a shame because the past few years could have been so different for Adonis Stevenson. Instead of bickering with Kovalev (who, don’t forget, also deserves some blame for their failed negotiations) and feasting on underwhelming opposition, “Superman” could have become one of boxing’s most enthralling action stars. Regardless of what you may think of Adonis, his frightening punching power is undeniable, and his willingness to scrap guarantees entertainment. Sure, he’s a loudmouth, but, when combined with quality opponents, that can be a virtue. Stevenson’s shocking annihilation of Chad Dawson and his impressive 2013 campaign ideally positioned him as both a breakout star and a compelling redemption story.
But it didn’t happen. Stevenson is technically the light heavyweight champion, but fighting Dmitry Sukhotsky, Sakio Bika, Tommy Karpency, and Thomas Williams Jr. in his last four outings has rendered this distinction meaningless to most fans and pundits. In fact, following his huge win over Kovalev, Andre Ward stated he isn’t even interested in discussing Stevenson, a fighter who Ward (and many others) feel has consistently bypassed opportunities to step up and face elite opposition.
It’s difficult to argue with Ward’s assessment, even if you sympathize with Stevenson. The optics of the Kovalev vs Stevenson non-fight have generally favoured the Russian, and Stevenson’s calling out of Ward will be viewed by cynics as a safe move from a couple of perspectives: first, Kovalev and Main Events have exercised their immediate rematch clause, which means Ward-Kovalev II should happen in the first third of 2017 (although you never know with Mr. Ward), effectively freezing Stevenson out in the short term. And second, while Ward might be able to out-box Adonis, the threat of a humiliating knockout doesn’t loom as a major peril as it does with the prospect of fighting Kovalev. Those who have played up the “Stevenson is petrified of Kovalev” narrative will have a field day with this turn of events.
But to say all is lost for Adonis Stevenson is premature. There is path to at least a modicum of redemption, and it could run through his home base of Montreal. But if Stevenson wants to insert himself back into the serious light heavyweight conversation, he needs to get busy – literally. One fight in 2016, even if it was a highlight-reel knockout, simply doesn’t suffice.
Instead of talking trash, Stevenson should focus on impressing in his mandatory defence against WBC number one contender, and fellow Montreal-based boxer, Eleider Alvarez (who seems like he’s been waiting for a title shot going on a decade). The Alvarez bout would be the ideal platform for Stevenson to fight at Montreal’s Bell Centre for the first time since his 2014 decision win over Andrzej Fonfara, which, coincidentally, was his last victory of real significance.
A knockout of Alvarez should count as a quality win, and the hope is that it would set up a dangerous follow-up, perhaps against stablemate Artur Beterbiev. Should Stevenson defeat someone of Beterbiev’s calibre, eyebrows will justifiably raise. Even a win over Jean Pascal, who returns to action on December 16, is intriguing, although two defeats to Sergey Kovalev have no doubt diminished him. Still, Pascal is a name, and even that would be a step in the right direction for Stevenson.
The point is that fans should still want to see Adonis Stevenson in these kinds of fights. But the harsh reality is that “Superman” is 39 and overestimates his standing in the sport. He can indeed grind his way back to the estimable position he thinks he still occupies, and 2017 should be the year that makes or breaks him, but there’s no time to dawdle and there’s no room for a fight that doesn’t serve a clear, specific purpose. Eleider Alvarez is a step up from recent competition; Artur Beterbiev presents danger the likes of which Stevenson has yet to face; and Jean Pascal is a somewhat overdue foe who might have just enough left to make him worth Stevenson’s while and give fans a dramatic fight.
Now, it’s all up to Adonis Stevenson. If he can recognize that he’s sidelined himself, he can take the appropriate steps to get back in the mix. And if he does, “Superman” will no longer be on the sidelines but in the thick of the action, where he belongs.
— Zachary Alapi