The drama of the occasion was summed up in a single word, the title given to the match: “Obligatoire.” For non-Quebecois fight fans, that translates to “mandatory,” something which Adonis Stevenson was famous for avoiding for much of his reign as the WBC light heavyweight champion. Time and again we were told Adonis intended to honour his obligations and for over two years that meant a match against undefeated “mandatory” contender Eleider Alvarez, but it never happened. How Stevenson could do so and suffer no consequences is something that likely only Al Haymon and WBC boss Mauricio Sulaimán can explain. Whatever the reason, every time Stevenson signed a contract for another fight, Alvarez’s name was not on it.
But last May the name that was on it was Badou Jack and he represented the stiffest test for Adonis since he had won the title from Chad Dawson in 2013. They battled in Toronto and after 12 hard-fought rounds the judges’ verdict was a draw and everyone agreed an immediate rematch made perfect sense. Leave it to the WBC to choose this juncture to finally put their foot down and say, “No más!” to anymore non-mandatory fights and so Stevenson took on the new “mandatory” challenger, that being Oleksandr Gvozdyk. The young Ukrainian boasted the names of Isaac Chilemba and Yunieski Gonzalez on his 15-0 record, the former having given Alvarez and Sergey Kovalev competitive scraps, the latter having almost defeated Jean Pascal.
Even so, jaded boxing fans had to be forgiven for anticipating another Stevenson win over another seemingly unproven and inexperienced contender, though in fact the betting odds favored Gvozdyk, a surprise to some. But certain facts could not be avoided, including that Adonis Stevenson was now 41-years-old. Plus, except for brief interludes, he was not at all his usual fearsome self against Jack, though his freakish power did save his title when he incapacitated Badou in round ten with a single left hand to the body.
Many anticipated that same power would at some point resurface and render helpless “The Nail,” especially since Gvozdyk’s outing against southpaw Tommy Karpency saw him visit the canvas before he won by a sixth round stoppage. But others added up Gvozdyk’s youth, talent, quicker hands, plus Teddy Atlas in the corner, and detected an oncoming changing of the guard.
The match itself was greatly overshadowed by the fact it was scheduled for the same date as the year’s big heavyweight showdown, Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury, a fact which necessitated the entire Quebec City card being pushed back to a weird five pm start time and with roughly half of the undercard taking place after the main event. Groupe Yvon Michel, to their credit, put together a solid supporting show with Mikael Zewski (32-1), Oscar Rivas (25-0), and Sebastien Bouchard (18-1) all notching significant wins, while Montreal super middleweights Dario Bredicean (17-0-1) and Shakeel Phinn (19-2-1) battled to a draw. Local favorite Marie Eve Dicaire (14-0) scored the biggest win of her career by defeating Chris Namus (24-5) by decision and annexing the IBF super welterweight title.
As for Stevenson vs Gvozdyk, it proved to be a closely contested and hard-fought scrap, testament to both men’s mettle. From the outset the challenger showed class and composure, not to mention a solid battle plan, as he pumped out quick jabs while continually moving to his left in an unpredictable manner, stopping and starting and giving Adonis precious few opportunities to set himself and unleash his heavy artillery. Meanwhile, by contrast, Stevenson looked to have only one objective: move in and land the big shot. Adonis threatened and threw, but it was Gvozdyk who was boxing with discipline.
At the start of round three a sharp right hand put the champion down. While it was a legit flash knockdown, referee Michael Griffin ruled it a slip, but even so it marked a change in the bout as Gvozdyk began boxing more confidently and aggressively, coming forward behind his jab and letting his hands go.
Stevenson appeared sharper at the start of round four but before he could work up any serious momentum, the Ukrainian would shift and move and snap home quick shots. Adonis needed to stalk and move forward to get weight on his punches, but Gvozdyk refused to let him do so for very long. These rounds were close, but the match was clearly unfolding the way the challenger wanted it to. The question was whether he could continue to avoid Stevenson’s dangerous left hand.
The pace picked up in the second half with Gvozdyk continuing to box intelligently, his constant movement clearly frustrating Stevenson, but round seven showed that when that movement slowed down, the champion suddenly had chances to land. In the most entertaining stanza of the fight thus far, both men connected with meaningful punches and the young challenger showed he could hang with Adonis at close range.
Gvozdyk landed some clean right hands in the eighth, a harbinger of things to come, but rounds nine and ten were Stevenson’s best of the fight. A left hook to the body bothered the challenger in the ninth and in round ten a vicious left caused Gvozdyk to topple into the ropes, the second missed knockdown of the match. It appeared Stevenson was perhaps on the verge of overpowering the talented challenger, but if the Ukrainian was hurt he avoided further trouble by virtue of timely clinching and excellent footwork. He never stopped moving, shifting and pivoting, and Stevenson lacked the quickness to corner him. At round’s end it was Gvozdyk coming forward and landing sharp shots.
In the next round it was clear that Gvozdyk knew he could land his right whenever he wanted to and he came forward with authority, punishing Stevenson and putting more weight on his punches. The champion was clearly tiring and while he bravely battled back the punishment was adding up as Gvozdyk was simply connecting with too many clean, flush blows. His hand speed was now the determining factor as one landed punch immediately led to combinations of follow up shots and a dazed Stevenson staggered into the corner where a final right hand snapped his head back and put him on the canvas. The referee waved his arms and the reign of Adonis “Superman” Stevenson as WBC champion was officially over.
All speculation regarding the consequences of this match and the future prospects for Stevenson, Gvozdyk and the light heavyweight division are immediately set aside upon learning at roughly 2:00 am Sunday morning that Stevenson had been admitted to the intensive care unit of an area hospital and was in critical condition. No other information was available as of the time of publication of this article. We are once again reminded of the inherent risks of boxing and of the courage of all of its participants. Recalling that Adonis Stevenson is part of a family and father to five young children, we can only hope and pray that he has a full recovery from his current condition. — Robert Portis