Following his astonishing run in 2013, which included three knockout championship wins and made him our “Fighter of the Year,” Adonis “Superman” Stevenson started 2014 making headlines for decisions taken outside the ring. In February he abruptly cut ties with HBO, which had broadcast all of his big wins the year previous, and signed on with both Showtime and manager Al Haymon, effectively quashing a slated showdown with fellow light-heavyweight power puncher Sergey Kovalev. For many, this move transformed Stevenson’s image from a seek-and-destroy knockout artist, to a typical Al Haymon fighter; in other words, a businessman first and foremost, looking to secure big paydays for lesser risk matches.
However, these network and managerial maneuverings completely overshadowed the facts on the ground, which involved a serious fight against a serious contender. Andrzej Fonfara was largely unknown outside of Poland, but with wins over Gabriel Campillo and Glen Johnson under his belt, the Chicago-based battler figured to be a stiffer challenge than Stevenson’s previous opponent, Tony Bellew. Still, there was little to no buzz for Stevenson vs. Fonfara, even in Adonis’ home city of Montreal, as most expected another routine knockout for one of the most devastating punchers in the sport.
And in the opening round, it appeared such modest expectations would be fulfilled. Midway through, a straight left to the jaw from the southpaw champion decked Fonfara, who got to his feet immediately and appeared unhurt. Despite this, Stevenson went on the attack, frantically seeking the knockout and expending much energy chasing Fonfara from one side of the ring to the other. Meanwhile, the knockdown overshadowed the fact that Fonfara had begun the fight in surprisingly aggressive fashion, pursuing Adonis behind a sharp jab and a sharper right hand.
But the chief difference between the two was raw power and while Fonfara had his moments in the competitive rounds that followed, “Superman” nullified the challenger’s effectiveness with thudding left hands which, as soon as they landed, put Fonfara on the defensive. And yet, while Stevenson scored another knockdown in round five, this time courtesy of a straight left to the body, there was no arguing the fact that Fonfara was displaying tremendous heart and toughness. In fact, one of the key traits of the match was Fonfara’s willingness to rumble and the fact that, despite Stevenson’s power advantage, it was the champion, not the challenger, who continually gave ground.
In round six another body punch hurt Fonfara and once again the end seemed near, but the challenger simply refused to lose, even sprinting from Stevenson at one point to give himself time to recover, and seconds later Fonfara was coming forward again and scoring with the jab. Despite the champion having won every round up to this point, there was no questioning Fonfara’s heart or the fact this was Stevenson’s toughest fight in years.
Things only got tougher as Stevenson began to tire and Fonfara’s unrelenting pressure took its toll. Having expended much energy attempting to force a stoppage in rounds one, five and six, “Superman” was slowing down. Round seven was fought on fairly even terms but the eighth belonged to the challenger as Stevenson threw fewer punches and Fonfara kept backing Adonis up, even forcing the champion to the ropes on more than one occasion and unloading some heavy shots. Then Fonfara shocked everyone when he decked an off-balance Stevenson with a stiff right hand in round nine. Briefly, the possibility of a momentous upset electrified the Montreal crowd. The champion clinched and held on as Fonfara pursued, though Stevenson appeared more exhausted than hurt.
In round ten, the champion rebounded nicely, finally doing what he should have done much earlier: get off the back foot and take the fight to his opponent. Using his power and physical strength to regain control, he forced Fonfara to retreat, his body punches, some of which strayed low, again putting the challenger on the defensive. The final two rounds saw a close-fought brawl with both men landing big shots and mugging for the crowd, which gave the fighters a standing ovation at the final bell. Despite Fonfara’s brave performance, the outcome was not in doubt and all three scorecards went to the champion.
While it was a clear-cut victory for Stevenson, there is no avoiding the fact that the boxer who exceeded expectations was Fonfara, while “Superman’s” vulnerability in rounds eight and nine gives fresh ammunition to those who dismiss him for ducking Kovalev and see him as the eventual loser should that match ever happen. Fonfara is a big, tough and willing light-heavyweight who figures to give anyone in the division a difficult night; thus it may become difficult for him to attract matches with the other top contenders in the division.
Meanwhile, Adonis said he injured his left hand in the bout, though the fact remains he never stopped throwing it and the guess here is it won’t interfere with future plans. Stevenson’s inexplicable obsession with Bernard Hopkins — possibly the main reason for his move to Showtime — makes the future Hall of Famer a likely opponent for the champion’s next defense. Hopkins remains a popular figure in Montreal after his showings against Jean Pascal a few years back, and in terms of big money and exposure, neither man will likely see a better offer. The bet Adonis is making is that not only can he succeed where Pascal failed, but that a win over the self-styled “Alien” will ensure an even bigger payday in an eventual showdown with Kovalev. It will be fascinating to see if the gamble pays off. — Michael Carbert