By Cliff Rold
Adonis Stevenson always made it clear he was more interested in a showdown with Bernard Hopkins than he was in a puncher’s duel with Sergey Kovalev. Now working with ‘advisor’ Al Haymon, and under the Showtime banner, Stevenson is likely just a win away from getting what he wanted.
Andrzej Fonfara has a chance to upset the apple cart.
The Polish-born fighter has built a solid fan base in his adopted home of Chicago, laudably packing in a solid crowd at the Chicago White Sox’s ballpark last summer. He’s also built his body out from a gangly Middleweight to a stout Light Heavyweight over the last six years. Unbeaten in sixteen fights, including a knockout win turned No Contest for a positive steroid test in 2009, Fonfara earned his shot with wins over Glen Johnson and Gabriel Campillo in his last four starts.
Stevenson isn’t the faded veteran Johnson was. He hits a hell of a lot harder, and faster, than Campillo. The champion is favored. Are the odds right?
Let’s go the report cards.
Title/Previous Titles: Lineal World/TBRB/Ring/WBC Light Heavyweight (2012-Present, 2 Defenses)
Weight: 173.5 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 172.45 lbs.
Hails from: Longueuil, Quebec, Canada (Born in Haiti)
Record: 23-1, 20 KO, 1 KOBY
Record in Major Title Fights: 3-0, 3 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 2 (Chad Dawson KO1; Tavoris Cloud RTD7)
Title/Previous Titles: None
Weight: 174.5 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 174.35 lbs.
Hails from: Chicago, Illinois (Born in Poland)
Record: 25-2, 15 KO, 1 KOBY, 1 NO Contest
Rankings: #5 (BoxingScene, TBRB), #9 (BoxRec), #10 (Ring)
Record in Major Title Fights: 1st Title Opportunity
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 3 (Byron Mitchell TKO3; Glen Johnson UD10; Gabriel Campillo KO9)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Stevenson A-; Fonfara B-
Pre-Fight: Power – Stevenson A; Fonfara B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Stevenson B; Fonfara B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Stevenson B+; Fonfara B
Fonfara enters the fight with a height advantage but his style isn’t likely to make it an issue. Fonfara keeps a high, tight guard and often engages at close range. He counters well out of that posture, a way to compensate for less than stellar handspeed. Stevenson, who also looks to counter, works the ring better and may find Fonfara coming to him.
That favors the champion.
Stevenson’s power is clear. The one shot stoppage of Chad Dawson for the title was plenty of evidence of that. He’s one of the best power punchers in boxing right now. He has long arms, explosive speed, and his boxing ability continues to evolve. His performance against Tavoris Cloud in his first defense was a technical and physical schooling.
The champion will be perceived as more experienced, but is that really the case? Fight for fight, he and Fonfara aren’t far apart. Beating Campillo might be no more or less impressive than beating Cloud, especially considering how badly scored Campillo’s alleged ‘loss’ to Cloud was. The big gap between them, in terms of opposition quality, is Dawson.
There is a chance that Stevenson, a choice in many corners for Fighter of the Year in 2013, is getting a little overrated. That question is a work in progress (and isn’t it most of the time with anyone?)
There are other questions as well. Fonfara isn’t showing any fear in the build to the fight and gives every outward appearance that he’s coming to win. Is he mentally strong enough for the task? Is there any chance Stevenson will be distracted by renewed discussion late in the week, fueled by a troubling piece at Grantland, about his violent past as a sex trafficker?
Fonfara, conversely to Stevenson, may be a little underrated. Less athletic, he’s learned his craft and fights within himself. His lone stoppage loss, in 2008 to Derrick Findley, came at Middleweight. At 6’2, he may have outgrown the division. He never fought there again.
The knockout losses of Stevenson and Fonfara are similar. Both were stopped in the second by journeyman types with big punches early in their careers, if in different fashion. Findley overwhelmed Fonfara. Stevenson was caught with a monster shot by Darnell Boone (later avenged).
For what parallels one can draw, the onus is still on Fonfara to prove he belongs. For all there is to like about him, big disadvantages in speed and power are, well, big disadvantages.
Fonfara's chances are viewed here as better than the odds. He's steady and can crack a little; he’s a legitimate top ten contender. Stevenson seems to react a little funny when he gets touched. Both have question marks about their chins still. It’s probably a bigger issue for Fonfara who hasn’t been caught by anyone like Stevenson before or since his lone stoppage loss. Fonfara has less in terms of sheer power and speed, and his game in less diverse. If it’s a game of who lands first, the edge goes to Stevenson. If Fonfara can avoid the big shot early, and chip away, the long game could work in his favor. An upset wouldn’t be a big shock, but it likely takes a perfect fight from the challenger. If it gets into the second half, Fonfara is live. The nod here is for Stevenson to put him away before Fonfara can get there.
Report Card Picks 2014: 23-8
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]