by David P. Greisman
Absolute power captivates almost absolutely. It is compelling, even if it is not always convincing. And so those with power will have many of us watching as they make their opponents fall, while the rest of us will be watching and waiting for the day on which they fail.
And all will fail eventually, when matchmaking and fate finally deliver them to someone who is skilled enough to avoid their power, or steeled enough to take it.
That won’t stop us from watching in the interim.
It’s been true with middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin, who has picked up steam as he’s steamrolled his opposition. His ratings on HBO have grown over the course of 14 months and four fights on the network (plus a YouTube friendly knockout in a fifth bout that aired elsewhere), all as he’s being built up for an eventual shot at champion Sergio Martinez.
And it is true with lineal light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson and fellow 175-pound world titleholder Sergey Kovalev. They shared the spotlight this past Saturday night for two reasons — because they are riveting for fans while damaging to foes, and because their separate matches at the Colisée Pepsi in Quebec City were seen as a prelude to a future collision.
“Superman” Stevenson vs. “Crusher” Kovalev isn’t necessary the unstoppable force against the immovable object. Rather, it’s power vs. power, knockout artist vs. knockout artist, a man with 20 knockouts in 23 wins (Stevenson) against a man with 21 knockouts in 23 victories (Kovalev).
It is the light heavyweight version of James Kirkland vs. Alfredo Angulo, though at a higher level.
It is not happening just yet.
It should happen, though, so long as HBO gets what it’s been paying for — what it’s been investing in. No publisher would commission the first 75 percent of a story without also receiving the gripping finale. There shouldn’t be any doubt, then, that Stevenson-Kovalev is what the network wants.
We’d already wanted it as well. And Saturday’s performances only further fueled our collective desire.
Kovalev opened the show against Ismayl Sillakh, a 6-foot-3 light heavyweight originally from the Ukraine, long since living and training in the United States, and a respectable challenger with one loss on his record. That defeat came about a year and a half ago, against a prospect named Denis Grachev, when Grachev hurt Sillakh suddenly with a right hand and proceeded to hammer away for the eighth-round technical knockout. Sillakh had since regained his confidence with four bouts against limited opposition. He came into the ring on Saturday looking to upset the proverbial apple cart.
Sillakh sought to use movement at the outset, circling around Kovalev, darting in with quick shots and then bouncing back away. Kovalev continued to stalk, confident that he would soon land — and confident in what him landing would do. Sillakh proceeded to deliver himself directly, and literally, into Kovalev’s hands.
Sillakh thought he could dodge and counter and hit Kovalev before Kovalev could strike back. Thirty seconds into the second round, though, Sillakh jumped in with a lead left hook. Kovalev moved forward and out of its path, all while lacing a right hand over Sillakh’s left, landing it behind Sillakh’s ear and toward the back of his head. That shot discombobulated Sillakh, and Kovalev followed up with a left forearm that put Sillakh down and brought blood from his nose.
Sillakh rose at the count of three and took the referee’s mandatory eight count, pawing at his nose and occasionally turning his head slightly to the left to eye Kovalev, who stood in the neutral corner, ready to pounce. The referee wiped Sillakh’s gloves on his shirt and motioned him forward toward the center of the ring.
This referee was Marlon Wright, who’d been heavily criticized for his officiating five years ago in the first bout between super middleweights Lucian Bute and Librado Andrade. On that night, Wright had seemed overly preoccupied with Andrade after Andrade scored a last-round, last-minute knockdown on Bute. He warned Andrade about coming out of the neutral corner, delaying his count on Bute and allowing Bute more time to recover and make it to the final bell.
Wright was on the opposite end of the spectrum this time. The Association of Boxing Commissions advises referees that boxers “are to go to a neutral corner after scoring a knockdown and are not to leave until they are called out.” After the eight count finished, but before Wright ordered the action to resume, Kovalev was already out of the neutral corner and had closed the distance between himself and Sillakh.
As Wright moved out of the way, Kovalev was like a horse charging out of the gate, shuffling a few steps forward and landing a big right hand that sent Sillakh toppling downward, plus a couple of lefts for good measure. Sillakh was deposited in a heap underneath the ropes and on the edge of the canvas. The bout was over, and Sillakh nearly toppled out of the ring as he struggled to get back up.
The end would’ve come quite soon anyway, even had Wright performed his duties diligently. Kovalev was too much for Sillakh and made it look too easy.
Doubters will rightly point out that Sillakh’s chin was suspect, noting his loss to Grachev. The majority of those watching this past Saturday did not see that Grachev fight, however, and do not care. They only know what they saw, which was Kovalev destroying Sillakh. They also know what they heard, which was Kovalev calling out Stevenson.
“I’m ready for Adonis Stevenson,” Kovalev said. “I’m ready for any champion in my division.”
Stevenson was up next.
His opponent was Tony Bellew, a British contender who had earned a mandatory shot at Stevenson earlier in the year, and whose lone blemishes on his 20-1-1 record were a majority decision loss two years ago to then-titleholder Nathan Cleverly (whom Kovalev dethroned earlier in 2013), and a draw with Isaac Chilemba (whom Bellew beat in a rematch).
Bellew, like Sillakh, is 6-foot-3. He saw the shorter Stevenson as a power-puncher who preferred to use his heavy hands for counter punches. And so he moved around the ring in the opening rounds, forcing Stevenson to come forward.
Bellew wasn’t landing much to deter Stevenson, though, and Stevenson soon adjusted. In the third round, he targeted southpaw left crosses to Bellew’s stomach. That, in turn, set up hard punches to the head. Stevenson launched what appeared to be body shots, and Bellew reacted by pulling his elbows tight to protect his abdomen. Stevenson’s left had nothing to stop it except for Bellew’s head, which bobbled backward.
Stevenson is smarter than a one-dimensional power-puncher, and he’s continuing to improve under the tutelage of Javon “Sugar” Hill, the nephew of the late, great Emanuel Steward, with whom Stevenson previously trained.
His intelligence was evident in the final sequences of the sixth round.
About a minute and 17 seconds in, Stevenson threw a right jab, which led to Bellew throwing a counter left hook. But Stevenson moved in with a hard left hand, a combination of a cross and an uppercut that hit Bellew’s chin flush and put him on the mat. Bellew got up, took the referee’s count, and then moved from one set of ropes to another, trying to fend Stevenson off.
Stevenson feinted and moved forward. Bellew began to circle away and to his left, holding his right arm diagonally across his chest, placing his right glove on his own left shoulder, and ducking his head down and away so as to protect himself. Stevenson then threw what appeared to be a right hook, but one that was less of a punch and had more of a sweeping motion, pulling Bellew’s glove out of the way and opening up room for the left cross that followed.
Bellew’s legs stiffened, and he wobbled sideways into the blue corner. Stevenson jumped in and landed another left hand to his defenseless opponent’s head, forcing the referee to halt the bout.
It was another good win for Stevenson, who can easily look back at 2013 as being the best year of his career. In March, he’d knocked out tough journeyman Darnell Boone, who’d scored a stunning knockout of Stevenson three years before. In June, Stevenson took a big step up in level of competition, floored Chad Dawson in the opening round with one left hand, and became the light heavyweight champion. In September, Stevenson battered former titleholder Tavoris Cloud.
Kovalev also won four times in 2013, also all by knockout, beating Gabriel Campillo in three rounds in January, Cornelius White in three rounds in June, Cleverly in four rounds in August, and Sillakh in two rounds this past weekend.
They seem destined for each other. Kovalev wants Stevenson, first and foremost. Stevenson doesn’t oppose the idea, though he prefers other opponents first.
“I don’t have a problem [with facing Kovalev] if HBO put the money, but the fans of Quebec City want Carl Froch or Bernard Hopkins,” Stevenson told HBO’s Max Kellerman in a post-fight interview.
“Kovalev is a good fight, too. I don’t have a problem with Kovalev,” he said, but he noted that fans in his province know Froch (who beat local star Lucian Bute) and Hopkins (who beat local star Jean Pascal).
Stevenson’s promoter, speaking to BoxingScene’s Jake Donovan, said the other preferred options include super middleweight champion Andre Ward, as well as Pascal and Bute, who are scheduled to face each other in January.
Stevenson’s preference for more lucrative pairings wouldn’t be a surprise from the mouth of any fighter. It’s particularly understandable in his case. He’s 36 years old, a pro boxer with just seven years under his belt, a man who had a rough upbringing and a criminal past and who is only now beginning to attain the fame and fortune commensurate with stardom.
He wants his appearances to be worth it. After all, nearly everyone fails eventually.
We’ll still watch Stevenson in the interim. We’ll watch Kovalev as well. Their power is captivating, after all.
Yet we’d prefer to watch them face each other. Their pairing would be a combustible one. Stevenson, the champion, would be seeking to hold onto his power. Kovalev, the challenger, would be seeking to take it.
It is a promise of violence, fun for however long it lasts — if it lasts long at all.
The 10 Count
1. Just in time for the holidays, my first book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is now available digitally as an eBook in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, the EuroZone, Mexico, Brazil, India and Japan, as well as in print form in some of those countries.
It’s a compilation of 63 of my best features and columns between 2007 and 2012, articles that held up well with time and are just as entertaining to read now.
All books are in English. It can be found in the U.S. at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon , in the U.K. at http://amzn.to/11mYGZI , and can be found on other countries’ Amazon sites by searching “Fighting Words” and “Greisman.” Or if you don’t want to search, a full listing of Amazon links can be found at http://tl.gd/n_1rsgq6d
With that done, let’s move away from the shameless self-promotion and on to boxing news.
2. If it seems that various boxing media and fans took some pleasure in seeing Paul Spadafora lose on Saturday, it’s because his comeback had been seen as a charade, and the defeat means the charade may finally be over.
Spadafora’s best years were long ago; his world title reign at lightweight lasted from 1999 to 2003. He went to prison in 2004, and continued to have legal problems over the years. His comeback began in 2006, but it included limited activity and numerous extended layoffs.
His comeback began when he was 31. He’s now 38, and though he’d not yet lost a fight before this past Saturday, he hadn’t exactly been facing top-notch opposition during the past seven years.
All this talk about who Spadafora could contend with was premature, and any talk of Spadafora’s sparring session with Floyd Mayweather more than a decade ago, a session in which he got the better of Mayweather, was overstated way back then and was even less applicable now.
In the end, people began to dislike Spadafora in a similar manner to the way they dislike Andre Berto — it was more about the hype and the marketing behind him.
If Spadafora wants to continue to draw very good crowds from Western Pennsylvania and in nearby West Virginia, then more power to him. The more healthy local boxing scenes there are, the better. And if Spadafora wants to continue his comeback and make one more run at contending for a world title, that’s also fine.
I do feel for the guy — after all the trouble in his life, he was seeking to make money and make something of himself. The fight with Johan Perez was for the World Boxing Association’s interim title at 140 pounds. A win might’ve earned him a shot at “regular” beltholder Khabib Allakhverdiev, though not yet at “super” beltholder Danny Garcia.
3. Among the silliness that was the pre-fight marketing for Spadafora-Perez — besides the claim that Spadafora was “one of the most riveting comeback stories in professional sports history” — was the erroneous claim that Spadafora was about to break a record set by Rocky Marciano.
Marciano, of course, retired at 49-0.
Spadafora, going into Saturday, was 48-0-1.
Except here’s the thing: Marciano’s record came with him being heavyweight champion. Others have won more without a blemish.
Just to name a few:
The legendary Willie Pep was 62-0 before losing to Sammy Angott, according to BoxRec.com.
Jimmy Wilde had 93 wins and, depending on your source, one or two draws, before he lost to Tancy Lee.
Yory Boy Campas was 56-0 before he ran into Felix Trinidad.
Heck, heavyweight Brian Nielsen was 49-0 before losing to Dicky Ryan — but Nielsen wasn’t heavyweight champion at the time.
4. What a tough evening Saturday must’ve been for Roy Jones — not Jones the fighter, nor Jones the HBO commentator, but rather Jones in his role as promoter.
Shortly before 11:30 p.m. Eastern Time that night, one of his fighters, Paul Spadafora, lost a majority decision.
Less than half an hour later, Jones sat ringside in Quebec City and saw another one of his guys, Ismayl Sillakh, get bombed out.
5. What a ridiculously great boxing week we’re about to have — and it’s not just Saturday night’s quadrupleheader on Showtime and tripleheader on HBO.
On Tuesday in Japan, a tripleheader will feature two of the three fighting Kamedas (115-pounder Daiki in a title unification bout against Liborio Solis, as well as 118-pounder Tomoki defending his belt against Immanuel Naidjala). The third title fight on that card involves 105-pound titleholder Katsunari Takayama against Vergilio Silvano.
On Friday evening, American audiences can catch a “ShoBox” tripleheader, as well as a cruiserweight title fight on ESPN3.com featuring the spellcheck-busting duo of Krzysztof Wlodarczyk and Giacobbe Fragomeni. Overseas that same night is a highly anticipated bout between flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi and well-regarded challenger Edgar Sosa. And in Australia, longtime featherweight titleholder Chris John is scheduled to defend against Simpiwe Vetyeka.
And then there’s Saturday, which has the aforementioned HBO and Showtime broadcasts, plus multiple other shows, including the middleweight title bout between Darren Barker and Felix Sturm, along with other cards, should your appetite not be fully sated, on the UniMas network and in Britain.
I hope you hadn’t planned on doing any Christmas shopping this weekend…
6. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Former heavyweight titleholder Herbie Hide has been sentenced to 22 months behind bars for conspiring to supply cocaine, according to BBC News.
Hide pleaded guilty last month. He’d been accused of arranging for an undercover reporter from tabloid newspaper The Sun.
The reporter posed as a wealthy man and “talked of a lack of good quality cocaine in the Norwich area, but Hide offered to get some,” the BBC article said. “He arranged for [another defendant] to obtain four grams of cocaine worth £400, which he then handed over to the reporter.”
The 42-year-old was 49-4 with 43 knockouts. He held a heavyweight world title twice during the ‘90s — losing it to Riddick Bowe in 1995 and Vitali Klitschko in 1999 — and had continued to box at or around cruiserweight over the past several years. His last bout was in April 2010.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly: Sticking with British boxers getting in legal trouble over alleged cocaine distribution, there’s junior middleweight Steve O’Meara, who was arrested last week and accused of being part of a drug smuggling ring, according to the Daily Star.
The arrest came after police found 25 kilograms, or more than 55 pounds, of the drug. O’Meara’s been “charged with conspiracy to import and supply class A drugs,” the article said.
O’Meara turned pro in 2008 and has a record of 17-3 (5 KOs), according to BoxRec.com. His last bout came in April, a six-round points win over some dude named Chas Symonds.
8. Paul Spadafora lost a majority decision. Jeff Lacy scored a third-round technical knockout. Shane Mosley lost on a doctor’s stoppage after six rounds. Antonio Tarver took his opponent out in the fourth round. And Bronco McKart won in five.
No, this isn’t a “This Week in History” entry from 2003. This was last week.
9. In 2003, Paul Spadafora was a lightweight world titleholder who defended his belt with seven wins, followed by a highly enjoyable draw with Leonard Dorin.
In 2013, the 38-year-old’s extended comeback brought his first pro loss in his first true step up, this one coming in a 140-pound interim title bout against Johan Perez.
In 2003, Jeff Lacy was a super middleweight prospect powering through his opponents and working his way toward a title shot.
In 2013, the 36-year-old returned to the ring for the first time in three years, this time as a light heavyweight. He was coming off a 2010 loss to journeyman Dhafir Smith, a 2009 stoppage loss to Roy Jones Jr., a 2008 decision loss to Jermain Taylor. His loss to Joe Calzaghe was in March 2006, nearly eight years ago.
In 2003, Shane Mosley beat Oscar De La Hoya for the second time, this one coming with controversy but also installing him as the true 154-pound champion — that is, until he met Winky Wright months later.
In 2013, Mosley is a 42-year-old man who went to Australia for a payday against junior middleweight Anthony Mundine, had to call it quits because of back spasms, and has only won once since his 2009 win over Antonio Margarito, which was nearly five years ago.
In 2003, Antonio Tarver captured his first world title at light heavyweight and then went on to lose a hard-fought battle with Roy Jones Jr. in what would become the first installment of a trilogy.
In 2013, the 45-year-old returned from a yearlong suspension after testing positive for a banned substance, coming back as a 221-pound heavyweight against a 21-15-1 opponent named Mike Sheppard.
In 2003, Bronco McKart was already seven years removed from his lone world title win, and he had just come off his third loss in his trilogy with Winky Wright. That year, he lost a decision to Verno Phillips before knocking out a designated opponent.
In 2013, McKart is 42 years old, fighting between middleweight and super middleweight, and one wonders if he’s hoping to entice Wright to come back for a fourth match.
10. My bald head reminds me that I, too, am not what I once was. Nevertheless, in solidarity with Spadafora, Lacy, Mosley, Tarver and McKart, I’m also going to live like it was 10 years ago, and start dating college girls again…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or on Amazon U.K. at http://amzn.to/11mYGZI . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]