by Cliff Rold
A lot of things can happen in twelve rounds.
Even more can happen in the three years since.
In May 2014, Andrzej Fonfara was riding a near six-year winning streak. It included impressive victories over former titlists Byron Mitchell, Glen Johnson, and Gabriel Campillo. All were considered past their best when Fonfara got to them. An earlier knockout loss to Derrick Findley had him perceived as a sizable underdog challenging Adonis Stevenson for the light heavyweight crown.
Early on, the underdog label looked more than fair. Stevenson had Fonfara down in the first and fifth and nearly again in the sixth. Fonfara wouldn’t fold and kept fighting back until resistance became a rally. Fonfara dropped Stevenson in the ninth and a tired champion looked like he was ready to go.
Instead, in one of the gutsiest moments of his career, Stevenson found a second wind and took the momentum back down the stretch to retain the title. It was a heck of a light heavyweight fight, if not one calling for an immediate sequel.
Now we arrive in 2017 (Showtime, 9 PM EST/6 PM PST) and a rematch that is a surprise. Stevenson has defended four more times since the first encounter, the most memorable of those a war with Thomas Williams last year. Fonfara is 4-1 over the same time period with strong wins over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Nathan Cleverly, and Chad Dawson and a shocking first round loss to Joe Smith Jr.
Fonfara’s chin remains vulnerable early. Stevenson is months away from age forty. Can they exceed expectations together one more time?
Let’s go to the report card.
Title/Previous Titles: Lineal World/TBRB/WBC Light Heavyweight (2012-Present, 7 Defenses)
Weight: 173 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Longueuil, Quebec, Canada (Born in Haiti)
Record: 28-1, 24 KO, 1 KOBY
Record in Major Title Fights: 8-0, 5 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Chad Dawson KO1; Tavoris Cloud RTD7; Sakio Bika UD12
Title/Previous Titles: None
Weight: 174 ¼ lbs.
Hails from: Chicago, Illinois (Born in Poland)
Record: 29-4, 17 KO, 2 KOBY, 1 No Contest
Rankings: #9 (BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 0-1
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Byron Mitchell TKO3; Glen Johnson UD10; Gabriel Campillo KO9; Adonis Stevenson L12;
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’s loss to Smith last year is the sort to make his chances here look smaller than they are. Fonfara has shown now, throughout his career, he is a fighter vulnerable early and against Smith he may not have been as wary as needed. He’ll respect Stevenson from jump. When he gets out of the early rounds, and warmed up, he’s a handful for anyone. One could argue he’s faced stiffer competition since the first Stevenson fight.
Fonfara keeps his hands in place and uses a steady jab to offset average speed. He goes to the body but is best straight down the middle, looking for the right hand behind the lead. He’ll need his defense to be tight early
Stevenson too can be vulnerable. Fonfara showed it the first time. Williams showed it last year. He rocked Stevenson badly. Neither found the kill shot to end his reign. Stevenson is better than his critics like to admit. His failure to fully capitalize, in the ring if not at the bank, in recent years against the best foes out there doesn’t mean he’s not a bad man. For a single shot, he’s still one of boxing’s best punchers.
Even nearing forty, the evidence says he’s also one of the quickest fighters in the class. With long arms to go with it, he can reach fighters from odd angles from the southpaw stance and retains the ability to end any fight in an instant.
Stevenson’s heart in the ring is underrated. He doesn’t shy away from a fight. He dug deep against Fonfara the first time and against Williams last year. If this turns into a dogfight, he’s got experience to draw on. Does he have the legs?
At some point, Stevenson’s age and relative inactivity are going to catch up. This is his first fight in nearly a year and Williams was his first fight in ten months before that. How long can he go on playing part time fighter and counting on superior athleticism to bail him out if things get hot? Do we find out on Saturday?
The first time they fought, this corner viewed it as a much closer fight than most of the rest of the boxing world. The same is true this time around, predicated on the same factors: if Fonfara doesn’t get blasted out early, he eventually gives Stevenson hell. Fonfara is a fighter who gets stronger, and takes a shot better, as a fight progresses. He’s fundamentally sound and has heavy hands, all things with the potential to wear away at Stevenson if the fight extends. Will it extend? The history of rematches says the better man usually wins more decisively the second time around. Fonfara had his chance and couldn’t finish. He barely got to the rounds he needed last time. An upset is possible but it’s tough not to stick with the more likely outcome. The pick is Stevenson by stoppage.
Report Card Picks 2017: 16-9
The Showtime undercard has more important action at light heavyweight…Eleider Alvarez (22-0, 11 KO) is on the verge of an overdue mandatory crack at the Stevenson-Fonfara winner. The likely last obstacle is former light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal (31-4-1, 18 KO). Pascal has lost two of his last four and it probably should have been three. Look for Alvarez to push Pascal towards thoughts of retirement with a decision win.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com