By Cliff Rold
It was one of those fights where a lot of thing seemed possible. From an early knockout to an upset, there were enough variables to make multiple options possible. The excellent fight we got showed that off to a tee. We almost got an early knockout. We almost got an upset.
We got one of the best Light Heavyweight Championship fights in the last few years.
There were question marks about both men going in, and not a huge gap between them in who they had faced and defeated along the way. From jump, many saw Andrej Fonfara as a big underdog. Lineal/WBV champion Adonis Stevenson’s big 2013, and honors like ‘Fighter of the Year’ in some corners, obscured that we still had almost as much to learn about him as the challenger.
In the end, the champion retained and did it by digging deep when he had to. We haven’t’ heard the last of the challenger.
Let’s go the report cards.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Stevenson A-; Fonfara B-/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Stevenson A; Fonfara B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Defense – Stevenson B; Fonfara B/Post: B; B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Stevenson B+; Fonfara B/Post: A; A-
The cliché, often true, is speed kills. It almost did Fonfara in twice, to the head in the first and body in the fifth. Timing and defense can mitigate speed and Fonfara made excellent adjustments in spots to keep himself in the fight. While he never got away from the left hand, his defense against the shot got better and when he got caught, he moved his gloves and elbows around to try to stop it from happening again.
Fonfara could easily have been overwhelmed early. He had more ring character than that. By the end of twelve, fans had a display of ring character from both battlers. Beginning in round seven, Stevenson’s mouth could be seen wide open. He was running out of gas, a combination of exhaustion from big punching and Fonfara continuing to chip away at him. He may have been pitching a shutout in the first half.
Fonfara was putting together a shutout in the second half. Dropping Stevenson in nine, the challenger looked like he might be on is way to a big finish. He pushed. He could have pushed harder. Perhaps the bodywork Stevenson applied all night took too much out of him to go for an all out assault.
Maybe Fonfara was being patient, thinking he had his man with three rounds to go.
Whatever it was, he’ll wonder forever if he let it slip away. Going back to the body, Stevenson dug deep, found a second wind, and won rounds ten and eleven to stem the tide and insure he left as champion. The final round saw bombast and bombs at times from both men, Fonfara going a little harder while Stevenson held in spots. It was solid finish to a solid affair.
One day, it might be worthy of a rematch. Fonfara validated his place as a serious top ten contender. He can continue to sell tickets in Chicago and after another solid win or two can be right back in the title picture. If it were possible to match him with WBO titlist Sergey Kovalev in the near future, it would be a wise move for both parties. Kovalev would have a chance to ‘comparison’ compete with his rival, Stevenson. Fonfara would just have another chance.
For Stevenson, while the hardcore heads want Kovalev (and they should), all signs point to a clash with unified titlist Bernard Hopkins. That’s fine. Hopkins, as an elder statesman continuing to beat the top ten of this time, can get his crack first. If he wins, it’s another for the history books.
If Stevenson wins, Kovalev will likely still be there. Whether Stevenson is still deferring to Al Haymon then or not remains to be seen.
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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]