By Keith Idec
Badou Jack took five-plus rounds to get going Saturday night.
Once the cautious challenger finally warmed up, survived the dangerous Adonis Stevenson’s early attack and let his hands go, Jack took the fight to the defending champion and had a lot of success throughout the second half of their 12-round, 175-pound championship match. It wasn’t enough, however, to take the WBC light heavyweight title from Stevenson at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Two judges – Italy’s Guido Cavalleri (114-114) and Buffalo’s Eric Marlinski (114-114) – scored their competitive clash even, which rendered it a majority draw. Judge Jesse Reyes, of Plano, Texas, scored the fight for Jack, 115-113.
The 40-year-old Stevenson (29-1-1, 24 KOs) retained his title in what unfolded as the most difficult defense of an often-criticized championship reign that has lasted nearly five years. The 34-year-old Jack settled for the third draw of his pro career (22-1-3, 13 KOs).
“Definitely, I won the fight because I hurt him in the body,” Stevenson told Showtime’s Jim Gray in the ring. “I hurt him in the body and he got slowed down. I kept the pressure on him. He was moving and moving – slick, slick – but I touched him more of the time and I think I won this fight.”
Five of Jack’s past six fights have resulted either in majority draws (three), a majority-decision win (one) or a split-decision victory (one). Of those three majority draws, one was changed to a disqualification win for Jack because Lucian Bute tested positive for a banned substance following their April 2016 bout in Washington, D.C.
“I thought I definitely won the fight, definitely won the fight,” Jack said. “Nobody’s complaining and no judge had him winning.”
Gray asked Jack why he thinks he continually competes in such close fights.
“I have no idea,” Jack said, before referring to his promoter, Floyd Mayweather Jr. “It could be they’re jealous of Floyd. I’m one of Floyd’s top fighters. Maybe they don’t like Floyd. Maybe they’re trying to – you know, I don’t know. To be honest, I don’t know. I’ve gotta thank God for everything. … I can’t do anything about it.”
Jack apparently paid for his slow start Saturday night.
“Maybe, yeah,” Jack said. “But he didn’t really hit me, either, so nothing happened. But it is what it is. I can’t do anything about it. But let’s do a rematch.”
Stevenson said he would grant Jack a rematch before Jack suggested it.
Moments earlier, Jack was the fresher fighter during the 12th round and tried to make sure judges wouldn’t be necessary.
Stevenson initiated clinches numerous times in those final three minutes, though, and survived to the final bell. An exhausted Stevenson seemed barely able to stand up as he held Jack over the final 10 seconds of the bout.
Stevenson viciously attacked Jack’s body early in the 11th round, after hurting Jack with a body shot late in the 10th round. Jack backpedaled, tried his best to survive that trouble and eventually got Stevenson’s attention by landing his straight right hand with about two minutes to go in the 11th round.
Stevenson struggled in the seventh, eighth and ninth rounds. He was losing the 10th round, too, before he hurt Jack with a straight left hand to the body that made Jack retreat late in it.
“I go to the body and I saw him a little fatigued,” Stevenson said. “And he moved and he tried to slick it, you know? I kept putting pressure on him, you know, but he’s slick, you know, so I feel I won this fight, you know? Badou is a two-time world champion and he’s a good fighter. But I feel I won the fight.”
Jack was the more active, accurate puncher again in the ninth round, his third straight successful round. Jack snapped back Stevenson’s head with a left uppercut with 32 seconds left in the ninth and added a right cross later in that round.
By then, Stevenson was bleeding from his nose and clearly was fatigued.
Referee Ian John Lewis called for a break in the action with 1:54 to go in the eighth round because Jack hit Stevenson low with a right hand, directly on Stevenson’s cup. Stevenson didn’t take much time to recover and Jack didn’t waste any time attacking him once the action resumed.
Jack landed a hard right hand to Stevenson’s head with just under two minutes to go in the seventh round. That shot made Stevenson move backward and enabled Jack to land a right hand to his body several seconds later.
Jack did by far his best work to that point of the fight in the seventh round, when Stevenson seemed to start tiring.
Stevenson started the sixth round firing hard shots at Jack, who drilled Stevenson with a counter right about 40 seconds into it after Stevenson hit him with several lefts and rights. Lewis warned Jack for landing a right hand below Stevenson’s belt just prior to the sixth round ending.
Jack and Stevenson spent almost all of the fifth round holding and wrestling for position, without landing many clean punches. Stevenson was able to land a couple left uppercuts in that round, but nothing that affected Jack.
After drilling Stevenson with a right to the body, Jack connected with a straight right hand to his head when there were 45 seconds left in the fourth round. Stevenson seemed to land a left hand after the bell sounded to end the fourth round.
Stevenson clipped Jack with a quick right hook just prior to the midway point in the third round. Stevenson tried to get to Jack’s body in the third round as well, but Jack protected himself well.
Jack grazed Stevenson with a counter right hand as Stevenson threw a left hand about 40 seconds into the second round. Stevenson landed a straight left hand with just over a minute remaining in the second round.
Jack carefully moved around the ring during the first round and largely kept his distance from Stevenson, who couldn’t find a home for the left hand he unleashed several times. Stevenson snuck in a short right hook to the side of Jack’s head just before the first round ended.
Eleven rounds later, the Haitian-born, Quebec-based Stevenson had made the ninth defense of the WBC 175-pound championship he won from Chad Dawson. Stevenson shockingly knocked out Dawson in the first round of their June 2013 fight at Bell Centre in Montreal.
Sweden’s Jack was the best opponent Stevenson has fought since winning that title nearly five years ago. He had been scrutinized before battling Jack for avoiding elite light heavyweights, most notably Sergey Kovalev, and settling for beating less imposing opponents during his championship reign.
Prior to Saturday night, his first eight title defenses were recorded against Tavoris Cloud, Tony Bellew, Andrzej Fonfara, Dmitry Sukhotskiy, Sakio Bika, Tommy Karpency, Thomas Williams Jr. and Fonfara in a rematch.
Before settling for his draw with Jack, Stevenson hadn’t fought in nearly a year, not since stopping Fonfara in the second round of their rematch June 3 at Bell Centre in Montreal.
Though he didn’t win Saturday night, Jack is unbeaten in eight fights (6-0-2) since Derek Edwards upset him by first-round technical knockout in February 2014. Edwards caught Jack cold, dropped him with a right hand just 32 seconds into their fight, floored him once more and their scheduled 10-round was stopped after just 61 seconds of action.
The Las Vegas resident went on to win the WBC world super middleweight and WBA world light heavyweight titles after Edwards defeated him. He gave up the version of the WBA 175-pound championship he won from Wales’ Nathan Cleverly (30-4, 16 KOs) in his last fight, August 26 in Las Vegas, for an opportunity to challenge Stevenson.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.