By Lem Satterfield
It was early 2014, and the stage appeared to be set for a monster 175-pound unification supremacy clash on HBO between Haitian-born Canadian southpaw Adonis “Superman” Stevenson and Russian Sergey “The Krusher” Kovalev.
Stevenson was coming off his second WBC title defense and 10th straight stoppage victory in November 2013 at the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City, Canada, represented by a sixth-round TKO of future cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew that raised his record to 23-1 with 20 knockouts.
On the same card, Kovalev scored his seventh straight stoppage and 11th in 12 fights via second-round TKO over Ismayle Sillah. "The Krusher” then improved to 24-0-1 (22 KOs) in March 2014, scoring three knockdowns during his second defense and seventh-round KO of previously unbeaten Cedric Agnew.
Stevenson was 13-1, with 13 knockouts in 14 fights since being stopped in the second round by Darnell Boone in April 2010. “Superman” had gone 4-0 In 2013, in succession stopping Boone, champions Chad Dawson and Tavoris Cloud and Bellew in the sixth, first, seventh and sixth rounds.
Dawson was a title-winning 76-second knockout in June of that year, and Cloud was stopped for the first time in his career that September.
But the Stevenson-Kovalev clash never materialized.
Stevenson took "a better financial offer" from rival Showtime to fight in May 2014 against Andrzej Fonfara, whom he floored once each in the third and fifth rounds before rising from the deck himself in the ninth of his unanimous decision victory.
On Saturday, the 41-year-old Stevenson (29-1-1, 24 KOs) pursues his 10th defense and seventh knockout during that time against Ukrainian Oleksander Gvozdyk (15-0, 12 KOs) at Centre Videotron in Quebec City on Showtime (7:45 ET/ 4:45 PT).
“Superman” is boxing’s oldest and reigning champion, having gone 16-0-1 with 14 KOs since losing to Boone, 9-0-1 with seven KOs in championship bouts. He desires unifications with counterparts Artur Beterbiev (IBF), Dmitry Bivol (WBA) and Eleider Alvarez (WBO).
“I have no regrets. I’ve made all the right moves,” said Stevenson, who signed with powerful advisor, Al Haymon, in February 2014.“I’m financially stable and I could retire right now if I wanted to, but I’m still hungry to train hard and motivated to be the best.”
The 35-year-old Kovalev (32-3-1, 28 KOS), meanwhile, is a twice dethroned former IBF/WBA/WBO champion, having gone 2-3 in his past five fights with two each in stoppage wins and knockout losses.
Kovalev was 30-0-1 (26 KOs) with eight title defenses and stoppages against 10 of 12 previous opponents before suffering consecutive losses to two-division champion Andre Ward in November 2016 and June 2017.
The now retired Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) rose from 168-pounds for his third and fourth appearances at 175 pounds. “SOG” was dropped in the second round of his unanimous decision victory in their first fight, but more decisively took their second by eighth-round TKO.
Kovalev rebounded in November 2017 and March with consecutive second- and seventh-round TKOs of Vyacheslav Shbranskyy and Igor Mikhalkin, earning the WBO’s vacant crown with the former and defending it with the latter.
But Kovalev was dethroned once again in August by Eleider lvarez (24-0, 12 KOs), whose seventh-round knockout ended with three, final-round knockdowns.
“Kovalev was basically done after being knocked out in his rematch with Andre Ward,” said Stevenson. “It was like he was mentally and physically shot, and Alvarez did it to him again.”
Stevenson points to his victory over Bellew as proof of his substantial resume.
Not only has Bellew scored back-to-back 11th- and fifth-round KOs of former heavyweight champion David Haye in March and May, but lost by come-from-behind eighth-round stoppage on November 10 to unified, four-belt cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk.
“When I beat Tony Bellew, they said it was nothing. But when the Ukrainian, Usyk, beats Bellew, all of a sudden it’s a big deal and, ‘this is a big champion.'…So now Usyk is a monster and he’s unbeatable…one of the best fighters, pound-for-pound. But, hey, when I beat Tony Bellew, that was a young, hungry Tony Bellew,” said Stevenson.
“Usyk beat an old Tony Bellew, and, still, when they fought, Bellew was winning the fight before Uysk knocked him out. I thought Tony Bellew was dominating the fight, but when I fought Bellew, he couldn’t win one round. And then, I destroyed Tony Bellew, easily. So the Tony Bellew who fought Usyk was not on the same level as the guy who fought me. So this is another hype job.”
Stevenson strives to continue proving he’s not over the hill but rather still king of it. His eighth defense was his swiftest in June 2017, a one-knockdown, first-round stoppage in his Fonfara rematch.
But in his last fight in May, Stevenson battled to a draw with two-division champion Badou Jack.
“There were some people who thought I was gonna lose that fight with Badou Jack,” said Stevenson. “But I showed that even though I’m 41 years old, I’m still ‘The Superman.’My goal is to unify and to become the undisputed champion, but first, I have to beat Gvozdyk.”