by Cliff Rold
For several years, Adonis Stevenson’s reign in the light heavyweight division was marked by questions about who he wasn’t fighting and then, later, inactivity.
Neither of those has been an issue in 2018. Making his second start in a calendar year for the first time since 2015, Stevenson held off a strong challenge from Badou Jack in May, hanging on to his crown in a memorable draw. Now he faces his WBC mandatory, one of the brightest new lights in the division. Oleksandr Gvodyk won the bronze for his native Ukraine at the 2012 Olympics.
Now he goes for the gold (Showtime, 7:45 PM EST PM EST).
While Gvodyk doesn’t have the experience Stevenson does as a pro, he’s a decade younger and has posted some solid victories on the road to this opportunity. Veterans Isaac Chilemba and Yunieski Gonzalez were good victories, the latter particularly impressive.
Neither man was Stevenson.
The Haitian-born Stevenson remains one of the game’s most devastating punchers. Does the southpaw champion extend his reign into 2019 or has Gvozdyk’s time arrived?
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: Lineal/TBRB/WBC light heavyweight (2013-present, 9 defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 174 ¼ lbs.
Hails from: Blainville, Quebec, Canada (Born in Haiti)
Record: 29-1-1, 24 KO, 1 KOBY?
Press Rankings: #1 (ESPN), #2 (Boxing Monthly, BoxRec), #3 (Ring)
Record in Major Title Fights: 9-0-1, 7 KO
Last Five Opponents: 128-16-6 (.873)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Chad Dawson KO1; Tavoris Cloud RTD7; Tony Bellew TKO6; Sakio Bika UD12; Badou Jack D12
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 174 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Kharkov, Ukraine
Record: 15-0, 12 KO (24-0, 15 KO including World Series of Boxing results)
Press Rankings: #5 (ESPN), #6 (Ring, BoxRec), #7 (TBRB, Boxing Monthly)
Record in Major Title Fights: 1stmajor title opportunity (1-0 in interim title fights)
Last Five Opponents: 119-17-5 (.862)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: None
The Case for Stevenson: Stevenson gives up height and youth but retains two advantages that have served him well for years. He’s the bigger puncher. That’s a given against almost anyone within a division of him. He’s also got an edge in reach. Stevenson has long arms and knows how to land his bombs from multiple angles. While Gvozdyk throws the straighter shots, Stevenson is good at getting in range, has a smart jab, and can be a nasty body puncher. Against Jack, his power and strength kept the challenger hesitant early and that allowed him to bank rounds he needed when Jack came on. Stevenson has proven he has tremendous will when called upon to show it. In the first fight with Andrzej Fonfara, he came back from a late knockdown to command the later rounds. Against Jack, he found the round he needed to secure a draw late in the fight. Gvozdyk will have to worry about Stevenson every second of the fight and Stevenson knows it. He has the confidence of a fighter who has been there and done that and an earned belief in his power. He also has less distance between this fight and his last than has been the case in years. That could mean a sharper Stevenson for Gvozdyk to contend with.
The Case for Gvozdyk: The Ukrainian is, like so many of his countrymen these days, a finely schooled boxer/puncher with a deep amateur background to draw on. He uses his feet well to create punching space and works well in combination. Against Stevenson, that could matter. Gvozdyk doesn’t just want to be first with one shot. When he has the chance to touch Stevenson he has to put shots together. Stevenson still has quick hands and power but against Jack his legs looked heavier. It sometimes took him longer to get in position to punch as the fight wore on. If Gvozdyk can counter effectively and keep Stevenson off balance, he reduces the threat from the bombs upstairs. Gvozdyk has the power to hurt Stevenson but he probably doesn’t want to stay in the trenches for extended time. While he is probably the sharper, straighter puncher, Stevenson likely will prove physically stronger at close quarters. If Gvozdyk can keep the right space between them, he’s got better chances to land, control the action, and potentially win the fight.
The Pick: Stevenson may be aging for a fighter but he didn’t look like an old fighter yet against Jack last time out. Gvozdyk isn’t as experienced as Jack and has never tasted the kind of power Stevenson has as a professional. There are reasons to like the champion to retain. The youth, counter punching, and power of the challenger represent a real threat to a Stevenson who isn’t as quick as he used to be and has always been hittable. Most reigns eventually end and Stevenson has thus far risen to every occasion. This feels like a changing of the guard with Gvozdyk being careful early before finding the holes he needs to make the older man’s legs act their age. The pick is Gvozdyk by stoppage.
Rold Picks 2018: 56-20 (Including Freshmart-Rojas)
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 protected]