by Cliff Rold
An old-timer cliché, paraphrased from various forms, goes like this: a fighter doesn’t really learn their craft until they lose.
In this era of more tightly managed careers, losses aren’t often seen as the same sort of necessary building block. Fighters don’t fight enough to be able to afford them.
That doesn’t mean they don’t have their value.
Both Adonis Stevenson and Badou Jack were ‘exposed’ on their way up the ladder, suffering early knockout losses to big punching journeyman. Stevenson hasn’t lost again since 2010 and later returned the knockout favor to Darnell Boon. Jack never got even with Derek Edwards but he hasn’t lost again since their fateful February 2014 encounter. In all those years since, Jack’s done nothing but get better while making a habit of facing men near the top of what are now two competitive classes.
Dating to his super middleweight title winning upset of Anthony Dirrell, Stevenson represents Jack’s sixth straight against a current, former, or future major titlist. None of the men he’s faced have the talent, or electric power, of Stevenson.
Stevenson has received plenty of criticism about his less than super opposition in the last four years, not to mention his seeming reluctance to fight at all. Part of that criticism is because he displays talent, and can deliver excitement, in a way that makes it feel like a waste. Now, with time creeping up on him, he faces his best opponent since the first clash with Andrzej Fonfara in 2014.
This is the sort of fight fans have wanted to see Stevenson in all along. It’s the sort of challenge Jack has shown no fear of taking.
This is, on paper, some damn good boxing.
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: Lineal/TBRB/WBC light heavyweight (2013-present, 8 defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 173 ¼ lbs.
Hails from: Blainville, Quebec, Canada (Born in Haiti)
Record: 29-1, 24 KO, 1 KOBY?
Press Rankings: #1 (ESPN, BoxRec), #2 (Ring, Boxing Monthly)
Record in Major Title Fights: 9-0, 8 KO
Last Five Opponents: 128-17-4 (.872)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Chad Dawson KO1; Tavoris Cloud RTD7; Tony Bellew TKO6; Sakio Bika UD12
Previous Titles: WBC super middleweight (2015-2017, 3 defenses); WBA light heavyweight (2017; sub-title)
Weight: 175 lbs.
Hails from: Las Vegas, Nevada (Born in Sweden)
Record: 22-1-2, 13 KO, 1 KOBY
Press Rankings: #3 (TBRB, Boxing Monthly, BoxRec), #6 (ESPN), #8 (Ring)
Record in Major Title Fights: 3-1 (4-1, 1 KO including WBA sub-title fight)
Last Five Opponents: 133-9-1 (.934)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Anthony Dirrell MD12; George Groves SD12; Lucian Bute DQ12 (overturned from a draw); James DeGale D12; Nathan Cleverly TKO5
The Case for Stevenson: While a little shorter, and older, than the challenger, Stevenson has some serious advantages. His arms are longer, he’s faster, and he hits a lot harder. For a single shot, Stevenson is as good a puncher as anyone in his generation. He’s also tougher than sometimes credited. In the first Fonfara fight, he got off to a big start and then found himself in a war. With the fight on the line late, it was Stevenson who closed the show. In the lone serious battle he’s been in since, he turned back a spirited challenge from Thomas Williams. He’s more than just a puncher, able to pick guys like Bellew and Cloud apart with more than just knockout effect. If he doesn’t get rid of Jack early, he’s got enough in his toolbox to win rounds. He doesn’t have to knock him out but he must establish his jab and keep Jack respectful.
The Case for Jack: Jack has come a long way in his career. A bit rigid on the way up, he has evolved into a fluid, defensively responsible, well-rounded professional. He uses a smart jab, goes to the body, and doesn’t admire his work while working in combination. Jack isn’t as athletic or dynamic a talent as Stevenson but he fights like he knows that. Jack does the little things well and applies a steady game plan. That might explain why he’s suffered some draws that really should have been wins. Lucian Bute (later a win when Bute failed a drug test) and James DeGale, in a memorable unification bout, may have been credited with flashy moments over the three minutes of work at a time that marks Jack’s game. Jack can’t let that impact this approach here. He has to be cautious early and look to make Stevenson show what he can do if this goes deep. Stevenson hasn’t fought past a fourth round since 2015. Jack, even with almost a year off, has been in against better fighters, in tougher fights, over the same time span. If he can get inside Stevenson’s power, he has a chance to break him down and test his legs late.
The Pick: Age and inactivity are enemies of many an athlete. Does that apply to Stevenson? Given how few professional fights he’s had, there is less wear on him than their might be on another forty-year old. That doesn’t make him any younger and there is no substitute for activity. Given both men come in off long layoffs, Stevenson will probably have a big chance early. The thinking here is Jack can endure and, while he might have to come off the floor, he’s better all around right now and more mentally prepared for a serious world title fight in 2018. The pick is Jack taking over the fight sometime in the second third and pulling way down the stretch for a clear decision or late stoppage.
Rold Picks 2018: 17-7
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]