By Lyle Fitzsimmons
With wins over Tony Bellew and Ismayl Sillakh on the post-Pacquiao card from separatist-land, 175-pound claimants Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev set up for an imminent chance to pursue the Network of Champions version of light heavyweight supremacy.
And while Showtime may be on the verge of a clear decision when it comes to which cable provider had a better year, HBO blow-by-blow man Jim Lampley was spot-on in referring to Stevenson going in as the “legitimate” kingpin in the division—which, by definition, makes a follow-up date with the unbeaten Russian its most must-see TV.
It’s got all the elements of classic primetime drama.
Both men are immigrant success stories—Stevenson from Haiti, Kovalev from Russia. Both are huge punchers—Stevenson with 20 KOs in 23 wins, Kovalev with 21 in 23. And neither is shy when it comes to declaring an intention to punish an opponent.
Just moments after a 3-minute, 52-second erasure of Sillakh, whom he’d unapologetically mocked following a sudden first knockdown, Kovalev showed broken English eloquence by answering “Adonis” to Max Kellerman’s query about who he wanted next.
Subsequently, Stevenson warmed slowly before wowing the adopted home crowd with an incremental breakdown of Bellew ultimately capped by a fusillade of left hands that warranted a humane stoppage by Michael Griffin in round six.
Next stop, Concussion City.
A perfectly logical destination, assuming Stevenson buys a ticket, that is.
The Kronk protege labeled “Superman” poured fuel on the Kovalev fire with an eventually devastating stoppage of his English foe, but post-fight remarks suggested he considers other conflagrations even more worthy of generating heat for his adopted hometown fans.
Among them were IBF title claimant Bernard Hopkins, whose mere mention—thanks to his alliance with Golden Boy Promotions, and, by extension, Showtime—left a suddenly egg-faced HBO duo scrambling to reiterate that Kovalev deserves next if Stevenson craves credibility.
“As impressive as (Stevenson’s four-KO) year has been, Kovalev is considered the best light heavyweight in the world and he would be favored to beat Adonis Stevenson and any other light heavyweight in the world,” Kellerman said. “If Adonis Stevenson is content to be just a Canadian world champion, he could take those other fights. But if his point is to become a real superstar in boxing, I don’t think there’s a way around Kovalev in near future.”
Lampley, with producers no doubt buzzing his earpiece, quickly concurred.
“Both guys got the job done,” he said. “It was thunder. It was impressive. And regardless of all the discussion of other opponents, the desire is to see Stevenson and Kovalev together.”
Should it actually occur, it’d be easy to make a case for either man.
Kovalev was a borderline loser for three minutes against a tactically adept Sillakh, but he dispensed with strategy and ended the match with a pair of clubbing right hands that left a fleet-footed challenger in a horizontal heap with his head under the ring ropes.
So, while Stevenson does go beyond caveman tactics in vanquishing victims, it’s no guarantee such acumen will be a legitimate deterrent when it comes time to take a shot from “Krusher.”
That said, the former Emanuel Steward pupil is no one’s pushover.
Though he needed nothing more than one-punch power to get rid of Chad Dawson, a subsequent beatdown of ex-titleholder Tavoris Cloud was an impressive mix of power, defense and ring generalship against a foe who’d lost one of 25 fights.
And while Bellew was able to withstand some solid shots and land a few of his own, he did so only while assuming a defense-first, aggression-second approach that was destined to be unsuccessful whether the end came via loss on points or loss of consciousness.
Such variety will pose questions that Kovalev has not yet been forced to answer.
HBO’s new task: Constructing a deal that’ll make Stevenson interested in asking them.
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IBF/WBA junior bantamweight/super flyweight titles - Osaka, Japan
Daiki Kameda (IBF champion) vs. Liborio Solis (WBA champion)
Kameda (29-3, 18 KO): First title defense; Sixth fight in Osaka (3-2)
Solis (15-3-1, 7 KO): Failed to make 115, vacated title; Second fight in Japan (1-0)
Fitzbitz says: “Kameda’s the headliner and the hometown hero and, now, the only one who’s fighting for belts. He’ll enter with one and leave with two.” Kameda by decision
IBF mini flyweight title - Osaka, Japan
Katsunari Takayama (champion) vs. Vergilio Silvano (No. 6 contender)
Takayama (25-6, 10 KO): First title defense; Held WBC title at 105 (2005, zero defenses)
Silvano (17-2-1, 10 KO): First title fight; First fight outside Philippines
Fitzbitz says: “Grand old little man regained championship status in his last go-round and faces a test here, but not one he shouldn’t be able to dispense with.” Takayama by decision
WBO bantamweight title - Osaka, Japan
Tomoki Kameda (champion) vs. Immanuel Naidjala (No. 6 contender)
Kameda (28-0, 18 KO): First title defense; Fourth fight in Osaka (3-0)
Naidjala (17-0-1, 11 KO): First title fight; First fight outside Namibia
Fitzbitz says: “A title defense on home turf for an unbeaten champion is the ideal recipe for smashing success. Kameda does his part against an untested African.” Kameda in 6
IBO/WBA featherweight titles - Northbridge, Australia
Simpiwe Vetyeka (IBO champion) vs. Chris John (WBA champion)
Vetyeka (25-2, 15 KO): First title defense; Held IBO title at 118 (2009, zero defenses)
John (48-0-3, 22 KO): Nineteenth title defense; Third fight in Australia (2-0),
Fitzbitz says: “One of these days, John is going to reach the end of the line. But not here. Instead, the IBO adds another high-profile champion to its roster.” John by decision
IBO lightweight title - Northbridge, Australia
Daud Cino Yordan (champion) vs. Sipho Taliwe (No. 43 contender)
Yordan (31-3, 23 KO): First title defense; Held IBO title at 126 (2012-13, one defense)
Taliwe (21-3-1. 14 KO): First title fight; Second fight in Australia (0-1)
Fitzbitz says: “Yordan was more a force at 126 pounds than he’s likely to be at 135, but retaining a title against a middling challenger shouldn’t be a significant concern.” Yordan in 8
WBC cruiserweight title - Chicago, Ill.
Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (champion) vs. Giacobbe Fragomeni (No. 1 contender)
Wlodarczyk (48-2-1, 34 KO): Sixth title defense; Fought Fragomeni in 2009 (TKO 8) and 2010 (D 12)
Fragomeni (31-3-2, 12 KO): Fifth title fight; Held WBC title at 200 (2008-09, one defense)
Fitzbitz says: “Third time probably won’t be a charm for a challenger who’s not taken the measure of his man in two previous opportunities.” Wlodarczyk in 10
WBC flyweight title - Tokyo, Japan
Akira Yaegashi (champion) vs. Edgar Sosa (No. 1 contender)
Yaegashi (18-3, 9 KO): Second title defense; Unbeaten above 105 (10-0)
Sosa (49-7, 29 KO): Fourteenth title fight; Held WBC title at 108 (2007-09, 10 defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Champion is unbeaten at the weight and on a solid roll, and he’ll face an older foe whose best days have been at other weights in long-ago days.” Yaegashi by decision
IBF welterweight title - Brooklyn, N.Y.
Devon Alexander (champion) vs. Shawn Porter (No. 6 contender)
Alexander (25-1, 14 KO): First title defense; Held WBC title at 140 (2009-11, two defenses)
Porter (22-0-1, 14 KO): First title fight; Sixth fight at welterweight limit (4-0-1)
Fitzbitz says: “If Alexander wants to stay relevant for big-fight fallout at 147, he’s got to overcome a young prospect with eyes on his status. Says here he’ll do so.” Alexander by decision
IBF middleweight title - Stuttgart, Germany
Darren Barker (champion) vs. Felix Sturm (No. 2 contender)
Barker (26-1, 16 KO): First title defense; Fourth fight outside United Kingdom (2-1)
Sturm (38-3-2, 17 KO): Twentieth title fight; Held WBO, WBA titles at 160 (13 defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “A few fights ago, Sturm would have been a smart-money pick, but he’s been beaten recently at home and away and will need help to end the skid here.” Barker by decision
WBA/WBO super bantamweight/junior featherweight titles - Atlantic City, N.J.
Guillermo Rigondeaux (WBA/WBO champion) vs. Joseph Agbeko (No. 12 WBA/WBO contender)
Rigondeaux (12-0, 8 KO): First WBO title defense; First fight in New Jersey
Agbeko (29-4, 22 KO): Ninth title fight; Held IBF, IBO titles at 118 (two defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Agbeko is a decorated former champion who’s hungry to return to the belted class, but he’s meeting a pound-for-pounder at his peak efficiency.” Rigondeaux by decision
WBC super middleweight title - Brooklyn, N.Y.
Sakio Bika (champion) vs. Anthony Dirrell (No. 8 contender)
Bika (32-5-2, 21 KO): First title defense; Held IBO title at 168 (2008, zero defenses)
Dirrell (26-0, 22 KO): First title fight; Has fought in eight U.S. states
Fitzbitz says: “Bika represents the biggest challenge for the unbeaten 29-year-old, but he appears mentally and physically ready to make the big-stage transition.” Dirrell by decision
Last week's picks: 3-1
2013 picks record: 74-35 (67.9 percent)
Overall picks record: 537-187 (74.2 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.