By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It suddenly seems like decades ago.
But fans of modern light heavyweights will remember exactly where they were on Nov. 30, 2013.
It was that night at the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City that the two most prominent claimants to world 175-pound supremacy – Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev – dispatched overmatched foes in a combined eight rounds while stoking the fires for unification.
At the time, everyone thought such a match was imminent. Particularly HBO, which had positioned the successive bouts in hopes that some verbal punches might land in addition to the glove-clad ones.
The Russian dutifully did his part, vaporizing Ismayl Sillakh in less than four minutes and clearly proclaiming “Adonis” as his desired next quarry when asked afterward by network ace Max Kellerman.
Stevenson followed with a six-round beatdown of British challenger Tony Bellew in the ring.
But it was the Haitian's lukewarm outside response to the prospect of a summit that led to the nonviolent path the rivals have been on for the past 1,452 days.
Rather than getting things started by snarling “Krusher” in response to Kellerman’s second “Who’s got next?” question of the night, the Kronk-reared Superman pumped the brakes by suggesting a number of others could generate as much heat as Kovalev in his adopted home province.
Among them were then-IBF title claimant Bernard Hopkins, whose mere mention – thanks to his alliance with Golden Boy Promotions and, by extension at the time, Showtime – left a suddenly egg-faced HBO duo scrambling to reiterate that Kovalev deserved a date if Stevenson truly craved credibility.
“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.”
Somehow, though, for the past three years, 11 months and 22 days, he’s found a way.
The now-40-year-old still maintains an “I’ll fight anyone” company line whenever pressed by inquiring microphones, but his post-Bellew jumps to the Showtime and Al Haymon cliques have contributed to public consensus that one guy lives for accomplishment while the other values preservation.
Kovalev drubbed Hopkins and got two more belts about a year after beating Sillakh, and his two-fight series with ex-super middleweight virtuoso Andre Ward – even though it yielded aura-smearing losses – goes miles toward making a case that he’s willing to risk sanctioning status to earn competitive reward.
Meanwhile, Stevenson has won two decisions and scored four stoppages against drastically less inspiring opposition since 2013. And according to Kovalev promoter Kathy Duva at least, it was his side that torpedoed the most recent try at an agreement to get a fight done 18 months ago.
Duva said she and Yvon Michel, Stevenson’s Canadian representative, had their ducks in a row. But buy-in from Stevenson and Haymon was a dead end. Stevenson and Haymon and Co. spun it otherwise.
Still, if perception is reality, even a diminished Kovalev holds high ground with folks who fill seats.
The Haitian is the lineal champion. The Russian has been a fighting champion.
And if Stevenson doesn’t move every mountain to show he wants more than the Andrzej Fonfaras of the world, it’s unlikely he’ll be recalled as anything more than the other champion.
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Weekly title-fight schedule:
WBC minimum title – Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
Wanheng Menayothin (champion/No. 3 IWBR) vs. Tatsuya Fukuhara (No. 9 WBC/No. 11 IWBR)
Menayothin (48-0, 17 KO): Eighth title defense; Eight KOs in 21 scheduled 12-rounders (21-0, 8 KO)
Fukuhara (19-5-6, 7 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Third fight in Thailand (1-0-1, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The champ is certainly closer to the end of the line than the beginning, but there seems no real reason to believe he’ll lose to a man with just one win in a 12-round bout. Menayothin in 10
Vacant WBO light heavyweight title – New York, N.Y.
Sergey Kovalev (No. 2 WBO/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (No. 10 WBO/No. 22 IWBR)
Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KO): Twelfth title fight (9-2); Held IBF, WBA and WBO titles at 175 pounds
Shabranskyy (19-1, 16 KO): First title fight; Two wins since lone career loss in 2016 (2-0, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Kovalev was a monster until he ran into Andre Ward and had his aura stripped away, but he shouldn’t have any trouble restoring some of the luster with a relative novice. Kovalev in 5
Last week's picks: 2-0 (WIN: Ancajas, Tete)
2017 picks record: 87-26 (76.9 percent)
Overall picks record: 909-300 (75.1 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.