By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Regrets? Sure, Adonis Stevenson has got a few.
But when it comes to the opponents he’s fought in nearly five years as the WBC’s 175-pound champion – or, more notably perhaps, the ones he’s not fought – they’re far too few to mention.
“What do I regret? Nothing really,” he said. “If we try to make a fight and the guy doesn’t want to fight, I can’t do anything. We did what we were supposed to do and nothing happened.”
It won’t take a hardcore fan to realize “the guy” in this case is Sergey Kovalev, the Russian-born slugger who claimed a belt – the WBO’s – in the same weight class just two months after Stevenson vaporized Chad Dawson in June 2013. Kovalev ultimately defended eight times and added the IBF and WBA straps to his collection before dropping the cache to Andre Ward 18 months ago in Las Vegas.
Stevenson and Kovalev appeared on a literal collision course when they shared the bill on an HBO broadcast from Quebec City late in 2013, until Stevenson’s subsequent alliance with Showtime and ubiquitous manager/adviser Al Haymon altered the television blueprint.
Public opinion favored Kovalev and framed Stevenson as the less-interested champion.
Then, the WBC actually made Kovalev its mandatory challenger and ordered a purse bid in April 2015 to get the fight made, but Kovalev’s promoter (Main Events) pulled out of the process because of a contract forbidding their man to appear on any network other than HBO. Had Main Events not won the purse bid, the winning promoter could have opted to put the fight on Showtime or another entity.
“He acts like I don’t want to fight him. That’s what he tries to act like, but he doesn’t want to fight me,” Stevenson said. “He didn’t make the fight happen. Then he got beat by Andre Ward. Andre Ward is a good fighter but he’s not a power puncher. Kovalev is scared about the power punchers, then he gets stopped by Andre Ward. If he gets a power puncher in front of him, it will be the same thing.”
Stevenson is equally unapologetic when it comes to his resume, which critics frequently label as the less-challenging road compared to Kovalev’s.
The Russian defeated four top-10 challengers in his eight pre-Ward defenses – Bernard Hopkins (UD 12), Jean Pascal (TKO 8), Nadjib Mohammedi (KO 3), Pascal again (TKO 7) and Isaac Chilemba (UD 12) – according to the International World Boxing Rankings, while Stevenson has bested four as well in Tavoris Cloud (TKO 7), Tony Bellew (TKO 6), Dmitry Sukhotskiy (KO 5) and Andrzej Fonfara (TKO 2).
Kovalev, who’s since regained the WBO belt, dethroned No. 7 light heavy Nathan Cleverly to begin his first title reign; while Dawson, whom Stevenson KO’d in 76 seconds, was ranked No. 3 at the time.
The IWBR has Stevenson first and Kovalev second these days, as does Boxrec.com, while Ring magazine flips the order and includes Kovalev on its pound-for-pound list (at No. 9), but not Stevenson.
Not surprisingly, the now-40-year-old champion dismisses the discrediting, and still holds out hope for unification – though he concedes it’ll be a far easier negotiation if Kovalev is beaten by No. 6 WBO contender Eleider Alvarez in a planned summer title defense.
Stevenson and Alvarez share the same promotional and management teams.
“I fight the best guys,” he said. “I fought Chad Dawson and Tavoris Cloud. It’s just talk. When you’re on the top, they always say that. Floyd Mayweather heard the same thing, too. ‘You don’t fight anybody. The guys you fight are not good. Blah, blah, blah, blah.’ It’s always talk. I’m not paying any attention to negative people like that. Any boxer in front of me, I’m fighting him and I’m winning.
“Look at Fonfara. He was good. People were talking like I didn’t want to give him a rematch and I was scared. Then I give him a rematch and people say he was through, he was finished. Blah, blah, blah. You see Tony Bellew, you gonna tell me Tony Bellew’s not good? He beat a heavyweight world champion. People are always saying this guy or that guy is not good. But I’m not paying any attention.”
The chatter is less noticeable this month as Stevenson prepares for his ninth WBC defense, scheduled for May 19 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. In fact, it’s more often suggested that his opponent this time – former two-division world title claimant Badou Jack – is the best foe he’s faced, ever.
According to Stevenson, though, the jury on that one is still out.
“I’ve got other good guys that I’ve fought, too, so I don’t know,” he said.
“But yes, Badou Jack is a good fighter. I know he’s a tough a guy and I know he will come in ready. He does everything well. He’s got good defense. His defense is tight. He loves to put the pressure on.”
Jack is unbeaten across four years and three months since a surprise loss to Derek Edwards in February 2014. The streak has included six wins, a draw and two championships – the WBC’s belt at 168 pounds and the WBA’s title at 175. He relinquished the latter crown to secure the fight with Stevenson.
In one appearance as a full-fledged light heavyweight, he stopped Cleverly in five rounds.
“This is the kind of fighter I love,” Stevenson said. “He loves to put on pressure like Thomas Williams. He comes to fight. I love that, too. That’s why the fight will be not too long. He’s coming to me. I’m coming to him. We’ll bang together. I’ll knock him out. I love this kind of fight because it’s not gonna be long.”
That’s been the M.O. for much of the Canadian-based Haitian’s run at 175, including just three fights – and nine rounds – in the last three years.
Across nine championship fights since 2013, he’s gone 52 rounds, an average of 5.77 per fight, while scoring seven stoppages in seven rounds or less. And only Fonfara – who was stopped in two rounds in a rematch – and Sakio Bika heard a final bell.
“It’s not my fault because I came to fight,” Stevenson said.
“When you are in with a power puncher you have to figure it out or you’re not going to be long. I train for 12 rounds in the gym. I don’t just use my power. I can box. I’m from the Kronk Gym. We always are looking for the knockout. We train for the knockout. But if it goes to the 12th round, we’re ready. We can box. I finish early because of the knockouts, but I can box 12 rounds, too. I’m always in shape.”
As for the date with Jack, the incumbent doesn’t expect a markedly different work night.
“I’m always looking for the knockout,” Stevenson said. “And sooner or later he’s going to make a mistake and I’m going to catch him and it will be over. I know I’ve got power. I know I’ve got 12 rounds. I’ve got 12 rounds to come at you. I’ve got 12 rounds to touch you. I don’t need to put all the combinations together. When I touch you good, it’s finished, it’s over. I’ve got time.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBA lightweight title – New York, New York
Jorge Linares (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Vasyl Lomachenko (Unranked WBA/Unranked IWBR)
Linares (44-3, 27 KO): Fourth title defense; Twelve wins in 14 lightweight fights (12-2, 6 KO)
Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KO): Eleventh title fight (9-1); First fight above 130-pound limit
Fitzbitz says: Until he moves up another weight class, I won’t believe Lomachenko – whom I believe is the world’s best fighter – even has a chance to lose. He’ll put on a clinic here. Lomachenko in 10
WBC super bantamweight title – Verona, New York
Rey Vargas (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Azat Hovhannisyan (No. 9 WBC/No. 15 IWBR)
Vargas (31-0, 22 KO): Third title defense; Second fight in New York state (1-0, 0 KO)
Hovhannisyan (14-2, 11 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten outside of California (2-0, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The Armenian challenger has worked his way into title-fight legitimacy, but the champion he’s fighting against seems on a higher future trajectory and ought to continue. Vargas in 10
WBO junior middleweight title – Verona, New York
Sadam Ali (champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Jaime Munguia (No. 4 WBO/No. 18 IWBR)
Ali (26-1, 14 KO): First title defense; Unbeaten in nine New York state fights (9-0, 4 KO)
Munguia (28-0, 24 KO): First title fight; Second fight outside of Mexico (1-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The short-notice is a talented young kid with a glittering record and it’d be no shock if he gave an overvalued Ali some legit trouble. But the champ who beat Cotto should emerge. Ali by decision
Last week's picks: 2-1 (WIN: Menayothin, Golovkin; LOSS: Butler)
2018 picks record: 30-14 (68.1 percent)
Overall picks record: 951-318 (74.9 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.