By Jake Donovan
For the third straight time, Adonis Stevenson enters a fight as the defending World light heavyweight champion.
For his third straight fight, he enters the ring surrounded by more discussion of who will be on deck than who is standing in front of him.
Fighters insist that their focus remains solely on the task at hand. Given what Stevenson has been through and that he remains champion, we have no choice but to believe him when he says that all of his attention is placed on upcoming challenger Andrzej Fonfara, and not the prospect of a unification showdown down the road with multi-belted Bernard Hopkins.
“I'm very hungry. I'm not overlooking Andrzej Fonfara,” Stevenson (23-1, 20KO) promises heading into this weekend’s title fight at the Bell Centre in Montreal (Saturday, SHOWTIME, 9:00PM ET). “I'm very hungry. I'm not thinking (about) Bernard Hopkins. I'm thinking (about) Andrzej Fonfara. He's in front of me. I'm ready. I know he's going to be ready. It's going to be a tough fight. I'm going to put on a great show.”
Stevenson continues to put on great shows every time he steps into the ring, which has made for a highly celebrated championship reign from the moment he iced Chad Dawson in just over a minute last June to win the title. The 36-year old knockout artist, born in Haiti but raised in Quebec since childhood, has won his past 10 fights – all by knockout, a streak that hasn’t missed a beat despite moving up from super middleweight and also steadily increasing his competition level.
“Usually when the opposition gets better, the knockout ratio drops. Adonis Stevenson continues to knock people out,” promoter Yvon Michel points out. “His last 13 wins have ended in knockout. All of the fighters have a strategy for Adonis when they go into the ring. That strategy goes out the window when they get hit by Adonis.”
Meanwhile, Stevenson has shown an incredible flair for sticking to the task at hand, even when entering the ring knowing what immediately lies ahead.
Four knockout wins comprised of Stevenson’s 2013 campaign, for which he earned Fighter of the Year honors from Boxingscene.com. With four fights packed into a stretch of barely more than eight months, there was always an idea of his next fight even as he trained for the one in front of him. It was true for the second half of the year, in which title defenses versus Tavoris Cloud and Tony Bellew came in a span of just two months.
The showdown with Cloud, who was only a few months removed from his title reign and first loss, came with the knowledge that Stevenson would have to next defend versus mandatory challenger Tony Bellew. The southpaw had no problems turning away Cloud, becoming the first to stop him as he forced the former champ to wilt after seven rounds.
Two months later, Stevenson was back in the ring to honor his mandatory defense versus Bellew. The fight was paired with a showcase appearance for unbeaten light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev, with the idea of matching the two together at some point in 2014. Discussions had taken place for at least one more doubleheader in the early spring, which was to be followed by a unification clash later in the fall.
With all of that in mind, Stevenson still went ahead and turned back the challenge of Bellew, a Top 10 contender from the United Kingdom. A 6th round stoppage came of the night, though the early ending only meant discussion of his future beginning that much sooner.
While all talks centered on a Kovalev showdown, Stevenson already had other ideas in mind. Prideful of his adopted home nation of Canada, the defending champion sought to avenge losses suffered by his fellow transplants Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute, as he instead called out Bernard Hopkins and Carl Froch.
Plans have since shaped for a showdown with Hopkins, who did his part with a wide points win over Beibut Shumenov in April to add to his “oldest fighter to…” list of incredible in-ring achievements. The 49-year old became a unified light heavyweight titlist with the win, with plans now calling for the future Hall of Famer to face the winner of this weekend’s Showtime headliner.
Stevenson knew such a fight was going to be in store, from the moment his handlers shopped his defense versus Fonfara. The bout was originally slated for HBO, who decided to pass on the fight due to the lack of a guarantee in place that a Kovalev fight would in fact happen next.
The move left the door open for Showtime to enter the picture and stage its own unofficial light heavyweight tournament, meaning all parties knew what was at stake well in advance.
Still, Stevenson knows what he has to do in order to get to Hopkins. It’s no different than what he had to do in previous fights in order to get to the next one about which fans and media have already begun to talk.
“We don't care about Bernard Hopkins right now,” Stevenson promises. “I'm not going to overlook Fonfara now. After the fight we can talk about Hopkins. Now is the fight with Fonfara.”
There aren’t very many who are picking Fonfara (25-2, 15KO) to win, even as the fighter in the heart of his prime and a full 10 years younger as he enters riding a 16-fight unbeaten streak. The latter credentials serve as Stevenson’s motivation, far more than the assumption that he’s expected to win.
It doesn’t take much to motivate Stevenson, though. The bitter taste of defeat – which came with a shocking 2nd round knockout loss to journeyman Darnell Boone in April ’10 – was enough to intensify training and focus to never again put himself in that situation.
The loss was avenged last March, his first of four knockout wins on the year. Even though a revenge win was expected by nearly everyone going into the fight, it doesn’t change the mental makeup he carries into the ring.
A lot of that comes from time still spent as a Kronk Gym fighter, and from years of wisdom passed onto him by the late Emanuel Steward. The lessons learned in the gym and in life in general continue to resonate with Stevenson.
“Emanuel gave me a lot of advice and motivation. He wasn't just a trainer. We'd be at home talking about life, about boxing, about everything in general. He explained to me everything. I take that advice from the first time he told me that I would become world champion.
“Now, I'm here. Emanuel had good eyes.”
He also had some great advice through his decades spent proudly serving the sport. Honoring his late trainer continues to serve as a tremendous motivator for Stevenson, who knows better than to not take any given fight seriously, especially considering what’s at stake.
“I'm very focused. I'm not overlooking (Fonfara),” Stevenson repeatedly promises. “I train for him. I don't overlook opponents. I go one fight at a time and am ready to take care of business on Saturday. I'm prepared for this fight.”
With that preparation comes confidence of preserving current plans in place for the future.
“I'm not worried about what happens if I lose. I'm winning this fight. I'm not here to lose. I'm going to win by knockout.”
Given the pattern that’s occurred through his first year as champion, who are we to question?
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox