By Jake Donovan
No matter how much he has achieved over the past year and regardless of what he goes on to accomplish, Adonis ‘Superman’ Stevenson will never forget what brought him to this point.
“Emanuel Steward’s spirit will last with me forever.”
The Hall-of-Fame trainer was sadly in his last days when Adonis Stevenson (22-1-1, 19KO) secured the necessary win to thrust him to the title stage. A 12th round stoppage of Donovan George in their thrilling super middleweight elimination bout last October landed the southpaw knockout artist in a position to challenge for a major title.
The fight itself came without Steward in his corner, instead taking advice between bells from the trainer’s nephew, Javon ‘Sugar’ Hill. What got him to that point was the hard work and countless hours spent on the grind at Kronk headquarters in Detroit, where Stevenson spends his time when the Haiti-born boxer isn’t at home in Montreal.
In the year and change since Steward’s passing, Stevenson has fought with a level of inspiration that has clearly taken his career to new heights. A brilliant 2013 campaign has included avenging the lone loss of his career, capturing the lineal light heavyweight championship and a systematic beat down of a former titlist.
A win on Saturday over England’s Tony Bellew – which airs live on HBO from Colisée de Quebec (nee Pepsi Coliseum) in Quebec City – will land Stevenson clear in the center of any 2013 Fighter of the Year discussion. Whether or not he actually wins such honors is secondary to the continued advancement of one of the sport’s better success stories.
“Adonis hasn’t said much about Fighter of the Year; he’s focused on winning this fight. But I firmly believe he has performed at a level unmatched by any other fighter this year,” insists promoter Yvon Michel. “First, he avenged his only loss, in style against Darnell Boone. Then he took only 76 seconds to annihilate Chad Dawson, who was the man at light heavyweight after easily defeating Bernard Hopkins and for years serving as an HBO fighter.
“Tavoris Cloud was supposed to be a strong test. It turned out to be a showcase for Superman’s skill and in-ring IQ. If he takes care of (Bellew) and in style, he will close the book on a year in which he went from an unknown contender at 168 to a genuine star in the light heavyweight division.”
Stevenson’s rise to fame was highly improbable, given the stage he was at in his career and the style in which he fights.
The Haitian-Canadian was roughly three months shy of his 36th birthday, and moving up in weight at the time of his showdown with Dawson this past June. The move came as a surprise, as he had in his pocket a mandatory title shot owed by Carl Froch, who was just two weeks removed from a revenge-fueled win over Mikkel Kessler.
Instead, Stevenson turned a modest risk into a massive reward, scoring one of the year’s biggest knockouts as one punch was enough to flatten Dawson in just 76 seconds.
The feat kicked off a new era, one which Stevenson chooses to rule with not only an iron fist, but an active one as well. Saturday night marks his fourth fight in eight months, including his third straight appearance on HBO. The network love affair is a tribute to his fighting style that continues to draw in fans, but the success he enjoys stems from a single decision made in his career two years prior.
Stevenson was three wins removed from the lone setback of his career – a shocking 3rd round stoppage at the hands of veteran spoiler Darnell Boone in April ’10 – when advised by then-trainer Tiger Powell to bring in a fresh set of eyes.
The advice led the southpaw south of the Canada-U.S. border, trekking towards Detroit where he would audition for Steward at the famed Kronk Gym. A single gym session was all it took to turn heads – in amazement in the crowd and through his fighting fists in the ring – and convince the famed trainer to bring him on board.
“Emanuel Steward believed in me,” Stevenson says of his late trainer, whom he also viewed as a mentor. “He saw the potential I had, and turned an untapped talent into a fighting machine.”
The mentor-protégé relationship only lasted less than a year, but Stevenson considers the bond formed eternal. It’s carried on through Sugar Hill, who has remained the southpaw’s corner since the George fight.
“Adonis was extremely fortunate to have encountered Emanuel’s nephew, who is a very skilled trainer and has the same approach as his uncle,” Michel believes. “He carries the same philosophies in life, and also has won over Adonis’s confidence while brilliantly leading him to stardom.”
In order to get to that point, Stevenson felt the need to reverse the one blemish on his career. While awaiting a title shot, the knockout artist decided to take a stay busy fight in the form of a rematch with Boone this past March.
The terms weren’t quite the same; Boone – who snapped a five-fight losing streak with the knockout over Stevenson – was 2-5-1 since then and sub .500 overall heading into the rematch. Stevenson gained revenge, stopping the American in six rounds to extend his win streak to seven straight, all of which have come inside the distance.
Heading into Saturday, the win and knockout streak is now at nine, with odds favoring an even 10 once he lays hands on Bellew. The Brit has only one loss, a heartbreaking majority decision in his Oct. ’11 thriller with then-unbeaten titlist Nathan Cleverly. He is unbeaten in five subsequent bouts, though a pair of eliminators with Isaac Chilemba (in which Bellew drew and scored a unanimous decision) left a lot to be desired in the entertainment department.
There should be no shortage of entertainment on Saturday, though not the kind in which Bellew prefers if the odds hold true, least of all with his 31st birthday coming on the day of the fight.
Stevenson wouldn’t be entirely truthful if he claimed to only focus on one fight at a time. This weekend’s bout was already booked while he was still preparing for September’s showdown with Cloud. It’s impossible to not look ahead with the number of possibilities lying around him. Andre Ward and Carl Froch are both lucrative options, and both of whom are coming off of notable wins this month, even if by far different means.
Right under his nose is perhaps the most realistic option of his immediate future. Appearing on the undercard will be the latest big thing to have hit the light heavyweight division, as Sergey Kovalev faces Ismayl Sillakh in the evening’s televised co-feature.
Kovalev made his HBO debut in August, knocking out then-unbeaten titlist Nathan Cleverly on the road in Wales. The network can’t get enough of either fighter, which makes a future pairing that much more of a possibility.
“The two are destined to meet one day in a classic puncher’s clash,” Michel admits of the possibility of a future head-on collision.
Also waiting in the wings is the outcome of an all-Canada showdown between imports Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal, which takes place next January.
While most fighters will insist they only take it one fight at a time and largely ignore anything beyond fight night, Stevenson uses the future as motivation to look that much better in the present. Each of the aforementioned fighters represents a lucrative payday waiting in the wings.
Now three fights into his relationship with an American cable giant, Stevenson has no plans to go back to the way things were before arriving on this stage.
“To be a star on HBO is what drives me the most,” Stevenson admits, though refusing to take any more credit than as a notable TV fighter. “I fight for my fans, but don’t have to carry the weight of a nation on my own back. I have a lot of respect for what Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute have accomplished in the Canada boxing scene and that they remain as popular as they still are.
“I want to be seen one day as the best in the world, to challenge for the mythical title of the pound-for-pound best. That’s the dream Emanuel had for me from the first day he agreed to take me under his wing.”
With each win, Stevenson continues to live that dream, and through his every move allowing Steward’s spirit to proudly live on.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox