Adonis Stevenson is a happy, contented man. He’s doing what he loves and has reached the top of his profession. He’s being paid well and has a strong and enthusiastic fan base, which will turn out in big numbers on Saturday at the Bell Centre in Montreal to cheer him on when he defends the WBC light heavyweight title in a Showtime-televised bout against Andrzej Fonfara.
Only twice in 29 fights in a professional career that began in 2006 has Stevenson fought outside Quebec. He’s a visible presence in the city and the fans know and love him.
Outside of Quebec, though, Stevenson has become somewhat of a forgotten man.
His fight against Fonfara, a rematch of a 2014 bout in which he dropped Fonfara twice and won a wide unanimous decision, isn’t as hotly anticipated as the light heavyweight unification bout in two weeks in Las Vegas between Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward.
They will be fighting for the WBA, WBO and IBF belts, and wider recognition as the best 175-pounder in the world. Stevenson holds the WBC belt, and proudly points out he’s the linear champion – he’s the man who beat the man, etc. – but that’s gaining him little traction outside La belle province.
Beyond the Quebec borders, questions are asked about his level of opposition, and his choice of opponents.
In 2013, Stevenson was under contract to HBO and seemed to have the network’s full backing. He fought Tony Bellew on Nov. 30, 2013, on a card he shared with Kovalev. It seemed all but set that he’d face Kovalev in 2014.
Then something happened. Stevenson hired Al Haymon as his manager, left HBO for Showtime, a purse bid that was expected never happened and Kovalev and Stevenson have yet to share a ring together.
Stevenson, now 39, is surprisingly OK with this.
“Of course I want to fight him; I’ve always wanted to fight him,” Stevenson says. “But I don’t know, something happened. Kathy Duva [Kovalev’s promoter], she’s, I don’t know … This hasn’t been easy to do, even though I thought it would be. So, no fight. Yet. But I’m not the negotiator.
“I’m the world champion and my job is to get in shape and fight in the ring. Al Haymon, he’s the world champion negotiator, and it’s his job to negotiate and pick out the fights. That’s the way it works. My part is in the ring; his part is in the negotiations.”
Haymon is one of boxing’s most powerful figures, if not the most powerful, but he never speaks to the media.
And so Stevenson laying the blame on Haymon is an easy way for him to make annoying questions go away. If he says he’ll fight whomever Haymon tells him – Kovalev, Ward, or anyone else – how can anyone expect anything more? Somehow, though, Haymon isn’t offering up the names of many appealing light heavyweights, to be frank, and so Stevenson’s career has ground to a halt.
He makes good money and is adored in Canada, and perhaps that is enough for him.
Haymon is the boogeyman to many and is the easy guy for fans to hate. And while the fights that Stevenson has taken in the last three-plus years are questionable, it’s worth noting that not all Haymon fighters take the path of least resistance.
It’s probably a pretty good bet that Haymon speaks to his fighters, their trainers and team members and then pursues the bouts they say they’re interested in getting.
It’s useful, though, to have this faceless, voiceless person in the background, boxing’s Wizard of Oz, so to speak, because it makes it easier to accept the status quo rather than take a step toward greatness.
Stevenson is 39 now, and seemingly doesn’t have a lot of time left to get the big fights. It’s kind of now or never, though he disputes that.
“I didn’t start boxing when I was 14 or 10 or 8 years old and I didn’t get beaten in my head for years,” he said. “I started when I was 29. I haven’t taken a lot of punishment. My body isn’t old from being hit in the head year after year after year.
“I have time and I have to take it step by step. Everything that is supposed to happen will happen. You just have to wait for the proper time. Floyd Mayweather and [Manny] Pacquiao took [six] years to fight. A lot of people, probably you, never thought it would happen, but it did. It’s not good to rush things.”
So, Stevenson will fight Fonfara and, assuming things go well Saturday, watch the Ward-Kovalev rematch.
He said he’d like to fight the winner, and says he thought Ward won the first fight between them. Ward was knocked down in the fourth round of that fight, but took a controversial decision victory to remain unbeaten.
“Kovalev after the fifth round, he lost his legs and that allowed Ward to get in there and take it,” Stevenson said. “If it goes 12 rounds and is close again, don’t be surprised if it is Ward who wins. But I don’t care. I would fight either of them.
“It’s a fight I want and you have to give the fans what they want. The winner should fight me. I have the linear championship. Do you know what that means? There is one king and that is me. If you want to be the king, you have to defeat the king. That’s the way it has always been.”
It’s impossible to beat the king, though, if the king remains safely in the castle and opts never to face the most difficult challenges.
When this was pointed out to him, Stevenson didn’t back down.
“My job is to fight whoever they put in front of me, and that’s what I do and what I have always done,” he said. “I would like to fight the winner, but as I said, I don’t control that. If everyone does their jobs, everything will work out.”
That’s usually a successful philosophy no matter the business. Boxing, though, is unique and not like the rest.
In boxing, what is supposed to happen and what makes the most sense often doesn’t happen.
And so, forgive me if I say I’ll believe it when I see Stevenson in the ring across from either Ward or Kovalev.
It’s hard to know who is to blame, but somebody, somewhere, isn’t doing their job.
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