Adonis Stevenson has been vilified, whether warranted or unwarranted for the past year. For fans, it’s been a roller coaster of emotions, jumping on the Stevenson bandwagon then off. The flip-flopping has been startling to watch, even for a Laker fan. The light heavyweight champion of the world has been a magnet for blame and a scapegoat for the current business methods we see in boxing today. In light of his title defense this Saturday, a further examination will uncover that Stevenson isn’t to blame. Not for the failure of the Kovalev fight or even the promotional problems which prevented it for the time being.
When Stevenson burst into the limelight, it came after he’d failed to secure a suitable opponent at super middleweight. When he signed to fight lineal light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, we learned that Stevenson was one of the final creations of Emanuel Steward before he passed. Steward had created a Superman. A devastating power puncher designed to give people what they wanted to see, much like he’d done with Tommy Hearns. Stevenson was a knockout artist designed to capture the heart of the boxing community. With high aspirations, Stevenson walked to the ring without Steward in flesh, but in mind. Everything had led to this. If he was ever to be Superman, now was time to show it.
In his home state. Before his people. He stood at the door of opportunity. It didn’t look likely though. Andre Ward who was on the HBO commentary team said, “I think he’s gonna need more tools in his toolbox tonight in order to beat and dominate a Chad Dawson. Chad Dawson, regardless of what happened in his last fight with me, is a real deal fighter. He’s still the light heavyweight champion. It’s gonna take a lot from Stevenson to beat Chad tonight.” It was true that Dawson was coming off a crushing defeat to Andre Ward, but that was a weight drained Chad Dawson. Now, we’d see the real Chad Dawson. The one that beat Bernard Hopkins and an undefeated Tomasz Adamek. But Stevenson was following Steward’s wisdom. Steward had told him that if he’d ever got a chance to face Chad Dawson or Tavoris Cloud, to take those fights. Steward told him he’d knock them out. He also told him to avoid Bernard Hopkins. He obliged Steward. Seventy-six seconds and it was over. He had arrived. As Andre Ward was in the middle of saying that Dawson had better legs than anybody Stevenson had ever fought, and thus Stevenson wouldn’t be able to land that body shot-a crushing overhand left to the side of Dawson’s head catapulted Stevenson to stardom. Fans around the world embraced him. The internet couldn’t get enough of the one-punch knockout. Superman was here. The stunning power combined with the connection to Emanuel Steward made Stevenson one of boxings potential new stars.
More eyes didn’t mean everything would be good for Superman. Further inspection revealed a dark past. We learned about the how he ran with street gangs. How he was a part of a prostitution ring, managed prostitutes, assaults, and the threats he’d made that landed him in jail for 2 years. Whatever the charges were, people had quickly made up their mind. Stevenson was a bad person and his past unforgivable. The change of heart was swift, but it done.
His next move was a fight Tavoris Cloud, just as Steward had instructed him to do. At the same time, one of the best kept secrets in the sport was starting to leak out, and there’s no doubt that the interest was doubled because of the interest Stevenson had newly generated in the light heavyweight division. That secret was little known Russian bulldozer Sergey Kovalev of Main Events. Kovalev had spent most of his time fighting on the NBC Sports Network and at long last was going to get his shot at the big time. HBO saw the potential in Stevenson and broadcasted Kovalev’s title shot against Nathan Cleverly. The hope was that Kovalev won in the same brutal fashion he had in the Youtube videos and they would get to air the potential fight between the power-punching light heavyweights. (If Cleverly had won, I’m sure HBO wouldn’t have objected either.)
Kovalev won the WBO title and HBO saw an even better move. They put them on the same card. They let everyone get a taste for just how powerful the 2 could be. Fans would get to see what Kovalev did to people and then what Stevenson did all setting up the question of what would happen if they got the chance to face each other. It was brilliant. Fans would argue over who beat their opponent easier, who had their way, who would win if they got to do it. At the end of the day, it felt like late-2009 when we started talking about Mayweather vs Pacquiao.
As quickly as HBO could smile and high-five over the victory, it dissolved in an instant. Kovalev, always brash, to-the-point, and abrasive, immediately called out Stevenson in his post-fight interview. The Superman didn’t share the same sentiment in his interview. He left his options open proclaiming that his future would be decided by his promoter and that any would-be challenger would be wise to speak with his promoter, Yvon Michel. The fans destroyed him. Even the HBO commentators shredded him. How dare he not say what the obviously loaded question had set-him up to say. Obviously, the question was rigged for Stevenson to say he wanted nothing more than to fight Kovalev in a Taco Bell bathroom.
The fans killed him even though Stevenson was already making his first move in the negotiation. It’s clear that Stevenson was making a text-book move we’ve seen countless times before. Stevenson left it up to his promoter brushing off any interest in a particular opponent. This gave him leverage in any future negotiations. Kovalev, having spoken too soon, now stood to get less money while Stevenson reserved for himself a bigger chunk of the pie. We’ve seen this move countless times before, most often and most effectively with Floyd Mayweather. Mayweather has never called out any particular opponent and stands as the richest athlete in all of boxing and maybe all of sports. (I wonder why.)
Stevenson was the villain. Fans began to call him names. The stories we’d forgotten suddenly reemerged. Superman was an abusive pimp and a coward. The joy that we all felt as he jumped in the air after winning his first title in the wake of losing his trainer Emanuel Steward was all flushed down the drain. All because we, the fans, couldn’t get what we wanted. The fix for violence and a brutal knockout that was all but guaranteed in a fight with Kovalev was gone and Stevenson was going to be blamed.
If that’s not enough, January came along. This point of the tale is all ‘he said-she said.’ Essentially, HBO wanted a guarantee from Stevenson that he would indeed face Sergey Kovalev in the Fall if they were going to accept Andrzej Fonfara as an opponent in the meantime. Stevenson refused or maybe HBO refused to sign the contract. It all depends on whose story you buy. Then news of Al Haymon entering the picture began to circulate. It was either advising or tampering. It depends on who you ask. Stevenson was now refusing to sign any sort of extension. He wanted only to make a deal for the Fonfara fight and his next fight was up for discussion after the Fonfara fight. HBO balked. Stevenson’s next fight would be purchased by Showtime. With that, it appeared the fight with Kovalev was all but dead. Another casualty of the business of the sport.
Fans cried out. “Stevenson is afraid!” “He’s a duck!” “He never wanted to face Kovalev!” That’s one way to look at it, but another is this. Maybe it’s time the fans started to see both sides of this coin. What you’ll see is a brilliant move which benefits not only Stevenson, but Sergey Kovalev. At the level that Stevenson fights at, it’s no longer about personal pride and trying to figure out who the real man is. That could be part of it for some, but for most it’s about the money. At this level, it has to be. When the skill level is as high as it would be in a Stevenson-Kovalev fight, the risk is high. While pride is still on the line, so is their short-term and long-term health, their ability to provide for themselves and their family in the future, and their ability to enjoy the later years of life.
The fall back plan for these guys, should boxing not work out, probably isn’t what you’d think. Unless they surround themselves with bright people, and not the usual hangers-on or leaches that most often fall victim to, their outcome isn’t desirable. At this level, given the risk, doesn’t it make sense to hold out for as much money as possible? As we research and learn more about concussions, it’s hard to imagine that anyone doesn’t agree to that.
[Brief tangent: The assumption that Adonis Stevenson is avoiding Kovalev because of fear is laughable. A guy who's knocked out 13 of is last 14 and has an amateur record to prove his effectiveness at skillfully boxing probably fears nothing. Imagine also being the last protege, the last creation of Emanuel Steward. The confidence one must get from that distinction must be ridiculous. I have trouble believing that the guy who answered the 'I don't know' when asked for a scouting report on his opponent isn't scared. He's a man entirely confident on his ability to do what he does well.]
I applaud Stevenson’s move. As a fan, it stings a little, but I applaud and respect him for it. On Wednesday’s conference call with the media, he stated plainly that he would definitely face Kovalev when the time is right. If everyone stopped and thought for a while, you’d see Stevenson is right. The time right now isn’t right. Compare what these 2 would have gotten paid late last year or early this year to now. Suppose that Saturday’s fight isn’t Stevenson vs Fonfara, but rather Stevenson vs Kovalev. How much would they get paid? How much is Stevenson, coming off beating Tony Bellew, worth? Same question for Kovalev, only his opponent was Cedric Agnew. Now, answer this question. How much is Stevenson worth coming in as the unified, lineal light heavyweight champion of the world who just beat Bernard Hopkins? The difference is around $8 million dollars in Stevenson’s pocket and $3 million dollars in Sergey Kovalev’s pocket, not to mention a fight on pay-per-view. Ultimately, the difference is probably a year, but for the rewards there are to reap, wouldn’t you risk it too?