Light heavyweight champ Adonis Stevenson will finally face a worthy challenger in Badou Jack

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Adonis Stevenson has held the WBC light heavyweight world title since 2013. (Getty Images)
Adonis Stevenson has held the WBC light heavyweight world title since 2013. (Getty Images)

Adonis Stevenson refers to himself as “the king” and insists he’s the best fighter in the light heavyweight division, where he holds the WBC belt.

Stevenson, though, is a curious case, more representative of the failings of modern boxing than a competitor determined to prove he’s the best. Since defeating Tony Bellew on Nov. 13, 2013, in his second successful title defense, Stevenson has essentially employed the boxing version of former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith’s famed four corners offense.

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He’s sat on the title, avoiding top competitors like Bernard Hopkins, Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward, among others, while beating up on a group of opponents — he’s fought Andrzej Fonfara twice, as well as Dmitry Sukhotsky, Sakio Bika, Tommy Karpency and Thomas Williams Jr., since defeating Bellew — who were nowhere near in his league talent-wise.

That will change, shockingly to some, on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, when he meets Badou Jack in a title fight on Showtime.

There is little doubting Stevenson’s talents, particularly his enormous punching power.

“I don’t have any questions about him as a fighter,” Jack said.

But Stevenson has opted against the big fights and has instead collected a series of paydays for fighting opponents he was expected to beat easily. That’s the low-risk, low-reward strategy that has become all too common in modern boxing.

Because boxing is a rough, physical sport, it’s impractical to fight the greatest challenger every time out. But when one does not fight any of the best available challengers over a more than four-year period, legitimate, tough questions need to be raised.

And that’s where Stevenson finds himself, even despite his boastful ways.

“I’m the king at light heavyweight,” Stevenson said. “I beat the king to become the king. I know that I’ve accomplished some great things and me and my team plan to continue to do everything we can to stay on top.

“I’m the best fighter in this division, period. When I win on [Saturday], I’ll just be doing my job. People might still talk trash, but I’ll still be the champ.”

Jack, an accomplished, talented veteran with a 22-1-2 mark with 13 KOs and world titles at super middleweight and light heavyweight, is the type of opponent Stevenson hasn’t seen since he faced Bellew.

Jack isn’t going to crumble when Stevenson snarls at him, and Jack has shown an ability to take a punch and keep coming.

Stevenson, though, isn’t just another fighter when it comes to punching power. He’s 29-1 with 24 KOs and is, pound-for-pound, one of boxing’s most dangerous punchers.

Adonis Stevenson last defended his light heavyweight belt against Poland’s Andrzej Fonfara on June 3, 2017, in Montreal. (AP)
Adonis Stevenson last defended his light heavyweight belt against Poland’s Andrzej Fonfara on June 3, 2017, in Montreal. (AP)

What makes him so lethal is not only the pop in his hands, but his intention to use it. He’s never looking to trade soft blows. It may be hard to get him into the ring, particularly with someone who is good enough to beat him, but there is no denying the enormity of his power once he does sign to fight.

“I’m always going for the knockout,” Stevenson said. “I’m still ready for 12 rounds, but I want the stoppage every time. I’m hungry for knockouts. If Badou comes in aggressive, this could end very quickly.

“You have to step into the ring with me to understand my power. If I connect right just one time, that’s it. Lights out. We train specifically for knockouts. You’ll have to wait and see how I do it.”

The good news is that Stevenson has taken a compelling bout. The light heavyweight division is filled with elite talent, including Jack, Kovalev, Oleksandr Govzdyk, Dmitry Bivol, Artur Beterbiev and Marcus Browne.

Stevenson could well be the best of those, but he has to prove it in the only place that matters. He’s priced himself out of fights and managed to hang onto the belt for nearly five years without regularly fighting the best guys, but hopefully, he makes the decision to close out his career by taking on the best.

“Every fight is a big fight for me,” Stevenson said. “This fight is nothing different. Badou Jack is a good fighter and people think very highly of him. But in my mind, he’s just the next guy that I have to beat.”

And then, perhaps, Bivol, and Kovalev, and Govzdyk and …

Don’t hold your breath waiting for any of them should Stevenson dispose of Jack. Just be thankful that he’s finally consented to defend the belt against an opponent with more than a dream of victory.

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