Adonis Stevenson could move further from past mistakes with win over Chad Dawson

Kevin Iole

Adonis Stevenson, understandably, would prefer to keep his past buried, the skeletons locked securely in his closet.

He stands on the verge of a crowning achievement, of capturing the WBC light heavyweight title less than 10 years after he took up the sport.

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Stevenson will face Chad Dawson on Saturday in the main event of an HBO-televised card from the Bell Centre in Montreal, with a chance to become a star in front of him.

He's one of the few one-punch knockout boxers in a sport that delights in knockouts, a guy whose aggressive, hard-hitting style could make him, at 35, an overnight sensation.

But to understand who Adonis Stevenson is, one first must understand where he comes from and what he has overcome.

Born in Haiti, he moved to Quebec and, at 18, found himself running with a notorious street gang. Teenagers aren't known for their decision-making skills, and Stevenson admits he made a whopper of a mistake by not running away as quickly as he could from the gang he associated with.

In 1998, he was arrested, charged and convicted of being a pimp, as well as assault and making threats. He served four long, difficult years in prison.

It was the springboard to a change in his life, though he didn't know it at the time.

He told the Canadian Press in 2012 that he spent each day after his release "trying to be a better person."

He wouldn't discuss his past with Yahoo! Sports except to say, "It's in the past and I've made a commitment to change my life, and I have."

He left jail with nothing, with no tangible skill and little hope for the future. But he was preternaturally strong, loved to fight and took up boxing to try to take advantage.

As with so many, boxing turned out to be a salvation for him. The sport imposed the discipline he needed. He had to run, he had to exercise and he had to learn how to fight. He didn't have time, even if he wanted – which he didn't – to hang with those he did before his imprisonment.

He began to box in 2004, and in that year, he won the Quebec amateur middleweight title. He was Canada's best amateur boxer in both 2005 and 2006 and won the silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2006.

He turned pro in late 2006 and strung together a series of highlight-reel knockouts. He fought five times in his first five months as a pro, winning all five by knockout, four of them in the first round and one in the second.

Boxing offered hope, a glimmer of opportunity to escape his dreary past.

He threw everything he had into the sport and was showing promise as a knockout artist. But he was wild and not skilled in the technique he would need to succeed at the sport's highest level.

And then, by chance in 2011, he ran into the great trainer Emanuel Steward. Steward, who was in a fight for his life, took on Stevenson and agreed to train him.

It was a life-altering experience.

"It was a gift to have Emanuel come into my life," Stevenson said. "I was with him just a short time, but he changed my life in so many ways."

Steward was quickly able to fix some of the flaws in Stevenson's boxing technique. He had poor footwork and was frequently off-balance. That would result not only in missed shots, but in leaving himself open for counter punches.

More important, perhaps, was the impact Steward had on Stevenson as a man. Steward talked with Stevenson about life almost as much as he did about boxing. Steward was in the final year of his own life, but he managed to affect change in Stevenson's.

"I'm grateful, so thankful, to have had the chance to meet him and know him," Stevenson said of Steward.

Stevenson (20-1, 17 KOs) still trains at Steward's Kronk Gym and is guided by Steward's nephew, Javan "Sugar" Hill.

The fight with Dawson represents Stevenson's biggest challenge. Dawson is, by far, the most gifted fighter Stevenson has met.

But Dawson has met few men like Stevenson, who knows it only takes one punch for him to be able to win a fight.

"Power changes a lot in boxing," Stevenson said. "I don't want to just rely only on my power, but the thing is, having the kind of power that you can knock someone out at any time, it changes so much in a fight. You could lose 11 rounds of a fight and land one punch in the 12th round and it is over. It's a huge difference."

That power could make him not only a world champion, but a star. Aggressive, up-tempo fighters who can punch are a rarely and highly prized commodity in boxing.

Stevenson is highly motivated to succeed, in part because he knows what may lie ahead, but also, because of what is in his past.

He doesn't like to talk about it, but the past clearly has shaped Stevenson's potentially very bright future.

A win over Dawson on Saturday would, perhaps, allow him to forever bury those painful memories of a time in a his life he desperately wants to forget.

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