Why WBC champ Adonis Stevenson’s career choices haven’t paid off

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

As 2013 dawned, Adonis Stevenson was a good boxer nobody knew outside of a hardcore following in his transplanted home province of Quebec.

He was a product of the late, great trainer, Emanuel Steward, and seemed to be about to erupt into stardom when he knocked out Chad Dawson on HBO in just a single round.

It was an astonishingly good performance and began the slow build toward a light heavyweight title unification bout with Sergey Kovalev.

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Adonis Stevenson hasn't been in a hurry to fight Sergey Kovalev. (AP)
Adonis Stevenson hasn't been in a hurry to fight Sergey Kovalev. (AP)

Kovalev jumped through hoops to make the fight happen, but Stevenson kept wanting to take tuneup fights and HBO acquiesced.

There is always a gamble when a fighter, a manager, a promoter or a television network decides to wait on a bout the public is interested in seeing.

The good side of it, of course, is the hysteria surrounding the May 2 Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight. For years, fans demanded the fight and were disappointed.

But it didn't kill interest in the bout when it was finally made on Feb. 20; instead there was mass rejoicing. Now, the fight has a chance to generate a half-billion dollars in a single night.

But, to steal a phrase from promoter Bob Arum, the choice to let a fight percolate rarely works out so well. There are countless examples through the years in which waiting an extra fight or two proved disastrous.

And that's exactly what happened in L'Affaire Stevenson. The Haitian-born WBC champion fought Tavoris Cloud in his next fight, on Sept. 28, 2013, and no one could complain.

Cloud was a viable opponent who figured to present a challenge. But Stevenson outclassed him and made Cloud quit on his stool after seven one-sided rounds.

The next fight should have been against Kovalev, who was dominating everyone he faced.

But Stevenson instead insisted on a doubleheader, in which Kovalev fought Ismayl Sillakh and Stevenson took on Tony Bellow on Nov. 30, 2013. The stated hope was that Stevenson and Kovalev would meet next if they both won.

They did, each with impressive knockouts, but of course the fight did not happen.

Rather than take the bout with Kovalev, a fight that would have been one of the most anticipated of 2014, Stevenson jumped to Showtime and faced Andrzej Fonfara in a much easier and less interesting bout.

And on Saturday, Stevenson will meet former super middleweight champion Sakio Bika in a Premier Boxing Champions card on CBS from Quebec City, with a potential Kovalev fight no closer to occurring.

As fight fans, it's easy for us to forget that this is a business, and it's important for a fighter to get the best deal. When a fighter’s career is over, none of the fight fans who cheered him or the media members who chronicled his career is going to pay his bills.

So he needs to do what is right for himself and his family.

That being side, it's hard to understand how it would not have been more lucrative for Stevenson to take on Kovalev on Nov. 30, 2013, instead of Bellew, or to fight him in the early part of 2014 instead of Fonfara.

Let's steal a Woody Hayes quote here and apply it to boxing: Three things could have happened if Stevenson had fought Kovalev and none of them was bad.

The worst-case scenario for Stevenson would have been a one-sided defeat to Kovalev.

Adonis Stevenson, left, connects with a left in his win over Tony Bellew in November 2013. (AP)
Adonis Stevenson, left, connects with a left in his win over Tony Bellew in November 2013. (AP)

In that case, it's hard not to think the Bellew and Fonfara fights would have been there for him, and at the same rate of pay.

But if he would have beaten Kovalev, it would have set him up for a mega-payday against Bernard Hopkins. And had he won that, it would have been exceptionally lucrative for him.

As it is, he's faced with taking on Bika, an awkward, physically difficult guy to face who has little name recognition among the casual fan.

Stevenson has created a perception that may not be accurate that he is ducking or dodging Kovalev.

It takes extraordinary courage to make the walk up those three steps and slip beneath the ropes and fight another man in front of a large crowd and a television audience. By definition, even the worst fighter is a very brave and courageous person.

It can't be that Stevenson was afraid. It's more likely that he adopted Arum's "let it percolate" theory.

But he blew it.

He said at a news conference that he remains open to a bout with Kovalev, but not only have there not been any overtures, but there is bad blood between Stevenson's people and Kovalev promoter Kathy Duva. Duva sued them last year for reneging on a promise to fight.

And given that Stevenson is fighting for Haymon on the PBC series and that Kovalev is under contract to HBO, it's unlikely the fight will occur.

So it cost Stevenson prestige, reputation and a big payday.

Only he can decide if facing Bellew, Fonfara and now Bika instead of Kovalev and potentially Hopkins was worth it.

From this corner, though, it seems like a disastrously poor choice.

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