by Tyson Bruce
When lineal light-heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson, (25-1-0, 21 KOs), announced that his first bout of 2015 was going to be against former super middleweight champ Sakio Bika, (32-6-3, 21 KOs), the vast majority of the boxing public cringed. After all, Bika has never fought at 175, and after losing his most recent bout against Anthony Dirrell, is considered by many to be past his prime.
So why is the fight happening?
The reason is pretty simple: both men are represented by boxing mystery mogul Al Haymon, so the match was easy and very likely inexpensive to make.
Bika is a fighter that never gives anything but his most sincere effort in the ring and has made a career out of giving top fighters hell, so completely counting him out would be foolish. That being said, Stevenson will enter the fight as the prohibitive favorite, in a match-up that doesn’t exactly whet one’s appetite.
It became much easier to be less cynical about the match-up (and Stevenson in general) when it was announced by the WBC (the title held by Stevenson) that it was enforcing WBO/IBF champion Sergey Kovalev, as its mandatory challenger. A sanctioning body announcing a rival alphabet champion as a mandatory challenger is a highly unconventional move, and a breath of fresh air from their usual nefarious behavior.
Stevenson–who is widely perceived to have avoided Kovalev since joining Al Haymon–and his promoter Yvon Michel of GYM Promotions have responded positively to the challenge. If Stevenson can defeat Bika and Kovalev can defeat his next mandatory challenger, Nadjib Mohammedi, the fight that looked like it would never happen should be a go. Issues with managerial rivalries and exclusive network contracts will almost guarantee that the fight will go to a purse bid, but it still paves the way to one of the most stylistically explosive matches in all of boxing.
The one man that can make this entire plan fall on its head is Sakio Bika. Everything about Bika’s career from his fighting style, record and origins is unconventional. Bika is a native of Cameroon, but chose to fight professionally in Australia: a strange move for a guy with ambitions of making a living from prize fighting. Bika fought in a twelve round contest in just his twelfth pro fight.
Bika is one of those rare fighters who managed to become a champion despite his obvious limitations. Bika doesn’t have the skills, speed or athleticism that is usually required to have the kind of career that he’s had, but he made up for it through his determination, awkward style and his unique ability to successful bend the Queensberry Rules. Bika’s head essentially operates as a third fist and his supreme physical strength allows him to bully almost every opponent he faces.
Just ask Joe Calazghe and Andre Ward, two of the greatest super middleweights of all time, about how tough Bika is. He arguably gave both men their toughest fights.
Bika clearly isn’t the same fighter he was a couple years ago, as was proven in the second Anthony Dirrell fight, which was dramatically more one- sided than their first encounter. If he is to have any chance against Stevenson, who has a significant speed and skills advantage, Bika will have to drag Stevenson into a gutter brawl where he can expose the Haitian-Canadian champ’s questionable stamina and toughness. Mentally speaking, Bika is in the enviable position of having nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The fighter with a hell of a lot more to lose on Saturday is unquestionably Adonis Stevenson. Stevenson, who will making the fifth defense of his lineal title, is expected to dominate and anything less than a stellar performance will be widely scorned by fans and media alike. It is paramount that Stevenson stay focused on the task at hand—not an easy challenge considering the massive fight that lies ahead for him. Other than getting Stevenson from point A to point B, a victory over Bika will do literally nothing other than earn him a sizable paycheck. Those are not enviable conditions to enter a fight with.
It, however, is the first step in repairing Stevenson’s reputation with the boxing community. After bursting onto the scene in 2013 with a string of vicious knockouts over reigning champion Chad Dawson and top contenders Tony Bellew and Tavoris Cloud, Stevenson was one of the hottest new properties in boxing. Stevenson, like many Haymon fighters, had his reputation massacred in 2014 by dramatically lowering his quality of opposition and turning down big fights.
While some of the brutal criticism thrown at Stevenson is warranted, however, some of it is simply preposterous.
Stevenson deserved the public wrath for backing out of a fight with Kovalev that was basically all but signed. However, the flack he took for fighting Andrzej Fonfara, a fighter that earned a title shot on merit, was ridiculous. Many boxing “experts” merely compared the match to Kovalev’s fight against Blake Caparello, which was simply wrong and unfair.
Fonfara was a worthy contender because he beat solid fighters like Gabriel Campillo and Caparello was not because he doesn’t have a single victory over a ranked opponent. The same can be said of Tony Bellew, another perfectly feasible opponent that Stevenson was ripped for fighting.
In fact, Stevenson’s opposition as champion has actually been quite solid. It’s only when you compare what he has done recently to what Kovalev has done that one can question his merit as the lineal champion. Kovalev has made Stevenson look like a paper tiger because virtually no one seems to believe that Stevenson is still the division’s best fighter.
This writer will wait for the actual fight before leaping to any dramatic conclusions. After all, Stevenson’s straight left hand, an absolute cannon of a punch that was enough to convince his late Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward of “Superman’s” championship caliber, can win any fight on earth for him at any time if it lands right.
If Stevenson is to find a silver lining in his fight against Bika, it will also come courtesy of his power.
Despite his fighting some of the top fighters of his generation, no one has managed to stop Bika—or even really come close.
If Stevenson can knock Bika out in dominant fashion, then some of the many critics now chasing him with pitchforks make again call themselves fans.