By Tyson Bruce
It’s good to be Adonis Stevenson these days. The Montreal hitter went from being an underground curiosity to the lineal light heavyweight champion of the world in a matter of a year. Stevenson also has the good fortune of being from a boxing crazy city, which means that he has the celebrity status and appreciation that eludes most American champions. However, success is not without its problems. At the ripe old age of 36 and with growing pressure from fans and media to take on the dangerous Sergey Kovalev, his next move will undergo the full scrutiny of the often irrational and sadistic boxing public.
The most obvious and desired opponent for Stevenson and the option that HBO clearly favors is Sergey Kovalev. The matchup is a sure-fire slugfest that pits two of the hardest punchers in boxing against one another. It also presents an interesting style contrast: Stevenson clearly possesses the edge in speed, athleticism, and defense with Kovalev appearing to be the physically stronger and more resilient of the two. They seem to have relatively equal punching power but they go about getting the knockout in vastly different ways. Stevenson is an explosive counter puncher and Kovalev is a come foreword assassin. It’s almost impossible to predict anything in this fight except for a knockout.
So, what’s the problem then? The issue is that boxing is a business as much as it is a sport and Stevenson, being in the driver’s seat, has to decide what’s best for his future. Stevenson received a great deal of criticism for his last post-fight interview where he stated that Bernard Hopkins and Carl Froch would be his desired opponent over Kovalev. Many people immediately took this to mean that Stevenson is afraid to fight Kovalev, even though he also clearly stated for the right money he wouldn’t have a problem with the fight. This essentially means that in order to fight Kovalev he would demand the lion’s share of the purse as well as home court advantage. However, the truth is that Kovalev, at least at this moment, does not present the most lucrative fight for Stevenson.
What many boxing fans outside of Quebec don’t understand is that Bernard Hopkins and Carl Froch are genuine celebrities in Montreal because of their high- profile fights with Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute. Although potential matches with Hopkins and Froch come with their own logistical problems, they would provide an extremely lucrative and potentially less threatening option for Stevenson before tangling with Kovalev.
I am not one of those people who feel that Hopkins is a rejuvenated force—he’s running on backup fumes—and the idea of him fighting a monstrous and quick puncher like Stevenson is worrisome. That said, Hopkins knows how to sell a fight and combined with Stevenson’s famously short fuse it could really drum up publicity for a fight. The matchup is unlikely, however, because Hopkins is a shareholder at Golden Boy–a company that has been banned from HBO. It’s possible that Golden Boy and HBO (who has television rights for Stevenson) could make an exception for Hopkins but with all of the bad blood it’s likely a deal killer. Stevenson clearly covets the match because it presents the most financial gain but also provides a ‘hall of fame’ name to put on his resume. Five-ten years ago this is Hopkins’ fight to lose but these days you would have to be foolish not to favor Stevenson’s package of speed and power.
After a shaky performance against George Groves, Carl Froch may be the most wanted man in boxing. Froch is an excellent fighter and has been consistently performing well against top-level competition, but it’s possible that his excellent performance against Lucian Bute may have slightly overrated him for the last couple years. Froch has always been crude and commits just about every technical error you can make, yet seems to almost always win in spite of it. These flaws were exposed against Andre Dirrell, Andre Ward and George Groves, all of whom possessed a distinct speed advantage over Froch. Stevenson would have the same advantage only he’s a vastly superior puncher to anyone that Froch has fought in the past.
Froch has always claimed that he makes super middleweight with ease and has shown a reluctance to move up. However, with his reputation taking a hit, an opportunity to win a title in a second division might be an enticing offer. With both fighters having a tremendous home base of fans they could do a massively lucrative gate in either Montreal or Nottingham. Plus, the rewards of victory would go a long way to helping secure the legacy of both fighters.
The fourth and perhaps least talked about option for Stevenson is taking on the winner of the January 18th Quebec super-fight between Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal. In Montreal this would be the World Cup or Super Bowl of boxing. For the better part of the last decade Bute and Pascal have been the franchise fighters for the city of Montreal, but both men now appear to be a few years past their prime. If Stevenson were to fight and beat the winner of that bout it would provide a logical successor for Quebec boxing supremacy.
If the winner is Pascal then it has an extra layer of motivation for Stevenson because it would provide an opportunity for him to avenge two amateur losses to Pascal. Bute, on the other hand, has always been the slightly more popular fighter of the two and would likely provide a more lucrative payday. From Stevenson’s perspective these fights might be the best option because it has the lowest risk versus reward ratio, as he would be the clear favorite to beat either man.
I, like many fans have Stevenson-Kovalev on my wish list for 2014. However, boxing is a brutal sport with a very short window of opportunity to secure your future. So don’t be surprised if Stevenson takes on one or more challengers before tangling with Kovalev. In all likelihood it will either be Froch or the winner of Bute-Pascal that will get the call before Kovalev. If HBO is smart they will again put Kovalev on the undercard but this time against a more credible opponent than Ismail Sillakh. If Kovalev destroys a credible challenger like a Chad Dawson or an Andrzej Fonfara it will only increase demand for a fight with Stevenson.