by Tyson Bruce
Montreal lies overcast and drizzling with rain. The city’s some 1.5 million inhabitants are morose over the fate of the their beloved Montreal Canadians. A Cinderella playoff’s that saw them upset the top seeded Boston Bruins now lies in immanent ruin, as the Rangers zero in on the death grip in the seven game series. People in Montreal worship ice hockey but they also love a good scrap—sometimes not mutually exclusive pleasures.
Hope may lie in the latter of those two pursuits, as Montreal native Adonis Stevenson, the lineal light heavyweight champion of the world, prepares for his third title defense against the top ten ranked Polish contender Andrzej Fonfara. The Bell Centre will be packed with a bloodthirsty horde of French Canadians looking for a restoration of their honor. That is a tough atmosphere for even the best of fighters to overcome. Fonfara, a massive underdog, will have his work cut out for him if he is to wrestle the title away from the champion in the lions den.
Andrzej Fonfara, 25-2-0-(15), may be a 4-1 underdog according to the bookies but his qualifications as a title challenger cannot be questioned—he’s earned his way here. In other words, this is not a Kovalev-Agnew situation where Agnew was a virtual unknown without a single notable victory. The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (TBRB), the most credible ranking system in the sport, has Fonfara ranked number five in the division. His ranking was built off the backs of solid victories over respected contenders like Glen Johnson and Gabriel Campillo.
Still, Fonfara is a big underdog for a reason: he’s been knocked out before and is a very straightforward, predictable fighter. That’s bad news against a guy like Stevenson, who the late great Emanuel Steward called, “the best natural puncher [he’d] ever trained.” Fonfara doesn’t represent Mt. Everest for Stevenson but it’s a solid title defense with an appealing styles matchup. Fonfara’s greatest strengths as a fighter are his above average punching power and his ability to comeback in fights when he has fallen behind on the scorecards. Against Campillo and Tommy Karpency he fell behind on points but remained patient and gradually wore his opponent down with his strength and superior conditioning.
Unfortunately for Fonfara his greatest strengths could be the source of his downfall against a devastating puncher like Stevenson. Fonfara gets hit a lot and it’s difficult to mount a dramatic comeback when you’re unconscious. Stevenson, 23-1-0-(20), has shown numerous times that he only needs one opening to end a fight. In order to be successful Fonfara will have to implement a strict game plan that relies on using his superior height and reach to neutralize Stevenson’s massive edge in speed and power.
If it were not for boxing politics this might be labeled as a routine title defense for Adonis Stevenson. However, that is not the case as his career has been the source of a media firestorm for the past several months. Stevenson is the latest pawn in the long and petty cold war between Showtime/Golden Boy/Al Haymon and HBO/Top Rank. Stevenson emerged from relative obscurity to dethrone Chad Dawson and make three appearances on HBO that transformed him into one of boxing’s most bankable new stars. It looked like a defense against Fonfara would be followed by a much-coveted summit meeting with fellow 175-pound terror Sergie Kovalev on HBO. This appeared to be a done deal.
We couldn’t have been more wrong, as at the last minute power broker Al Haymon intervened and the best laid plans became nothing but a figment of our imagination. Stevenson said good bye to HBO and company and signed a deal with rival network Showtime with the intention of eventually making a super-fight with the legendary but nearly fifty-year-old Bernard Hopkins, a partner at Golden Boy. Boxing can be a sordid business that seems to be getting more fractured and petty by the day. Stevenson made a business decision: bigger fight, potentially less risk and a much grander paycheck. As a fan this isn’t always an easy concept to stomach and nor should it be.
Stevenson, despite having a loyal and growing following in Quebec, has no doubt made some new enemies with his highly publicized business tactics. This makes the stakes even higher for this fight. Stevenson will be fighting in front of a new TV audience with the prospect of a mega fight with Hopkins hanging in the balance. A lot of people will be rooting for his downfall, a concept he has yet to deal with in his limited time in the spotlight. If he has in anyway let the pressure or newfound riches go to his head, then a routine title defense could turn into an unexpected Waterloo mighty quickly.
Sometimes it’s the most minuscule of things that can have the most unintended and serious consequences on our lives. While Fonfara is certainly not a push over this is a fight where ninety percent of boxing experts will be picking Stevenson to win by knockout. If last weekend’s fight between Marquez and Alvarado proved anything it’s just how much talent really matters. Stevenson has it all over Fonfara in the talent department. Still, boxing is one of the most unpredictable and brutal sports known to man and Fonfara, with his dogged will power, just might be the right man in the right place for the job.