Monday, May 26, 2014

Stevenson’s Body Attack Leads To Successful Title Defense

One of the more interesting weight classes in the sport of Boxing in the last couple of years has been the Light-Heavyweight division. In recent times much of the discussion with regard to the division has centered around three men. Adonis Stevenson, Sergey Kovalev, and Bernard Hopkins.

A scenario of two emerging stars in Stevenson and Kovalev sharing the top of the division with a future first ballot Hall of Famer in Bernard Hopkins is certainly an intriguing storyline. Stevenson, who became the WBC world champion in the Light-Heavyweight division in 2013, is regarded by many as the top fighter in the division. Following four knockout victories last year, Stevenson entered the ring for the first time in 2014 on May 24th to make the third defense of his world title against top contender Andrzej Fonfara at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada.

Although Fonfara was rated number three in the world by the World Boxing Council (WBC) and number one in the world by the World Boxing Organization (WBO) there were some who considered him an underdog, despite victories over former Light-Heavyweight world champions Glen Johnson and Gabriel Campillo during his career. An obvious question that will be asked of any fighter who faces a fighter with devastating knockout power is not only can they avoid the power, but also can they extend the fight into the later rounds.

The story of this fight in my eyes for the first seven rounds was Stevenson’s ability to use his lateral movement and combination punching to control the tempo. Stevenson scored a knockdown of Fonfara in round one with a straight left hand to the head and dropped the challenger for a second time with a brutal straight left hand to the body in round five. Stevenson dominated the first half of the fight with a well-balanced attack to the body and head of Fonfara.

Fonfara consistently came forward and was willing to engage with Stevenson and did have periodic moments, particularly when he was able to land his left hand on the champion. Fonfara however, had trouble letting his hands go in the first part of the fight and did not throw combinations. This could likely be attributed to both a respect for Stevenson’s punching power as well as Stevenson’s elusiveness and ability to control distance.

Despite suffering two knockdowns Fonfara was very “Game” and continued coming forward looking to turn the fight in his favor. The tempo of the fight seemed to shift slightly in round eight as Fonfara began to let his hands go more and was able to land a couple combinations. Although still in control of the fight, Stevenson appeared to show signs of fatigue.

Fonfara was able to build on what he was able to do in the eighth round as he dropped the champion with a straight right hand in round nine. A question that fighters who are labeled knockout punchers eventually have to answer is can they deal with adversity. Fonfara’s knockdown of Stevenson, the second of Stevenson’s career would pose that question to the champion.

The champion responded in round ten by resuming his attack to Fonfara’s body that put him back in control. Stevenson’s lateral movement was less visible in the later rounds due to fatigue and that allowed for good exchanges between the two fighters on the inside with Stevenson appearing to get the better of most of those exchanges. Stevenson would go on to win a convincing twelve round unanimous decision.

Although some might choose to criticize Stevenson who had scored ten straight knockouts coming into this fight for not being able to stop Fonfara, this observer will not be one of them. An interesting conundrum for knockout punchers that can at times be difficult is to look impressive in fights that go the distance when fans have become accustomed to seeing fights end quickly.

Many boxers who were known as devastating punchers have faced similar circumstances as Stevenson faced in this fight. Sometimes no matter how devastating a fighter’s punching power might be, an opponent’s will and determination can force a knockout puncher to go the distance. Andrzej Fonfara earned a lot of respect in this fight with the heart and will he showed. There is no doubt in my mind that Fonfara will remain very much in the mix as a top contender going forward.

Despite not being able to score a knockout in this fight Stevenson was still impressive and did answer the question of whether he could deal with adversity by getting up and fighting harder after being knocked down. Now with three successful title defenses behind him, the question is what is next for Adonis Stevenson?

Stevenson stated after the fight that he is open to facing either Bernard Hopkins or Sergey Kovalev in his next fight. Both Kovalev and Hopkins have each successfully defended their respective world titles in the last two months. Kovalev scoring a seventh round knockout over Cedric Agnew on March 29th in defense of his WBO world title and Hopkins successfully unifying his IBF world title against WBA champion Beibut Shumenov on April 19th.

If a unification bout is next for Stevenson, both fights would draw attention. An argument can be made however, that a fight between Stevenson and Hopkins would draw the most attention due to Hopkins being the marquee draw of the division.

Although there is always the possibility of a champion’s mandatory obligations potentially playing a role in whether a unification bout takes place, it does not appear as though there is much that would stand in the way of a fight to further unify the World Light-Heavyweight championship. Hopkins would appear to have no mandatory defenses as mandated by either the International Boxing Federation (IBF) or the World Boxing Association (WBA). Stevenson meanwhile could be mandated to face current WBC number one contender and former champion Jean Pascal at some point in the near future. 

What also makes this interesting by Stevenson defeating Fonfara, is it theoretically leaves an opening in the number one ranking in the WBO Light-Heavyweight ratings. It will be interesting to see if a scenario presents itself where either Stevenson, Hopkins, or Kovalev will face-off in their next fight and whether the politics of the sport will allow the winner of that fight to face the third champion of the division to determine an undisputed champion.

Assuming the sport’s respective governing bodies allow such a scenario to play out, it will be interesting to see just who emerges as the undisputed champion of the Light-Heavyweight division. An intriguing storyline that surely will continue to be a topic of discussion throughout the Boxing world.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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