by Kieran Mulvaney
Boxing can be like a game of concussive chess, a cerebral challenge as much as a physical confrontation, two men laying and avoiding traps and adapting to changes in strategy over 12 three-minute rounds.
Or it can be shockingly abbreviated and violently conclusive, with one punch sufficient to end proceedings with whiplash rapidity.
In Montreal on Saturday night it was the latter. Chad Dawson was relieved of his light-heavyweight crown by Adonis Stevenson a mere 76 seconds after the bell rang to begin the contest. It's entirely possible that some of the multitude who, as is the case these days, filled the ring to capacity during Michael Buffer's opening orations had not even reached their seats before it was time for them to turn around and clamber back between the ropes again.
Dawson, whose last outing had been a tenth-round stoppage at the hands of super middleweight champion Andre Ward, had rationalized that loss by arguing it was the result of his losing too much weight to fight on Ward's super-middleweight turf. Returning to light-heavyweight, he assured, would set things right; he dismissed Stevenson as a "tune-up" and mocked reports of his opponent's power. "If the only thing you can say about him is that he's a good puncher, I feel sorry for him," he said.
But no less an authority than the late Emanuel Steward had not only noted Stevenson's power but positively raved about it, gushing about the displays Stevenson put on at the Kronk Gym when he began training there in 2012 in what would, tragically, be the last year of Steward's life. On Saturday night, Stevenson showed why he had done so.
The fight, not unreasonably, had not yet even begun to warm up, the two southpaws trading right hand jabs, when Dawson (31-3, 17 KOs) looked to uncork a right hook. It never reached its target, never came anywhere close in fact, because just as it began its journey it crossed paths with a mighty left cross that Stevenson had launched a fraction earlier and which exploded on Dawson's jaw. Dawson didn't just fall to the canvas, he crumbled like an imploding skyscraper: first his shoulders slackened, then his spine curved as his head tipped forward and his legs gave way as he landed on his back. Somehow, the defending champion was able to haul himself to his feet and beat the count, but referee Michael Griffin, looking into his eyes and seeing Dawson wobble, weak-legged, back into the ropes, had no hesitation in waving the contest off.
Dawson protested a little, and his trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad did so more vociferously -- and perhaps, given the opportunity, Dawson might have recovered. But more likely was that Stevenson (21-1, 18 KOs) would have landed one or more equally powerful blows and that Dawson would have been neither upright nor awake when Buffer announced the arrival of "a new boxing superstar."
Dawson -- a sensitive man in an insensitive sport -- had little to say afterward, other than to acknowledge with good grace that, "It was a punch I didn't see. He caught me. That's it. He caught me with a good punch."
It was "a beautiful punch," emphasized an understandably emotional Stevenson, who can look forward to many more paydays and an enthusiastic fan base now, and who proudly wore the colors of his adopted Kronk Gym.
Asked what Stevenson's victory meant for a stable that was hoping to carry on despite the passing of its founder and leading light, Steward's nephew and new Kronk chief Javon "Sugar" Hill likened it to the gym's very first world title win, when Hilmer Kinty won a lightweight belt in 1980.
Somewhere, Emanuel Steward was smiling.
In the co-main event, lightweight Yuriorkis Gamboa at times showed flashes of his supreme talent and at other times highlighted why he can be such a frustrating enigma, as he scored a unanimous points victory over Darleys Perez. As usual, he boxed compactly and flashed his impressive hand speed and undoubted power; but he also -- as he so often does -- seemed to grow bored and take far too many mental breaks. Perez (28-1, 19 KOs) began brightly, winning the first 2 minutes and 50 seconds of the first round before being knocked down by a blow that didn't appear to land cleanly. After being steadily picked apart by Gamboa (23-0, 16 KOs) over the subsequent three rounds, Perez began to find his range and score with his own punches. That, combined with Gamboa's disinterest, almost turned what had threatened to become a one-sided bout into a competitive one -- indeed Perez probably should have been granted a knockdown in the eleventh, although the referee ruled that Gamboa had tripped -- but neither man showed enough commitment to make it an especially compelling contest.
After 12 rounds, Gamboa won by scores of 116-111 (twice) and 115-112 to remain undefeated, but the crowd cared little. It wanted more excitement. Then Stevenson walked to the ring; soon enough, the crowd would have what it craved.