Who would have ever thought on January 1, 2013 that by late-November Adonis Stevenson would be a contender for Fighter of the Year? But after avenging his only defeat by knocking out Darnell Boone in six rounds, winning the WBC light heavyweight title in 76 seconds from Chad Dawson and defending it by TKO over ex-titlist Tavoris Cloud, the 36-year-old southpaw is in prime position to make a strong case for the honor.
On Saturday, Stevenson hopes to put a bow on a life-changing year when he takes on mandatory challenger Tony Bellew, who is looking to create his own dreams by capturing a major title on the road. The question is will he?
Statistical factors that may shape the outcome include:
A Big Change - Or Was It?: Stevenson's knockouts over Boone and Dawson created an imprint - that he was a seek and destroy bomber with little regard for defense or boxing skills. So imagine the shock when Stevenson turned a potential slugger-on-slugger showdown with Cloud into a personal boxing clinic.
Of the 434 punches he threw against Cloud, 274 (or 63%) were jabs. OK, the jab landed only 8% of the time, but it helped set the table for his power punches, which landed at a 53% clip. Also, his lateral movement made him elusive enough for Cloud to swing and miss most of the time (20% overall, 17% jabs, 27% power) and as a result Stevenson prevailed 108-36 in total connects, 23-21 in landed jabs and 85-15 in power connects.
As eye-opening as that performance was, the stats indicate that this punch distribution wasn't unusual. Against Dawson, Stevenson threw 11 jabs and four power punches, meaning that 73.3% of his total punches were not hooks, crosses or uppercuts. In beating Boone, Stevenson fired 220 jabs and 238 power punches, a near perfect balance on offense. When he TKO'd Donovan George in the 12th, Stevenson threw 535 jabs and 447 power punches, a 55-45 ratio in favor of jabs.
That blue print has effectively set up his power punches, which have been landing with excellent efficiency - 53% vs. Cloud, 50% vs. Dawson (albeit 2 of 4), 49% vs. Boone and 44% vs. George, all above the 39% light heavyweight average.
Body Buster: Body-punching has been a staple of Stevenson's attack, whether they be jabs to the stomach or heavy blows to the ribs. Body shots were responsible for one knockdown against Boone, three against George and one against Aaron Pryor Jr. Strangely enough, Stevenson didn't land a single body shot against Dawson, for both of his power connects struck the head.
Of his 156 power connects against Pryor Jr., 79 targeted the body while 84 of 198 power connects against George and 48 of his 116 versus Boone struck the flanks.
Fast Starts, Flagging Finishes: In all three of Bellew's CompuBox-tracked fights, he has followed a similar pattern - energetic beginnings followed by slower and sloppier finishes.
In losing a majority decision to Nathan Cleverly, Bellew ended up beating his opponent at his own volume-punching game as he prevailed 1,038-645 in thrown punches, 469-300 in attempted jabs and 569-345 in thrown power shots. Those gaps allowed him to trail just 209-194 overall, 64-50 jabs and 145-144 power.
In the first eight rounds, Bellew averaged 94.7 punches per round but in rounds 9-12 that pace slowed to 70.2, allowing Cleverly to out-land him 52-37 overall down the stretch. That noticeable slowdown may well have influenced the judges, for Cleverly maintained a steadier - and less perceptible pace (56.9 over the first eight, 47.5 over the final four).
Bellew's two fights with Isaac Chilemba saw a slightly different angle in that Bellew ruled the first half with fairly sedate volume while Chilemba closed the gap in the second half.
The Liverpool native was very fortunate to receive a split draw before his hometown fans in fight one. In the first half the pace was about even (46.3 per round for Bellew, 50.7 for Chilemba) and the Malawi native led 56-55 in total connects and 36-32 in landed power shots. But in the second half, Chilemba accelerated to 70.5 punches per round to Bellew's 50.8 and out-landed him 115-59 overall and 57-33 in power connects. Those bulges would have been enough to prevail in most venues, but not in Liverpool against a Liverpool favorite. J
In the rematch, Bellew was eager to make amends for the draw as he led 121-87 overall, 42-21 in landed jabs and 79-66 in power connects. During that stretch he averaged 73.5 punches per round to Chilemba's 69.7. In rounds 6-12, however, Chilemba led 70-57 overall, 26-14 jabs and 79-66 in power connects but because both men slowed their pace (53.3 for Bellew, 59.8 for Chilemba), Bellew was able to maintain his mathematical grip on the scorecards and the stats (178-167 overall, 56-47 jabs, 122-120 power). Cleverly and Chilemba I & II combined to land 34% of their power shots to 26% for Bellew, who landed just 20% of his total punches to 26% for opponents.
Prediction: Stevenson is breathing deeply "in the zone" while Bellew is a talented but flawed product. The early rounds should be interesting as Bellew's volume, if he chooses to utilize it, may present challenges. But once Bellew tires and his technique begins to flounder, Stevenson will exploit those weaknesses in explosive fashion, especially since his rival Sergey Kovalev will be in the house. Stevenson by TKO.