By Tim Smith
Rarely does a boxer announce his arrival onto the scene and state his intent to capture an entire division with the kind of loud, concussive flourish light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson did this year.
Stevenson smashed Chad Dawson, the lineal light heavyweight champion, with a devastating first round knockout in June. To demonstrate that the victory wasn't a fluke, he vanquished a worthy successor in beating Tavoris Cloud into submission, forcing him to retire in his corner in the seventh round in September.
"He was the one who was supposed to get knocked out by Chad,'' said Javon "Sugar'' Hill, Stevenson's trainer. "Chad was supposed to be superior and the comment that they had about Adonis was they had to Google him to find out who he was. People thought he was a fluke. So he had to come back and outbox Tavoris Cloud. Those were great accomplishments. It showed his maturity and his confidence.''
Not many doubt Stevenson's credentials anymore. He has fought his way into the conversation for 2013 Fighter of the Year. He has the supreme confidence that comes with being a reigning champion. Now that he has reached the top it's all about staying there.
"He knows that there is someone else out there trying to take his championship away,'' Hill said. "He was in the same position of wanting the championship and being hungry. He's trying to keep what is his now. It's a much higher level than trying to get it. He doesn't want it to go away.''
Just as he was waiting in the wings to dethrone Dawson and beat back Cloud, others are lurking to take down Stevenson, who calls himself "Superman.''
Tony Bellew, a 30-year-old from Liverpool, England, will challenge Stevenson's supremacy in the 175-pound division in a 12-round championship match at Colisee de Quebec in Quebec City on World Championship Boxing Saturday night. If Stevenson gets past Bellew, there will be stiffer challenges ahead against boxers like Sergey Kovalev, who also appears on Saturday's broadcast.
Stevenson (22-1, 19 KOs), who was born in Haiti and now lives in Montreal, is fulfilling the destiny that the late trainer Emanuel Steward had foresaw for him. Steward sang Stevenson's praises as the next great light heavyweight champion long before anyone knew who Stevenson was, after briefly working him at the Kronk Gym in Detroit in 2012. Then Steward became ill and passed away, leaving his nephew, Javon Hill, to build on the foundation Steward had laid for Stevenson. Hill said he is not surprised at how Stevenson has grabbed hold of the light heavyweight division this year.
"I know his talents and his skills in that division or super middleweight division,'' Hill said. "He's improving every time out. He's improving every day in the gym. Emanuel knew that he'd beat these guys. Now we're at this point.''
Hill said Stevenson's footwork has gotten better and that his boxing IQ increases with each match.
It will be interesting to see what Stevenson brings to the ring against Bellew, who said he will be the kryptonite to Stevenson's Superman. If styles make fights, then Bellew (20-1-1, 12 KOs) may be underestimating Stevenson.
Bellew can't match Stevenson in speed or power and his poor defense makes him an inviting target. Bellew's best chance to win is to make it an ugly fight, which he has demonstrated that he can do. His bout against Isaac Chilemba looked more like a ballroom waltz than a boxing match. Bellew won a clinch-filled 12-round decision. If Stevenson can loosen the grip, he will be able to land those thunderous shots that finished Dawson and forced Cloud to quit.
Getting past Bellew means greater challenges for Stevenson. Kovalev will likely be on his dance card sometime in 2014. Kovalev won a title by defeating Nathan Cleverly in Cardiff, Wales in August. Stevenson can get an up-close look at the Russian-born champion against Ismail Sillakh in the co-featured fight in Quebec City on Saturday night. If Stevenson and Kovalev can end their matches by knockout, a unification match between the two would be one of the biggest fights of next year.
But Stevenson isn't getting ahead of himself just yet.
"I'm going to be focused even more on Tony Bellew.'' Stevenson told RingTV.com. "He's my mandatory, and he's very dangerous. So I'm not talking about any other boxer as far as what I'm going to do."