The WBC title belt was as shiny as the WBO jewelry was gaudy.
But in reality, the goings-on in the ring Saturday night in Quebec City were far more about the championship laurels recognized by an entirely different three-lettered boxing kingmaker.
With wins over respective pretenders Tony Bellew (TKO 6) and Ismayl Sillakh (KO 2) on the post-Pacquiao live card from Canada’s separatist capital, 175-pound claimants Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev set themselves up for an imminent chance to unify the “Network of Champions” version of light heavyweight supremacy.
And while contemporaries at Showtime may be on the verge of a decision when it comes to which cable provider had a better boxing year, blow-by-blow man Jim Lampley was spot-on in referring to Stevenson going in as the “legitimate” kingpin in the division—which, by subsequent definition, makes the follow-up with the unbeaten Russian its most must-see TV.
It’s got all the elements of a classic prime-time ring drama.
Both men are immigrant success stories—Stevenson from Haiti, Kovalev from Russia. Both are huge punchers—Stevenson with 20 KOs in 23 wins, Kovalev with 21 in 23. And neither is at all shy when it comes to announcing an intention to render punishment to an opponent.
Just moments after a 3-minute, 52-second obliteration of Sillakh, whom he’d unapologetically mocked following the first of two knockdowns, Kovalev showed broken-English eloquence by clearly answering “Adonis” to Max Kellerman’s query about who he wanted next.
Then, in the subsequent hour, Stevenson warmed slowly before wowing the adopted home crowd with an incremental breakdown of Bellew that was ultimately capped off with the fusillade of left hands that warranted a humane stoppage by Michael Griffin in round six.
Next stop, in Lampley’s words: “concussion city.”
And it seems the perfectly logical destination, assuming Stevenson buys the ticket.
The Kronk protege billed as “Superman” poured fuel on the burgeoning fire with an eventually devastating stoppage of his English foe, but his post-fight remarks suggested he considers other conflagrations as much or perhaps even more worthy of generating hometown heat.
Among them, IBF title claimant Bernard Hopkins, whose mere mention—thanks to his alliance with Golden Boy Promotions, and, by extension, Showtime—left a suddenly egg-faced HBO duo scrambling to reiterate that Kovalev deserves next if Stevenson craves credibility.
“As impressive as (Stevenson’s four-KO) year has been, Kovalev is considered the best light heavyweight in the world and he would be favored to beat Adonis Stevenson and any other light heavyweight in the world,” Kellerman said. “If Adonis Stevenson is content to be just a Canadian world champion, he could take those other fights. But if his point is to become a real superstar in boxing, I don’t think there’s a way around Kovalev in near future.”
Lampley, with producers no doubt buzzing his earpiece, quickly concurred while focusing attention back to the reason the dual-pronged card had been concocted to begin with.
“Both guys got the job done,” he said. “It was thunder. It was impressive. And regardless of all the discussion of other opponents, the desire is to see Stevenson and Kovalev together.”
Should it actually occur, it’d be easy to make a case for either fighter.
Kovalev was a borderline loser for three minutes against a tactically adept Sillakh, but he dispensed with strategy and ended the match with a pair of clubbing right hands that left a fleet-footed challenger in a horizontal heap with his head under the ring ropes.
So while Stevenson incorporates something beyond simply caveman tactics in vanquishing victims, it’s no guarantee such acumen will be any defense when it comes time to take a shot.
By the same token, the former Emanuel Steward pupil is no pushover either.
Though he needed nothing more than one-punch KO power to get rid of Chad Dawson five months ago, a subsequent beatdown of ex-titleholder Tavoris Cloud was an impressive mix of power, defense and ring generalship against a foe who’d lost one of 25 fights.
And while Bellew was able to withstand some solid shots and land a few of his own, he did so only while assuming a defense-first, aggression-second approach that was destined to be unsuccessful whether the end came via loss on points or loss of consciousness.
Such variety will pose questions that Kovalev at this stage has not been forced to answer.
It’s surely HBO’s hope that Stevenson quickly develops an interest in asking.