Adonis Stevenson is in for the fight of his life.
The WBC light heavyweight champion returns to the ring on Saturday night, facing top-ranked contender Andrzej Fonfara at the Centre Bell in Montreal. The bout, which will be televised on Showtime, has been treated as a mere formality by most in the boxing community.
But that’s a dangerous logic, especially for a fighter. And you can amplify that by a factor of a thousand for someone who has as much on the line as “Superman” will on Saturday night.
A win means bigger and better things, but a loss could sink the ship. And that’s why Stevenson refuses to overlook Fonfara, even if everyone else considers this a way station on the path to much more significant fights.
“I’m very focused for this fight. I’m not overlooking him. I know he’s going to be ready and I’m training for just him. I take it one fight at a time and I will take care of business. I’m ready for this fight,” Stevenson told an international media conference call on Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m not here to lose. I’m a champion and I’m here to win. By knockout. That’s it and I’m not concerned about anything else.”
You can’t fault Stevenson for saying what a fighter is supposed to say when asked questions about future fights. But even if he’s focused exclusively on Fonfara, it’s impossible to divert our attention off the bigger picture.
Stevenson made waves throughout the boxing world in February, signing with powerful adviser Al Haymon and shortly thereafter taking his show—no pun intended—to Showtime, presumably in pursuit of a unification fight with the ageless Bernard Hopkins.
That left HBO and WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev in the lurch, having believed a deal had been struck for the two men to meet in a unification clash on the network this fall.
So why did Stevenson, who has received a ton of flack and bad press for his decision, make the move?
“You know, I want to be a legend and I want to be on par with all the boxing legends so that gives me a lot of motivation to push my body very, very hard and at a high level and keep training and focus fight by fight. I’m very motivated.”
And how does he respond to people claiming that he ducked Kovalev to take a less threatening—at least in a physical sense—fight with Hopkins?
“Those people don’t understand that boxing is a business. That’s our mentality. That we negotiate with the network and we make sure that everyone gets paid. That’s why I took it because I’m working with the best managers in the world and they make sure everything is right with the network and everything,” Stevenson said.
“It’s not about ducking, it’s about business. I don’t have a problem fighting Kovalev. I have a feeling that Yvon Michel [Stevenson’s promoter] will one day make that happen.”
That last part certainly remains to be seen.
Main Events, the promoters of Kovalev, have since filed a lawsuit against Stevenson, Haymon, Showtime, Groupe Yvon Michel and Golden Boy Promotions, alleging all sorts of improprieties.
These include breach of contract by Stevenson and interference in said contract by Haymon. The thrust of the suit contends that Stevenson and Michel reneged on a deal to face Kovalev in the fall, and they did so because of interference from Haymon and Golden Boy, which instead sought the Hopkins match.
Whether or not the suit goes anywhere remains to be seen, but it has the potential to expose some of the dirty, insider secrets of the sport.
The legal issues in the background add an additional level of intrigue to Stevenson’s defense against Fonfara. There’s a lot riding on this fight, and you’d have to figure that whatever courtroom battles are to come, the principles would be much happier fighting them out with Stevenson, and not Fonfara, matched up against Hopkins in the fall.
Stevenson refused to be dragged into the weeds about possible distractions and legal issues complicating his future plans.
“That's Al Haymon and Yvon Michel’s responsibility about that. My job is to go into the ring and to knock everybody out. That’s my job,” said Stevenson.
Stephen Espinoza, the executive vice president of Showtime Sports who has been the driving force behind the network’s revitalization as a big-time boxing player, also didn’t seem worried about what a Stevenson loss would mean to his network’s future plans.
“Here at the network, our goal is to televise a title unification fight eventually. We don’t have any particular preferences on who the titlists are. We would just like to be able to televise and bring to the fans a fight that would result in a unified light heavyweight title,” Espinoza said on the media conference call.
Showtime might not have any particular preferences, at least not publicly, but you’d be crazy to think that Stevenson vs. Hopkins isn’t the fight they really want. That was one of the main reasons to reach out and bring him to the network.
But it’s not the only reason according to Espinoza.
“I will say that a good amount of the fascination with Adonis and his popularity is that he is such a big puncher and he has these highlight-reel knockouts. That’s something that’s not going to go away with a loss here or a loss there. It does throw a wrench in his plans for a unification fight, but there’s still plenty of value and interest in Adonis as a fighter," Espinoza said.
A big part of the allure of a fighter like Stevenson, as Espinoza said, is his ability to provide boxing’s best-selling commodity—knockouts. That’s something he’s promising to do to Fonfara in just a couple of days, even if he doesn’t know much about his opponent’s style.
“I don’t know [about his style]. I’m gonna knock him out. That’s what I’m going to do. I don’t know his game plan. I’m going to knock him out,” Stevenson said.
“When you used to watch Mike Tyson fight, you knew someone was going to get knocked out. That’s what is going to happen on Showtime. Somebody’s going to get knocked out,” he later added.
Stevenson’s punching power is near-lethal. His 83 percent knockout ratio is among the best in the sport, he’s won his last 10 bouts inside the distance and 20 of his 23 wins have come by knockout.
But it wasn’t always this way for him. He’s had to overcome a lot, personally and professionally—some of it self-inflicted—to get to this point.
He gives a lot of the credit for his rise up the ladder to the late, great Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward, who took him under his wing and helped make him a better fighter and a better person.
“You know, Emanuel gave me a lot of advice and motivation. And it’s not just about training. He was a friend to me and we spent a lot of time talking about life. And we talked about boxing and what it would be like to be a world champion,” Stevenson recalled in response to Bleacher Report’s question.
“A couple of years ago he [Steward] didn’t have any money, he didn’t save nothing. And he explained that to me and I took his advice. He told me I was going to be the world champion and that I was going to be a star.”
Steward was right.
Stevenson is a world champion, and he is a star. But he has the potential to be much more. He has the potential to be truly special.
And that process will either continue or come to a screeching halt on Saturday night.
For Stevenson, there’s only one real option—win.
Kevin McRae is a featured boxing columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted all quotes were obtained firsthand.