Aftermath: On Adonis Stevenson vs. Thomas Williams Jr.
A few days ago, WBC light heavyweight titlist Adonis Stevenson sparked Thomas Williams Jr. with as brutal a punch as you will see landed this year. Compact and ruinous, Stevenson’s left hand put Williams out before his head struck the canvas in the Centre Videotron in Quebec City and jumpstarted his defiant but ultimately futile programming: Roll over, sit up, reach for the ropes, offer protest, abandon protest.
Williams has already moved on from the fourth round defeat, claiming to be comfortable with his loss because of the role in which his belligerence played. And so he should be because, for the first time since Andrzej Fonfara showed better than intended, Stevenson was forced into a fight.
It is under similar circumstances that he will suffer his next, and probably last, defeat. Stevenson is a one-armed fighter and, at some point, provided he faces better competition, Stevenson will come up against a fighter with the ability to first take away his main weapon and then, possibly, his will. But if you think the light heavyweight division is full of fighters who can do that, you are underestimating what surviving Stevenson – let alone defeating him – demands.
Because, for all his limitations, Stevenson is dynamic in his ability to bury home the only fist opponents need fear. Against Williams, he started by using his jab to hide the cross Williams expected but could never see coming. When Williams employed a high guard to catch the crosses he couldn’t see, Stevenson responded by digging lefts into Williams’ body. This adjustment forced Williams to open his guard just enough for Stevenson to find his chin with left uppercuts. Unable to stem Stevenson’s assault, Williams’ redoubled his commitment to a kill-or-be-killed strategy, which, for the inferior fighter, does not offer the 50/50 proposition such an either/or relationship implies.
And then there is what happens when Stevenson lands. Like the hum of an electric fence the split-second before the current strikes, or the sonic rush that rumbles out of the silence before the chorus in Deftones’ “Change (In the House of Flies),” elite power seems to announce its arrival at the moment escape becomes impossible. Stevenson has that kind of power, the kind of power that compensates and erases. Opponents not only succumb to it; they feel its residuals for some time. That same power serves as a reminder of just how disappointing a title run – one that includes defenses against Dmitry Sukhotsky, Sakio Bika and Tommy Karpency – is for Stevenson.
Stevenson’s run need not have been so unsatisfactory – after all, he wanted it that way. When there were no barriers in place, Stevenson found a few million reasons not to fight IBF/WBA/WBO beltholder Sergey Kovalev, inoculating himself from his greatest threat. Instead of securing a fight with Bernard Hopkins – supposedly the reason he passed on Kovalev – Stevenson and his team tried to have Hopkins stripped of his (then-IBF) title, so that they might win it against a lesser opponent. Make whatever rationalizations you want about an aging fighter maximizing his earning potential at the end of his career, those rationalizations (along with the fighters against whom they are used to defend) are reasons to stop following the sport.
Main Events used similar tactics when they forced a purse bid for Kovalev-Stevenson, knowing full well they would never win it. That purse bid was intended to do little more than secure an exclusive HBO deal that would pay “Krusher” handsomely to harrow Cedric Agnew and Blake Caparello. But when Kovalev is finished, he will have the names Bernard Hopkins and Andre Ward on his ledger. There is still ambition in his matchmaking and, with it, danger. In the proxy war between Kovalev and Stevenson, that is perhaps the Russian’s best weapon.
Danger was present in Stevenson’s matchmaking last week, however, and could remain so in the future. A bout with Eleider Alvarez seems inevitable, given he fought on the undercard Friday. Alvarez is unremarkable but he is awkward and strong and those qualities could remind Stevenson both of his age and the rigors of his profession. Stevenson should respond admirably to these mnemonic rounds but there would be drama in watching him do so. While he would not be favored to beat Stevenson, Artur Beterbiev, with his power and his amateur pedigree from a country where such a thing still holds value, represents the type of challenge even Stevenson’s harshest critics would appreciate.
There are reasons to doubt either fight comes to fruition, of course (though Alvarez’s willingness to absorb left hands, last Friday, bodes well for his chances at getting Stevenson in the ring). Stevenson has not challenged himself in consecutive fights in years, which is about as frequently as Premier Boxing Champions matches its A-sides tough. But if Al Haymon wants a light heavyweight champion in his stable, he will need to keep control of the 38-year-old Stevenson’s belt – and that means exposing his current champion to a potential future one.
Stevenson, one of the most reviled fighters of recent years, can end his career making fights worth watching and thereby undo at least some of the damage he did himself, barking about being great while patrolling a yard fenced primarily to keep threats out.
You can follow Jimmy Tobin on Twitter @jet79.