Stevenson-Bika: Too many questions, not enough answers
The late-great Emanuel Steward was right about Adonis “Superman” Stevenson when he proclaimed that his prospect would one day become a world champion. Sadly, Steward never got to see his prophecy come to fruition up close but while departed, he surely heard the thundering, one-punch knockout Stevenson landed on Chad Dawson almost two years ago to win the lineal light heavyweight title. Largely an unknown at the time in June of 2013, the thrilling knockout gave Stevenson instant recognition and provided credit to the sentiment Steward shared when he believed the Haitian-born Canadian had the punching power it took to shock the world.
The left hand that landed on square on Dawson’s chin within the first minute of the contest is a moment etched in everyone’s mind and was a signature way to win for the fighter coming out of Steward’s Kronk Gym. Perhaps resonating further was Stevenson’s celebration in the moment as he high-stepped around the ring in jubilation with his team, then being carried around the ring, flashing his new WBC belt with uncontrolled joy, later forcing HBO’s Max Kellerman to a squat in the post-fight interview after Adonis fell to his knees when Kellerman began to explain how historic the moment was. It wasn’t so much that Dawson was a significant fighter who got beaten, rather Stevenson was “the man who beat the man” and had the lineal recognition tagged to his WBC and RING light heavyweight belts. It was winning the titles in tremendous fashion that gave the occasion its lasting impression.
Defending the same lineal light heavyweight title for the fifth time this Saturday evening, Stevenson will do so in front of a home crowd at the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, as the headliner of a “Premier Boxing Champions” (PBC) card that will be shown live in a matinee broadcast on CBS (3:00 p.m. ET/12:00 p.m. PT). It’s the culmination of Stevenson’s decision last year to sign with famed adviser and PBC creator, Al Haymon. In turn, it produced a disappointing 2014 and took away big opportunies from him, something a large majority of Haymon stars went through, but in hindsight, the unsatisfying matches made were all leading up to PBCs and Haymon’s incorporation of the sport that is currently taking place. Stevenson’s bout on Saturday will be the second installment of the PBC on a major cable network and the third one overall but will the PBC even recognize the title that inevitably got him to this stage?
Stevenson, 25-1 (21), will be the first true world titleholder fighting on a PBC card but, so far, the platform has failed to recognize any sanctioning body’s title in its broadcast to the public. Recognition was even put to a stop by a ring official when a cornerman for Keith Thurman tried to raise his WBA “regular” welterweight title after he beat Robert Guerrero in the PBC’s first broadcast on NBC in March. It was an exhilarating moment for a large majority of those who have been sick of the WBA’s cluster of titles (myself included). Given the PBC is introducing boxing to wider scale, perhaps they don’t want to confuse the potential new viewer with the buffoonery of what is the alphabet title system. After all, it is a complex order involving four different world titles across 17 weight classes, along with the lineal tag and meaningless straps with “interim” and “regular” labels. There is another theory and that is the PBC creating its own belt, yet Haymon is still continuing to seek world title bouts for his fighters who aren’t under the PBC banner.
PBC has made it clear that they don’t want belts to get in the way of the fights; instead they are set up for the sole purpose to entertain. On the other hand, the WBC will sanction this bout and the accompanying fee will be paid for Stevenson’s title defense whether or not they show him holding the belt. In PBC’s next event on April 11 in Brooklyn, the only two world titleholders in the junior welterweight division will clash heads yet Danny Garcia and Lamont Peterson won’t put their titles on the line. The fight will be at a catchweight of 143 pounds, largely because the A-side of that bout, Garcia, is struggling to make weight in the division in which he can call himself champion. Many have criticized the non-title bout but, again, the PBC is focusing on the match-ups rather than the belts involved and this is a match many clamored for last year.
Action-packed fights are what fans crave and if a fighter fails to consistently produce fireworks regardless of how many titles they have, their careers will take a hit because of their lack of excitement in the ring (that’s unless you’re as polarizing as one Floyd Mayweather Jr). So if it’s about all about the action, who has been chosen to dance with Stevenson?
It takes two to tango and Sakio “The Scorpion” Bika, 32-6-3 (21), will have a crack at the light heavyweight crown just shy of his 36th birthday this month on the 18th. Bika goes into this bout with eerily similar circumstances as Stevenson did when he first fought for the title. Adonis was 35, a career super middleweight and also fought for the first time at 175 pounds when he faced Dawson. Bika will step into the ring with Adonis under the exact same details. Unlike Stevenson, Bika fought the best of the best at 168 pounds and also held a world title in the division. He couldn’t defeat Joe Calzaghe, Andre Ward, and Lucian Bute but five of the six fighters who have beaten Bika have been world titleholders. Arguably his most impressive statistic in defeat is that he has never been knocked out.
His awkward style of brawling has not only led him to become a tough out for the opponent in front of him but it has also consistently hindered opponents into a tactical lull, producing a fight not too easy on the eyes. Bika’s last fight this past August against Andre Dirrell was a rematch that strung out for 12 long rounds of clinching, conjuring a disenchanting contest. Bika lost via unanimous decision and lost his WBC super middleweight title in the process. It was the sequel to the same match eight months prior that ended in a draw and from an entertainment standpoint, probably should have stayed that way. It’s no doubt deserving for a fighter to get another shot at a title after a draw but the question begs to be asked: Is it about the title or the entertainment value? After all, it is Al Haymon making these fights as he represents both Bika and Dirrell.
Despite Bika’s last two fights being mediocre at best, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee his fight with Stevenson will be the same. As the saying goes, “Styles make fights” and on any given night, two fighters can produce pugilistic gold. Fighting from the southpaw stance, Stevenson has minimal defense but looks for the home run shot when stepping up to the plate. It’s a style recipe that goes well with just about any dish and as long as he keeps Bika from fighting on the inside and clinching his way to survival, the fight could be a fun one. Bika’s boxing IQ is what makes him such a frustrating fighter and he has been known in the past to get into some fun brawls but it’s not something that has happened recently.
“My mentor, Emanuel Steward always told me that as soon as I enter the ring, the knockout is what sells. I’ll definitely be going for the knockout this Saturday on CBS,” said Stevenson in the press conference leading up to the fight. Smart advice and wise of Adonis to take it when trying to make a name for himself. Sixteen of his past 17 fights have ended with him knocking out his opponent and his last one was as brutal as they come as he destroyed Dmitry Sukhotsky in December. One fight prior, almost a year ago against Andrzej Fonfara was a reality check for Stevenson as he was unable to knockout the Polish contender and also showed some defensive flaws that led him getting dropped in the ninth round. Stevenson still won a wide unanimous decision but maybe the experience would benefit him in the future. It’s something no one would have even imagined before that fight had been originally made.
Stevenson has taken considerable heat since picking a fight with Fonfara, largely because of an elephant in the room: A unification bout with the only other world titleholder in the division, Sergey Kovalev, hasn’t been his main objective since signing with Haymon. The stars were beginning to align for that fight once Stevenson and Kovalev both won their titles by fighting on HBO in 2013. Stevenson’s business decision to sign with Haymon just before the Fonfara fight last year hindered the possibility of a bout that will determine an undisputed champion – something out of the ordinary these days in boxing. Because it’s a definitive way to comfortably crown a legitimate champion, it’s also something missing from the sport.
However, should Stevenson take care of Bika on Saturday, the WBC will force a mandatory bout with Kovalev, meaning he must fight him or vacate the title. According to Stevenson’s promoter, Yvon Michel of GYM Promotions, the super-fight is more inevitable than ever. In a BoxingScene.com article released on Wednesday, Michel claims Stevenson and Haymon are both “100% in agreement” to go to any venue and network in the event they lose the upcoming April 17 purse bid for the rights to the fight. It could easily be considered one of the biggest fights of the year and arguably the only one in the light heavyweight division that matters. It’s only speculation until both fighters sign the dotted line and it may answer to the question as to how important these world titles are to Haymon and his clients regarding the PBC.
Whether or not Stevenson will don the WBC and RING light heavyweight belts he earned is still a mystery. We will find out Saturday afternoon if the titles that got him his high-profile status will accompany him as he makes his way to the ring. Surely he wouldn’t be in this position headlining a big card on a major American television network without having won them two years ago.