“What have you done for me lately?”
Perhaps no professional sport places more emphasis on recent history than boxing, where general inactivity makes last impressions lasting. Adonis Stevenson, who won a unanimous decision over Andrzej Fonfara at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, last night, is the latest example of this phenomenon. Stevenson’s career is in many ways a sprint to separate his years in a criminal flesh trade from his years in a legal one. His success in this endeavor has nothing to do with contrition or atonement, of course, but in giving the public the fights it wants to see. Which is not to say Stevenson’s past does not remain on peoples’ lips.
When Stevenson moved from HBO to Showtime, skirting archrival Sergey Kovalev, some used his history, and what it supposedly revealed about his character, to explain Stevenson’s perceived reticence. His past was further examined in the lead up to his fight against Andrzej Fonfara, which perhaps is simply a reflection of the lack of intrigue in the Fonfara bout.
Capable, but hardly exceptional, Fonfara was expected to succumb to the quickness and power of Stevenson, who had stopped his previous ten opponents; indeed, Showtime outbid HBO for Stevenson-Fonfara not because last night was expected to be especially remarkable, but because it would set up a fight between Stevenson and still-trucking Bernard Hopkins later in the year. Stevenson held up his end of the bargain by winning, though the largely undersold challenger nearly spoiled all those best laid plans.
Fonfara, Chicago, Illinois, had success imposing his physical advantages early, launching long jabs and crosses at his shorter opponent. Stevenson countered with left crosses, and dumped Fonfara when one such blow burst through Fonfara’s guard. Still, the lanky Pole beat the count and weathered Stevenson’s ensuing barrage with the disdainful confidence that marked his efforts on this night. Free of the cobwebs, Fonfara continued to pressure Stevenson. Struggling to land his cross through Fonfara’s high guard, Stevenson, 173 1/2, began to mix right hooks and body shots into his attack. The bodywork proved especially fruitful, as Stevenson dropped Fonfara with a straight left to the gut in the fifth round and hurt him with the same punch again in the sixth.
Yet Fonfara remained undeterred, and for all his deficits in power and athleticism, by the seventh round his pressure had Stevenson’s hands hanging lower than any trainer would care to see.
Recognizing a weary fighter, Fonfara worked his combinations and disregarded counterpunches. In the ninth round, Fonfara, 174 1/2, bore into Stevenson with two left hooks and a right hand that drove the hometown fighter to the canvas. It was here that Stevenson’s early work to the body proved crucial as Fonfara, looking worn from his own accumulated abuse, was unable to put a reeling Stevenson away. Unfortunately for Fonfara, a different Stevenson would emerge for the tenth, one who stayed inside, working both hands to the body, and carrying the remainder of the fight. Fonfara was game, but the difference in class proved insurmountable. After twelve tough rounds, Stevenson, 24-1 (20), was awarded the victory by scores of 115-110 twice, and 116-109.
Despite a scare then, the Hopkins fight is preserved. Stevenson can take comfort in knowing that neither the anemic work rate nor the size of the wily curmudgeon is likely to imperil him as Fonfara did. Which is not to say Stevenson is in the clear—far from it. He remains largely a one-handed fighter, and if Fonfara could find him, so too will Hopkins. Still, Stevenson’s left hand is as dynamic and explosive a weapon as there is in boxing, and if he repeats the merciless body attack he showed against Fonfara, he can grind the old man down. If anything, Stevenson’s performance Saturday night—revealing both his strengths and weaknesses—fuels intrigue in the Hopkins fight. Which, for all those who tuned in Saturday night, is as it should be.
The future should be Fonfara’s focus as well. He acquitted himself admirably against a dangerous foe, giving Stevenson his toughest fight in years. Showing considerable size, toughness and fortitude, and unencumbered by promotional and network affiliations, Fonfara should consider going trophy hunting, and beasts come no bigger than Sergey Kovalev. Whatever his next move, Fonfara, 25-3 (15), need not shy away from questions of what he’s done lately.