What appeared to be a mismatch on paper and looked like surefire blowout in the opening round turned into a tough fight for reigning lineal light heavyweight champ Adonis Stevenson, who had to get up from a knockdown to score a unanimous decision over the very game Andrzej Fonfara.
The bout, which was televised on Showtime (in the U.S.), served as a proving ground for both 175-pound fighters.
Fonfara, who was dimsissed as an easy sanctioning body-rated contender by most hardcore fans and boxing media, proved that he deserves to be considered a top-10 light heavyweight.
Stevenson, THE RING magazine's Fighter of the Year for 2013 and one of the sport's most celebrated punchers, proved that he can do more than hit hard and overwhelm opponents with his explosive power. The dynamic southpaw had to rely on his underrated skills and heart to withstand Fonfara's late-rounds rally.
Stevenson (24-1, 21 knockouts), made the third defense of his RING and WBC light heavyweight titles with a unanimous decision over Fonfara on Saturday at the Bell Centre in his adopted hometown of Montreal. Stevenson, who won by scores of 116-109 and 115-110 (twice), dropped the game challenger with his vaunted straight left in Round 1 and Round 5 but had to get up from a knockdown in Round 9.
"It was a good fight," Stevenson told Showtime's Jim Gray in the ring after the bout. "I hurt my (left) hand in the second round, so I used my head. I threw the punch but I hit elbow and hurt it, so I had (to rely) on boxing and moving. I fought a very tough guy.
"Who's been knocked down? (Muhammad) Ali. Roy Jones Jr. Every best guy got knocked down. But I came back strong because I am a true champion."
Stevenson acted like a champ late in the fight but he reacted like the bonafide puncher he is early on by swarming Fonfara after dropping the challenger in Round 1. He landed a series of lefts to the body and head of the 26-year-old Chicago-based Pole, who covered up and survived the onslaught. From Round 2 through Round 7, Fonfara bravely stalked his tormentor, who stuck and moved with power and precision.
However, although Fonfara was being outclassed, he still managed to slip in some hooks and single body shots as he marched forward behind his high guard. The pressure finally began to take a toll on Stevenson, who appeared tired as Fonfara worked him along the ropes in Round 8.
In Round 9, Fonfara caused the boxing world to take notice by dropping Stevenson with a right hand and forcing the huge odds favorite to hold for much of the remainder of the round.
"I have heart to fight," Fonfara (25-3, 15 KOs) said after the fight. "Every time he hit me I felt his punch. Tonight, Sevenson was better. But I am young, only 26, I will train hard and one day I'll be world champion."
Prior to his bold stand against Stevenson, many fans would have pooh-poohed that statement. Less will do so now.
And more than a few will question Stevenson's dominance in the 175-pound division, which is home to two formidable titleholders — IBF/WBA beltholder Bernard Hopkins, a 49-year-old master technician who has put together an all-time great career by upsetting young badasses like Stevenson, and unbeaten WBO boss Sergey Kovalev, who appeared to be on a collision course with Stevenson when both fought on HBO.
Stevenson signed with influential manager Al Haymon earlier this year and made the move to Showtime with the hopes of fighiting Hopkins, who is repped by Golden Boy Promotions, which has an exclusive deal with HBO's rival subscription cable network.
However, by rallying in the late rounds against Fonfara, Stevenson showed that he's not the kind of one-dimensional puncher that Hopkins has feasted on in the past and that he's not the front-runner some believe Kovalev is.
After being dropped in Round 9, Stevenson bounced back in Round 10, hurting Fonfara with a big left and then deligently working the challenger's body for the remainder of the round. Stevenson continued his assault to the body in Round 11, also ripping Fonfara with uppercuts on the inside, which set up a very entertaining final round that featured both light heavyweights going toe to toe while occasionally waving each other on in macho fashion.
When Gray asked Stevenson about fighting both Hopkins and Fonfara during the post-fight interview the lineal champ said he had "no problem" fighting either beltholder, basically saying it was up to Haymon to decide.
Whether Stevenson takes on the ultimate cagey veteran or his fellow KO artist next, there will be more fans and media picking his opponent to win than there was prior to Saturday's fight. But most will also expect an entertaining and competitive scrap thanks to the skill and heart Stevenson exhibited.
Photos by Stephanie Trapp-Showtime
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