At the end of 2013, a showdown between Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev seemed inevitable. Both men had breakout campaigns that year. Both went 4-0 with four KOs, while collecting championship belts.
At the time, Stevenson slightly over-shadowed Kovalev. At the time, Kovalev’s belt was the WBO trinket, lifted from inexperienced and largely untested Nathan Cleverly in Wales. Stevenson’s version of the title was the legitimate one, the lineal belt. He won it by knocking out Chad Dawson in Round 1.
On November 30, 2013, Stevenson and Kovalev appeared together on a HBO double-header from Stevenson’s hometown of Montreal. Kovalev knocked out Ismayl Sillah, in devastating fashion, in Round 2. Stevenson closed the show by stopping Tony Bellew in six. Boxing fans were licking their lips, anticipating a classic unification bout in 2014.
It never happened. Instead, Stevenson signed a new deal with Al Haymon and jumped to Showtime, and now the PBC series, rather than HBO. The decision was widely interpreted as motivated by the desire to avoid Kovalev.
Since that move, Kovalev has emerged as the major star at light heavyweight. In November 2014, he defeated future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins, to unify three of the four major belts. Stevenson might remain the lineal champion as a matter of historical record, but Kovalev is the pound-for-pound star. The Ring has him No. 2 behind only Roman Gonzalez. Later this year, Kovalev is slated to face Andre Ward, in what will be the most important fight of 2016.
Stevenson still has a belt to defend, and he will do it this weekend, back in Quebec, against Thomas Williams Jr. The once-beaten Williams is a flawed contender, but he’s got grit and power. He was stopped by former title-holder Gabriel Campillo in August 2014. Williams is Campillo’s only win over a contender during his last 10 fights, a stretch in which he has gone 4-5-1.
Williams earned this title shot by knocking out Edwin Rodriguez in two rounds during a slugfest last April. Rodriguez was a legitimate contender and that was a very good win. The fight was exciting, though ugly. Both men basically pinned their ears back and started slugging it out. Williams did the better job avoiding Rodriguez’s punches and landed the better shots in return. But he did a high wire act in that fight, to be sure.
At 38, Stevenson could be ripe for an upset. He struggled late against Andrzej Fonfara in May 2014, in his last fight against a true contender.