Adonis Stevenson and Don George were supposed to have gotten this over with a couple of months ago. Scheduled to fight on the season finale of ESPN Friday Night Fights in Oklahoma, Stevenson was forced out of the fight due to an injury, and George instead won a stay-busy fight against Dionisio Miranda.
The fight didn't come about easily. Stevenson was in position for an IBF eliminator bout in the super middleweight division, but contender after contender passed on the fight until the sanctioning body found George, down a ways in its rankings and coming off of a clear loss to Edwin Rodriguez (one of the guys who turned Stevenson and the IBF down).
The good news for George was that he was willing; he and his team knew that opportunities like this don't just come along if you're not well-connected with power promoters and power managers backing your play, and they certainly don't come often when your last fight was a fairly dull HBO undercard bout and an obvious loss.
The other good news for George (23-2-1, 20 KO) was he wouldn't be facing Stevenson (18-1, 15 KO) on the Haitian-born fighter's adopted home turf of Quebec. When Stevenson pulled out, though, the fight went where it belonged: Montreal, one of the world's great fight cities in 2012.
The bad news from the get-go was that George would be facing a devastating puncher who was on a roll. That bad news remains, and with the Chicagoan heading into hostile territory in Canada, we've got a clear underdog.
Stevenson, now 35, turned pro in 2006. His only pro loss came to Darnell Boone, a respected gatekeeper whose .500 record doesn't tell the full story -- even still, though, Stevenson should not have been stopped in two by Boone, who was coming in off of five losses to Craig McEwan, Erislandy Lara, Edwin Rodriguez, Jose Angel Rodriguez, and Brandon Gonzales.
Upon his return to action a year later in April 2011, Stevenson didn't look sharp or particularly confident in the first round against Derek Edwards, but his power came to the fight anyway, and he won by third round knockout. Two fights later, he beat the daylights out of Aaron Pryor Jr, finally stopping him in the ninth.
What came next showcased the full explosiveness of Adonis Stevenson, however. He was matched with Jesus Gonzales, the last fighter to ever beat Andre Ward (when they were about 12 years old). Gonzales was once a blue-chip prospect, but had faded a bit after some promotional issues. Gonzales was getting a chance to prove he belonged in contention at 168 pounds, and so was Stevenson.
In the lead-up to the fight, Gonzales brought to light Stevenson's past as a pimp, years before his boxing career began. Stevenson admitted to his crimes as a young man, and while Gonzales tried to say that he didn't bring it up for publicity or to mess with Stevenson's head, it's hard to believe that's not the case.
Stevenson promised he would knock Gonzales out. And in 99 seconds on February 18 at the Bell Centre, that's what he did.
It was a chilling KO, still probably the front-runner for Knockout of the Year, and proof positive that there was, without any question, some serious power in the hands of "Superman" Stevenson.
Now, Stevenson says he's ready to go, to secure his place in line for a shot at the IBF super middleweight title, currently held by Carl Froch.
"It is unfortunate for George because I'm hungry and I'm getting my rage on him," Stevenson says. "It will hurt Friday when I am victorious. I want to dedicate this fight to my trainer, Emanuel Steward, who is still hospitalized. I know what a triumph means for my career, so my mind is totally focused on my opponent."
So what can George do with this guy? I like Don George. I think he's a good, solid fighter. I'm not from Chicago, but I'm close enough to drive to Clarke's at 3:30am sometimes for an elk burger, so I also root for him out of local loyalty. He's honest -- he's never fibbed about his performances, such as his 2010 loss to Francisco Sierra, where he was really beaten up on the ESPN2 airwaves.
The fight in March with Edwin Rodriguez showed something that just as an observer and a boxing fan, I thought limited George in the ring. Once known as a brawler, and a good puncher, George seemed too focused on using his boxing, to the point that I think it led him unhelpfully far away from his strengths. Without question, there was need to tighten up his approach, and fine-tune things, and definitely get his defense improved. He doesn't want to fight guys like Jason Naugler forever, after all, and the guys better than Naugler had plenty to exploit if George didn't get better and get craftier.
The Miranda fight in August seemed to show George getting a bit more aggressive again, which was good to see. I'm not the world's biggest Edwin Rodriguez fan; I think he's a good fighter, but not particularly special, and it just didn't seem to me that he should have so routinely have defeated George. But that's what happened. Again, it was time to tune up the machine. Once again, adjustments needed to be and were made, or at least so it appeared against Miranda, a sixth-round TKO win for George.
Stevenson's tough to approach for anyone, though -- and I mean anyone. This is a guy with the pure power to beat anyone in this division, including Andre Ward. He's sort of a bigger, southpaw version of Randall Bailey. I've said numerous times that while Bailey is an extremely flawed fighter, his right hand would put Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao or anyone else out if it landed flush. It's that big a weapon.
Stevenson might have that with his left hand, and the worst thing for opponents is, it seems like Adonis is now, perhaps for the first time, totally aware of the sort of power he really has. His second round TKO over Noe Gonzalez in April saw him demolish another opponent who just couldn't really handle the power. Noe Gonzalez didn't go down scary like Jesus Gonzales did, but he was being hammered.
George, not surprisingly, says it's about getting to the late rounds -- those famous deep waters -- and avoiding getting caught early."Stevenson is dangerous at the start of fights but he is not invincible," says George. "When we find ourselves fighting past the eighth round, I'll be in my comfort zone. I put everything I have on the line for this fight, I will fight with all my energy and I'll win decisively. I will be the next No. 1 contender."
The 27-year-old George isn't running low on opportunities, really, but chances to make that next step, from fringe contender to actual contender, aren't going to keep coming along, and a loss here could be as personally discouraging to him as actually career-impacting. It's not a must-win, but it's not that far off, either. It's not often that a guy will break through on a third or fourth attempt to join the top ranks of the sport, and George is on at least attempt No. 2 here.
It's an interesting fight. Stevenson has all that power, but he can be hurt, he can be outboxed, and George has taken good shots in the past. The biggest factor is going to be, I believe, getting out of those early rounds, and it's not just about surviving them, but also about potentially gassing Stevenson out. Adonis has been gunning for knockouts in a big way -- he's putting a ton of effort into his power shots in his last couple of fights. He may have fallen in love with his power. If he doesn't wreck George's trip to Montreal early, will he have the gas tank to go all the way?
Adonis Stevenson is the favored man, and for perfectly logical reasons. But Don George doesn't seem outclassed in this matchup, and if Stevenson can't get him out quick, it's a fight that could get harder than many expect. If Stevenson isn't more than a one-trick pony -- it's a hell of a trick -- trouble could be brewing in what's meant to be his final step toward world title level.
WealthTV will broadcast Stevenson vs George on Friday night, starting at 7 pm EDT. Bad Left Hook will have live coverage of the fight.