Adonis Stevenson: An Accidental Avatar of Boxing's Evil Twin

Or, where boxing's dual histories. . .what? Merge? Collide? You tell me.

[The following was first posted as a comment. I've tried to correct it and have expanded it a little for a fanpost. I realise that the history is not in depth and that these generalizations are broad and comprise many exceptions. I'm hoping for help exploring these areas--please share your thoughts.]

One Boxer, Today

Adonis "Superman" Stevenson, a Haitian-born, Kronk-trained, French-Canadian boxer (23 - 1 (KO 1) - 20) boasts a short but stellar amateur career, an extremely explosive, exciting style, the current WBC Light Heavyweight title via R1 KO of Chad Dawson, and a particularly sleazy criminal record.

Before Stevenson was a boxer he was a member of a Montreal-based Haitian street gang, and was a sex slaver. According to Wikipedia,

At age 21, Adonis Stevenson started an escort agency in Montreal. He recruited two women into prostitution effectively acting as their pimp. The two women were reportedly beaten and tortured by him and other leaders of his agency over the course of multiple months. After the escape of one of the women, he was convicted to a 4 year prison sentence for procuring, coercion and aggravated assault. After a fight in prison, he was also later convicted of another count of aggravated assault.[1]

This is repulsive behavior. Some rumors have it that he made the girls box nude for his entertainment. But he did his time (probably about half the time it will take for those women to recover, if they ever do), and boxing is the sport of second chances. He's behaved himself ever since. So there's that. And how peculiar is it that the probable great-great-grandson of slaves was a sex slaver who saved himself by engaging in a sport long associated with slavery?

Way, Way Back in the Day: The Origin of a Dichotomy

Boxing is older than Rome, and didn’t always involve slaves; it didn’t in ancient Greece--sometimes it did, but not always or even usually--ancient Greek boxing was largely an open, free sport. But in ancient Rome it did: With few exceptions, gladiatorial boxing was snuff boxing, that was the whole point. There was nothing glorious about it, despite the romanticizing of modern movies on the subject. The historic reality is that the actual gladiators were slaves and felons, prisoners forced to fight to the death for entertainment purposes.

After the dawn of Christianity, the fall of Rome, and the rise of the Roman Catholic Church, boxing and other gladiatorial sports faded, and stayed faded for a long time.

The Memory Lingers On: A Tale of Two Boxing Traditions

General Remarks: Haiti, Mexico

Haiti: A couple of millennia after the Roman arenas died out, Haiti became a French slave colony (starting 1660-64). About one-third of New World slaves passed through Haiti. Odds are that this includes some of those who fought, sometimes to the death and never by choice, for Southern plantation owners' entertainment purposes. Nor does it end there. Even today Haiti struggles with human trafficking/slavery, apparently having taken on the mentality of its captors.

The State Department said Haiti is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking according to this summary by Nelson A. King for Caribbean 360 .

The report notes of documented cases of Dominican women in forced prostitution in Haiti, and that Haitians are exploited in forced labour in the neighbouring Dominican Republic and elsewhere in the Caribbean, as well as in the United States.

Exerpted from:

Mexico (and South America generally): I am no expert, or even very informed regarding Central and South American history. It crosses my mind, however, that the indigenous peoples who were overwhelmed by the Spanish conquistadors would, thereby, be exposed to a fundamentally Roman tradition--Roman Catholicism for example, seems pretty ubiquitous throughout the area--because like Italy, Romania, Moldavia, Portugal, and France--Spain's traditions descend from Rome in terms of religion, law, and in significant measure, general attitude and culture. The Roman model appears to cast its long shadow throughout Mexico and South America.

England and the US

England: By the mid-1700s, England was reviving ancient Greek Olympic boxing as an offshoot of a general Greek Revival movement. The Ancient Greek paradigm--boxing as a free person's sport (even girls sometimes boxed in Ancient Greece)--was brought into the modern world in England as a free man's sport governed by rules for safety and fairness, and open to all. Before Queensberry, there were nonetheless rules, the London Prize Ring Rules, Broughton's Rules. It was thoroughly rugged and dangerous, but it enjoined, nonetheless, a strong sense of fair play, a crude but genuine regard for safety, and a sporting attitude.

The American South: While ancient Greek boxing was providing the model in England quite the reverse was happening in the American South. The Southern slave owners were introduced to the Greek approach to boxing and the skills employed by way of trips "home," and the sending of sons back to England for its superior educational opportunities. However, the Southern plantation owners, who had slaves at their disposal, employed the Roman model. In the words of David Remnick in King of the World,.

Boxing in America was born of slavery. Like the Roman emperors who gathered at the colosseum to watch their warring chattel, Southern plantation owners amused themselves by putting together their strongest slaves and letting them fight it out for sport and gambling. The slaves wore iron collars and often fought nearly to the point of death.

Another memory that lingers on: Plantation slave boxing has tainted the sport of boxing in the US ever since.

The American North: Until about 1895, boxing was illegal in the North, existing only rarely, unsanctioned, at the margins of society. It was regarded by Northerners, and still is by many, as an exploitative cruelty that only oppressors would promote. Not till John L. Sullivan introduced Queensberry's Rules in the 1890s did it gain any legitimacy at all. White fighters were the first, via Sullivan, to wear gloves, and to have a nominally respected set of standardized, enforced rules. This aura of sportsmanship and Sullivan's jolly-good-fellow image brought boxing into the mainstream of white America, where the two traditions have been sidling around each other like things that go bump in the night ever since.

Enter Adonis Stevenson: His criminal record having been exposed, his whole personal and cultural history ricochets off of every facet of the history of slavery, and by extension the history of boxing. Nor is he the first, but it's just so stark in his case. There is a certain fraught irony in the spectacle of this young man, both a product and a perpetrator of slavery, being saved by a sport so interwined with its ghastly shadow. Because it seems like slavery and boxing are still partners today, too much of the time--in the dangerous depths of exploitation that a lot of matchmaking (sacrificial lamb fights/mismatches) represents and in general in the glorification of the depraved, archaic gladiatorial, snuff-oriented version of the sport.

Final Thoughts: The whole slave-derived, die-in-the-ring phenomenon is one of the biggest things that informs my personal loathing of the "be-a-gladiator (slave, prisoner)" mentality and my strong preference for the Ancient Greek>>>modern English attitude toward, and governance of, boxing as a free men’s and even gentlemen’s sport. Rough, risky, long- and short-term dangerous, but still a sport.

What are your thoughts?

<strong><font color="red">FanPosts are user-created content written by community members of Bad Left Hook, and are generally not the work of our editors. <em>Please do not source FanPosts as the work of Bad Left Hook</em>.</font></strong>

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