Friday night on Spike (9 pm ET), Premier Boxing Champions returns with a doubleheader from Centre Videotron in Quebec City, featuring the return of WBC light heavyweight titleholder Adonis Stevenson in the main event.
Here’s a look at what you’ll see on the show.
Adonis Stevenson vs Thomas Williams Jr
Record: 27-1 (22 KO) ... Streak: W14 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Southpaw ... Height/Reach: 5'11" / 77" ... Age: 38
Thoughts: Adonis Stevenson is a tough case. On the one hand, he holds the WBC light heavyweight title, was lineal champ for a while before The RING stripped him of that designation last year, and he is a legitimately good and often exciting fighter with punching power and a lot of personality.
But he’s almost universally disliked by boxing fans, and it’s rarely anything to do with the prison sentence he served before his boxing career. It’s generally just about the fact that he’s seen as having blatantly avoided a fight with Sergey Kovalev, who holds the other three sanctioning body titles in the division, and has become seen as the clear top guy at the weight.
Without Stevenson, Kovalev has sometimes struggled to make compelling fights, too. But he’s faced and beaten Bernard Hopkins and Jean Pascal (twice), which is more than Stevenson can say for anything he’s done since upsetting Chad Dawson in 2013. Since then, he’s beaten Tavoris Cloud, who was coming off of a loss, Tony Bellew, Andrzej Fonfara, Dmitry Sukhotsky, Sakio Bika, and Tommy Karpency. The competition has just gotten worse since the Fonfara fight, which going in was seen as a mismatch, too.
Stevenson’s quality as a fighter shouldn’t be ignored, but it’s hard to focus on anything but the fact that he wouldn’t fight the guy he should have fought. And once again, he is a clear favorite against an opponent who is pretty lightly regarded, even if he does bring some danger.
Thomas Williams Jr
Record: 20-1 (14 KO) ... Streak: W3 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Southpaw ... Height/Reach: 6’1" / 72" ... Age: 28
Thoughts: Kind of an all or nothing fighter, Williams had his prospect bubble burst in 2014 when Gabriel Campillo stopped him after five rounds, but he’s rebounded nicely enough, beating Michael Gbenga, Umberto Savigne, and Edwin Rodriguez in his last three fights. Against Gbenga, Williams did two things: (1) he tested the waters for a potential move down to 168, weighing in at 170½, and (2) he tried to come back and get rounds in a bounce-back effort.
Gbenga was a good pick for that sort of experiment, a durable veteran who wasn’t a real threat, a guy with a great KO percentage with zero knockout wins over credible opponents, and, well, frankly, zero wins of any kind against credible opponents.
But in his last two, Williams has fully committed at 175, and been in some real barnburners. He and Savigne were both down in the first round of their November 2015 fight on Spike, and Williams finished the Cuban off in the second round. In April, he and Edwin Rodriguez were expected to go toe-to-toe, and they did, both guys throwing and landing power shots, before Williams caught Rodriguez and stunned him, scoring a stoppage late in the second round.
That fight was all but advertised as an audition to face Stevenson, who found himself without much by way of potential opponents now that he’s avoided Kovalev long enough for Kovalev and Main Events to simply forget about him and target a bigger fight against a better fighter who actually wants it.
On paper, Williams isn't much better than most of the guys Stevenson has fought for the last three years, another mid-level contender at best, but he brings power and fearlessness to the table. Sure, that could get him knocked out in a minute as easy as it could get him the win, but it at least gives him the sort of chance that most of these opponents haven’t had. Even the guys who are arguably better fighters than Williams — Fonfara, Bellew, maybe Bika — don’t fight with the kind of urgency Williams has shown in recent fights.
Matchup Grade: C+. I’m giving it the + because I really want to like fights more often than I do, and I do think it's going to be a blast while it lasts. But I can’t go higher than this because it's just not that significant a fight on paper, and it continues what has been a wildly disappointing title reign by Stevenson, one that has gotten so bad that The RING even stripped him of their championship. He should have fought Kovalev in 2014 or 2015, but that ship has sailed, and since it's unlikely to come back around any time soon, Stevenson's reign will always be so much less than it could have been, no matter how long he keeps his belt fighting middling opponents.
Eleider Alvarez vs Robert Berridge
Record: 19-0 (10 KO) ... Streak: W19 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’0" / 75½" ... Age: 32
Thoughts: Alvarez is a top 10 light heavyweight, but after the top three, this division falls off a cliff right now. Once you're past Kovalev, Ward, and Stevenson, the dropoff is pretty steep, and it takes another cliff dive after Juergen Braehmer and Jean Pascal, and even those guys have plenty of question marks themselves. (In the middle, sitting in a grey area, is Artur Beterbiev, who has the talent of the top three, it would seem, but not the résumé yet.)
So Alvarez is really a glorified also-ran, a guy who appears to me more a fringe contender in actual quality than a serious contender. He's old for a prospect and untested for a contender, with his most notable win a majority decision last November against Isaac Chilemba. Chilemba is a pretty good fighter, but the prior hype behind Alvarez would have suggested that he might have done more with that matchup. I wasn’t very impressed by anything "Storm" did in that fight, at least in terms of seeing him as a top level fighter.
Alvarez’s power is mediocre, and he's not a real standout technician or anything, either. He, like Chilemba, is pretty good, and it probably ends there. If both of them win, Alvarez will go into a fight with Stevenson sold as an undefeated contender, but will he really be any more of a threat than the other guys Stevenson has been beating for the last three years?
Record: 27-4-1 (21 KO KO) ... Streak: L1 ... Last 5: 3-2 ... Last 10: 7-3 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5’8" / 70" ... Age: 31
Thoughts: The original opponent for this fight was Argentina’s Maximiliano Jorge Gomez. Then he pulled out, and Chad Dawson stepped in. Then Dawson pulled out, and Berridge was the opponent.
It appears as though we’ll actually make it to Friday with the New Zealand veteran as Alvarez’s opponent. As far as quality, he’s somewhere between Dawson, who could potentially have won if he showed up focused and in shape, and Gomez, who wasn’t going to win anything. Berridge isn’t, either, but he’s probably better than Gomez, anyway. He can punch a little, he’s been in with some decent fighters (Thomas Oosthuizen, Vasily Lepikhin, Blake Caparello), and lost to those guys. He most recently fought in November, taking part in a one-night "Super 8" tournament in Auckland, where he beat Sefo Falekaono and lost to Reece Papuni in a pair of three round bouts.
Berridge is short for the division, and lacks reach. His only hope here will be to blast Alvarez with something big on the inside and put him away. Alvarez may not be a great fighter, but he’s got every advantage in this matchup.
Matchup Grade: D. Let’s call it what it is, a stay busy fight against a third choice opponent. That’s all we’ve got here. The fact Berridge can punch a little saves it from an F, but this is a nothing fight, meant only as a showcase for a likely Stevenson-Alvarez fight later in 2016.