“Lewis! Lewis! Lewissssss!” screams Adonis Stevenson down the phone. It’s quite the introduction. I’d been messaging with the former 175-pound king for a week or so, and finally managed to organize a time slot for us to talk life, boxing and everything in between.
I warmed to the Haitian-Canadian immediately as he talked me through the mechanics of his day. Lunch in Laval, Quebec with his brother was looming, but the 43-year-old was extremely generous with his time over several conversations that day.
After his emotional appearance at the WBC Convention in late 2019, Stevenson – and his story – have fallen out of the public eye. “Superman” was honored with the “Champion of Hope” award in Cancun, and was visibly moved by the recognition, yet this outing acted only as a toe-dip back into the boxing waters he used to swim so freely.
Life is much different now. Stevenson has traded sparring for reading; pad work for memory exercises; hill sprints for music stints, still trying to cling onto the superhero cape that used to define his career.
“I’m just going step by step at the moment, trying to get back to full health,” he explained. I’m much better now than I was. My family are helping to look after me — my Mother in particular. It’s really important for me that I’ve got an amazing family that have had my back throughout. People say ‘if you have a good family that’s all that matters’. When you reach the low that I reached, it’s important to be surrounded by love.”
Stevenson speaks with raw emotion in his voice; the struggle that he has faced over the past few years is anything but surprising.
A defeat to the now-retired Oleksandr Gvozdyk in December 2018 saw the end of the Haitian-Canadian’s career inside the ring. Following an 11th-round stoppage, Stevenson was rushed to hospital in Quebec and wasn’t expected to leave alive.
After suffering a traumatic brain injury in the fight, the then-41-year-old required immediate neurosurgery to stem the bleeding, with a portion of his skull removed to reduce the swelling. He’d spend the next 22 days in an induced coma, waking to find out that his life had changed forever.
“All I remember is hearing God’s voice talking to me, telling me to relax and to take my time,” he explained. “I could also hear my kid’s voices – they were all I could think about. I grew up without a father as he died before I was born, so I had that fight and determination inside of me not to let my kids go through the same situation as me. I couldn’t let them grow up without me being there.”
It was a fight that Stevenson won. Grueling hours followed inside a rehabilitation centre, until Stevenson was allowed to return home to continue his recovery. He’s still improving to this day, yet still understandably stumbles on words and falls victim to the occasional repetition.
“A lot of people tell me, ‘Adonis, you can speak two languages after coming out of a coma, this is incredible,’” he said. “People still call me ‘Superman’ now, but I guess for different reasons. I was told by the doctors that what I have overcome over the last two years isn’t normal. I should have died, but for some reason, God gave me a second chance.”
Glancing back at the catalogue of his career brings unbridled joy to Stevenson. He laughs hysterically while recalling his fight with Chad Dawson in 2013, making sure I had re-watched the entire 73 seconds of the fight a number of times as if to confirm the result. He remembers Dawson saying he had to Google his name before the fight, claiming he was unaware of the challenger.
“That night was crazy, man,” he recalled. “The dream came true that night. Any boxer when they start wants to become the world champion. But I became world champion and Ring Magazine champion on the same night. You can’t find another fighter that was able to do that to a champion like Chad Dawson. At the time, Dawson was a big, big name; a massive champion who people had as a real favourite against me. He was no joke.”
The conversation turned to another former foe in Tony Bellew, as Stevenson remembers the second defence of his light heavyweight crown.
“Bellew talked so much shit as well,” he added. “I told him, ‘When we get into the ring together I’m gonna knock your ass out.’ Knockouts sell, and we both knew that. I really wanted to stop him and I did. Everyone told me that Bellew was a huge name in the UK and a really intelligent fighter. I surprised a lot of people that night, again.”
He’s keen to pay his respects to men that guided him throughout his career, in particular Emanuel Steward, Al Haymon, and Yvon Michel. As a youngster, Stevenson served 18 months of a four-year sentence behind bars in Montreal, following charges relating to the managing of prostitutes and assault, and is keen to stress the importance of multiple “father figures” in boxing and family support that refused to let him return.
“I was a stupid kid, man,” he admitted. “I was only young, and I hurt people without truly realising. It’s hard when you come from nothing and get mixed in with the wrong crowds. I wouldn’t say I was scared for my health, but I was scared I would never come out. When you go into a place like that you never truly know if you’re going to get out. Some fucked up stuff goes on in there.
“See, I was lucky though. I had good people and a good family to come out to. Not everyone has that. Of course, I had boxing too. That gave me the motivation and distraction to stay out of trouble. I made a promise to myself that I will never go back there once I was out.”
Stevenson is trying his best to look forward now. His immediate plans involve trying to start an online boxing exercise class through social media, helping those who have become inactive over the COVID-19 pandemic. He still has a vested interest in his old weight class, too, and is keen to discuss the marquee match-up.
“Who is the King of Russia?!” he bellows, referring to a growing consensus that Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol are destined to fight for the light heavyweight’s number one spot. “This fight would be crazy! I don’t know who wins that fight, but it’s a dream fight. Beterbiev punches so hard but Bivol is skillful. That’s the kind of fight that should be made, I love that fight!”
It’s rewarding to hear Stevenson is thriving despite the daily difficulties that life now throws his way. He’s countering a majority of these punches, but there is still an unmistakable vulnerability that he is learning to live with. Importantly, he doesn’t regret his decision to lace up his first pair of gloves.
“Boxing saved my life,” he concluded. “It nearly took it away afterwards with my concussion, but it saved me before anything else.”