For how thoroughly light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson dominated challenger Andrzej Fonfara over the first eight rounds on Saturday night, he left more than a few questions over the final third of the fight.
Stevenson (24-1, 20 KOs) overcame questionable cardio and a late knockdown in Round 9 to outlast a determined Fonfara by unanimous decision (115-110 twice, 116-109) in a rousing finish at the Bell Centre in Montreal. ESPN.com scored the bout 116-109 for Stevenson.
"I come back strong so I showed the world that I go down, but I still come back strong because I'm a true champion," Stevenson said. "I was off-balance, and he caught me."
Fonfara (25-3, 15 KOs), a native of Poland who fights out of Chicago, came to win despite being physically outmatched for most of the fight. The 26-year-old exercised tremendous heart to survive a pair of early knockdowns and turned the fight around in Round 9 by flooring Stevenson with a straight right hand.
But Stevenson, 36, responded well to the late scare and dug deep behind a relentless body attack to prevent further trouble, even as Fonfara went for broke in the final round. The champion revealed after the fight that he was forced to overcome an injury to his left hand early in the bout.
"I hurt my hand in the second round so I used my head and my boxing," Stevenson said. "It was a good fight. [Fonfara] is tough. I know he's a tough fighter. He's a good fighter. He came to be a world champion."
The bout was expected to be a showcase opportunity for Stevenson after signing with adviser Al Haymon and taking his business to Showtime. The move angered some boxing fans because it ended hopes of a showdown with unbeaten titlist, and fellow power puncher, Sergey Kovalev.
Stevenson wasted little time in jumping all over Fonfara in the opening round with quick and clean counter shots, including an overhand left that split Fonfara's gloves and sent him to the canvas.
Fonfara, who was lucky to make it out of Round 1, began to find marginal success with his right hand and fought a credible game plan despite suffering a cut above his right eye in Round 3. Stevenson, however, was simply too quick and athletic, and began to land at will with hard left hands to the body.
Stevenson, who defended his lineal title for the third time since knocking out Chad Dawson in June 2013, continued the assault in Round 5 when he sent Fonfara to the canvas a second time on a straight left downstairs.
"I survived because I have heart to fight," Fonfara said. "Every time he hit me, I feel his punch. He is a great fighter. He is a true champion and is the champ tonight. But I will train more and one day I want to be a world champion like him."
With a fight against Kovalev unlikely despite a pending lawsuit from his promoter, Main Events, Stevenson's focus turns to a possible fall unification bout with 49-year-old Bernard Hopkins.
"I accept any challenge," Stevenson said. "Bernard can be next. I'll let Al Haymon negotiate with that.
"And I have no problem with Kovalev. I don't have problem -- if I fight him, I fight him. Al Haymon is going to negotiate with that with Kovalev and [Stevenson's promoter] Yvon Michel. I don't have a problem."
Lemieux finishes Guerrero in Round 3
If exciting Canadian middleweight David Lemieux was hoping to send a message to fans and critics alike that his pair of 2011 hiccups are behind him, his performance against former world title challenger Fernando Guerrero was an impressive statement.
The power-punching Lemieux (32-2, 30 KOs) was all over Guerrero from the opening round and scored four knockdowns en route to a resounding third-round TKO in front of his hometown fans.
"I do my best to perform my best for my friends and fans, for my family," Lemieux said. "I respect people so I always give my 100 percent in the ring. We worked very hard for this."
Lemieux, 25, the former can't-miss prospect, floored Guerrero (26-3, 19 KOs) in Round 1 and opened up a huge cut above his right eye the following round. But it was Round 3 where Lemieux did the most damage by recording three knockdowns, including the third along the ropes following three left hooks and a vicious right uppercut that forced referee Michael Griffin to wave off the action at 1:56.
Guerrero, 27, who was stopped by middleweight titlist Peter Quillin in 2013, was overwhelmed by Lemieux's pressure from the get-go and was never in the fight.
For Lemieux, the victory was his seventh straight since 2011 defeats to Marco Antonio Rubio (by TKO7) and Joachim Alcine (MD12), which took a major hit to his stock.
"I've never been a quitter," Lemieux said. "I've always worked hard regardless of the obstacles I have had in my life."
Charlo outpoints Ota
As much as the judges' scores failed to illustrate, unbeaten junior middleweight Jermell Charlo was forced to dig a little deeper than expected against Charlie Ota.
Charlo (24-0, 11 KOs), a Houston native, was knocked down for the first time in his career and later was docked a point for hitting low before closing out a unanimous-decision victory by scores of 115-111 and 118-109 (twice).
Ota (24-2-1, 13 KOs), a native of New York who fights out of Japan, overcame Charlo's 5-inch height advantage by ducking down as he lunged forward. A big overhand right from Ota floored Charlo midway through Round 3, and a similar shot one round later buckled Charlo's knees.
"To me, I slipped," Charlo said of the knockdown. "I didn't feel a solid shot."
But Charlo, 24, the twin brother of fellow 154-pound prospect Jermall Charlo, responded well to the adversity and began to outbox Ota, 32, behind his quick jab. By Round 5, Charlo began to slow Ota's bull-rushing attempts by catching him with short left hooks on the way in.
Charlo, who won a 10-round unanimous decision over Gabe Rosado in January, continued to box a fading Ota rather passively from the outside -- a stance that only increased after Charlo was deducted a point by referee Jean-Guy Brousseau in Round 9 following his second low blow.
"I'm still young, I'm still growing," said Charlo, who was booed by the Montreal fans in Round 12. "There is more to come from me."