There were few hotter fighters in 2013 than Adonis Stevenson. There are few colder in 2014.
In 2013, Stevenson first avenged his only defeat by pummeling Darnell Boone in a rematch before moving on to the big HBO stage and crushing Chad Dawson in 76 seconds to win the light heavyweight world championship with the knockout of the year.
Stevenson followed with dominant knockout victories against solid opponents in former titlist Tavoris Cloud and mandatory challenger Tony Bellew as he played to growing crowds in Montreal, his hometown, and Quebec City, and was one of the leading fighter of the year candidates.
On the strength of his breakout year, Stevenson was poised for an even bigger 2014, but a year later all that momentum is gone. And Stevenson has only himself to blame.
Instead of having a series of major fights, Stevenson has been ridiculed for his refusal to face a top opponent this year when presented with three opportunities: title unification fights against Sergey Kovalev (with whom he had a deal but backed out) and Bernard Hopkins, as well as former world champion Jean Pascal, his Montreal rival, for what would be a huge fight.
Instead, Stevenson signed with adviser Al Haymon, withdrew from a fight that had been agreed to with Kovalev (according to HBO) and left HBO for Showtime -- ostensibly to face Hopkins, an understandable move given Hopkins' bigger name and star power. But then that fight did not get made; the Stevenson camp delayed finalizing the deal when Hopkins was under tight time pressure from a sanctioning body to make a unification bout or be ordered to fight a no-name mandatory challenger.
When the Kovalev and Hopkins fights went unmade, Stevenson still could have faced mandatory challenger Pascal, the bigger star and draw in Quebec, but that also went unmade because of Stevenson's purse demands, leaving Pascal and Kovalev to sign to fight each other on March 14 next year.
So while Kovalev and Hopkins wound up facing each other in November in one of the year's biggest fights -- Kovalev won by dominating decision -- and Pascal is lined up for a big 2015, the 37-year-old Stevenson (24-1, 20 KOs) is in no-man's-land thanks to a disappointing 2014 and, at his age, does not have time on his side.
In May, he got dropped and looked vulnerable in a struggle to outpoint Andrzej Fonfara in an inauspicious Showtime debut. And now instead of a big fight, Stevenson will face another obscure opponent, Dmitry Sukhotsky in the main event of a quadrupleheader on Friday night (Showtime, 9 ET/PT) at the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City.
Sukhotsky (22-2, 16 KOs), 33, of Russia, will be getting his second crack at a 175-pound world title. In December 2009, he lost a unanimous decision challenging Juergen Braehmer for his belt in Germany. Sukhotsky's other loss came by near-shutout 12-round decision to Cornelius White in Las Vegas in July 2012. Sukhotsky has won four fights in a row since, but against nondescript opposition.
Still, Stevenson said he is taking the fight seriously and added that, despite what happened this year, he still hopes to face Kovalev next year.
"This was probably the best training camp that I've had. We're ready for this fight. We're not underestimating him. I know he's coming to fight and I will be ready," Stevenson said at this week's final news conference. "I know he's a tough contender and I know he's training very hard for this fight. He's going to try to surprise me, but I'm very prepared because I know the contender is always going to try to take your belt.
"I'm going to win by knockout. [Late trainer] Emanuel [Steward] always told me that knockouts sell, so I'm going to win by knockout. It's going to be a short night on Showtime."
Stevenson said the reason for his poor showing against Fonfara was because of an injury.
"My hand has healed from the injury when I fought Fonfara. I'm healthy and I'm ready to go," he said. "Going 12 rounds was a good experience for me. I train for 12 rounds in the gym. Sometimes it's good to go the distance and get the experience."
Stevenson said that after he disposes of Sukhotsky he plans to pursue Kovalev.
"My plan is to face Kovalev in 2015. But first we need to focus and win this fight. Then we can talk 2015," he said.
If there is one thing, however, that could help facilitate a fight between Stevenson and the Kovalev-Pascal winner it was an unusual ruling this week at the WBC's annual convention in Las Vegas.
Typically, sanctioning bodies do not recognize or rank titleholders from other organizations. However, at the suggestion of Kovalev promoter Kathy Duva of Main Events, the WBC ruled that the Stevenson-Sukhotsky winner -- Stevenson is a landslide favorite -- can take one more optional defense but the winner of that optional defense must make a mandatory defense against the winner of Kovalev-Pascal. So although the Kovalev-Pascal winner will own three alphabet belts, the WBC is making the winner mandatory for its belt. Further, if no deal is made and the fight goes to a purse bid the split will be 50-50.
Sukhotsky isn't worrying about any of that. He is just happy to get another shot at a world title.
"He looked nervous at the podium, like he wasn't ready to fight, but I am ready to fight," he said of Stevenson. "I'm not going to say that he is underestimating me because I'll show that in the ring. I came here to win. I came here to bring the world title back to Russia. He has flaws and it is our job to find them and find a way to win the fight.
"It's always different when you fight a southpaw, but we prepared for it. We prepared for everything that can happen in the ring. I'm ready to fight. I'm here to make a statement. This isn't my first time fighting for a world title. Only this time, I will win."
Said Stevenson: "Everybody brings their A-game because I'm the champ. I know I'm the king of the light heavyweight division and I know that everyone wants to take my belt. Sukhotsky is a tough guy and he's hoping to surprise me. I'll prepare, my hands will be perfect and it will be a short night."
In other fights on the card:
• Quebec welterweights Jo Jo Dan (33-2, 18 KOs) and Kevin Bizier (23-1, 16 KOs) will meet in a title elimination bout -- a rematch of Dan's split-decision win 13 months ago -- that will put the winner in position to challenge titleholder Kell Brook.
• Flint, Michigan, super middleweight contender Andre Dirrell (23-1, 16 KOs) will face Derek Edwards (27-3-1, 14 KOs), of Las Vegas, in a title elimination fight that will move the winner a step closer to a mandatory shot at titleholder Carl Froch, whose current mandatory challenger is James DeGale.
• Light heavyweight prospect Artur Beterbiev (6-0, 6 KOs), a former amateur standout from Russia now living in Montreal, will face club fighter Jeff Page Jr. (15-0, 10 KOs), of Andover, Kansas, in a 10-round bout.