Badou Jack Comes on Too Late to Take Crown From Adonis Stevenson
Adonis Stevenson retained his light heavyweight championship without winning on any of the judges’ scorecards. And no, he didn’t knock Badou Jack out either.
Rather, Stevenson held on by the slimmest of margins — a majority draw.
One judge had it 115-113 for Jack, giving the challenger seven rounds while seeing five for Stevenson. The other two judges overruled him by having it 114-114, six rounds apiece.
If either of those two had found just one more round to give to Jack, then he would’ve left with the WBC world title and been recognized as the new lineal champ, the man who beat the man (Stevenson) who beat the man (Chad Dawson) who beat the man (Bernard Hopkins).
Often times a draw will leave fans feeling dissatisfied. It is an inconclusive result and typically a controversial one as well. Yet this was the rare fair draw. It seemed appropriate. Stevenson didn’t do enough to beat Jack. Nor did Jack do enough to wrest the championship away.
That’s because this fight was a tale of two halves. Jack seemingly gave away many of the first six rounds before coming on strong for most of the final six.
Stevenson was the more active fighter from the outset, using feints and jabs in the first to gauge Jack’s reactions, while Jack mostly moved to get a lay of the land himself, not really throwing until later in the round.
The 40-year-old Stevenson continued to outwork his younger (34 years old) opponent, though he wasn’t overwhelming him. That was clear both by watching the fight and in reviewing the CompuBox statistics. Stevenson was credited with throwing 281 punches over the first five rounds, or about 56 punches per round. Jack, meanwhile, threw a mere 108 punches over the same period, about 22 per round.
Yet Stevenson looked bulkier and slower than usual, and the skilled Jack took little in the way of punishment. Stevenson landed just 45 punches during those first five rounds, a 16 percent connect rate, which means for every one shot he was able to hit Jack with, another five were blocked or missed their mark. So while Stevenson’s activity was on par with his usual output, his ability to land (and the impact of those landed shots) was far less than had previously been the case.
Still, while Jack took little in the way of punishment, he’d also likely taken little in the way of rounds. He himself had hit Stevenson only 27 times in those five rounds.
Jack’s trainer felt the fight was now in their favor, however.
“He’s done,” trainer Lou Del Valle said before the sixth round began.
And the action indeed picked up in the sixth, Jack opening up and throwing far more than before, which in turn had Stevenson responding with a wider variety of punches.
Jack began to take over in the seventh. He looped his right hand around Stevenson’s guard upstairs, went to the body, threw uppercuts, and dominated the action. He was the one now significantly out-throwing and out-landing Stevenson, going 91 of 223 in rounds seven through nine, while Stevenson was held to just 26 of 108. Blood was visible from Stevenson’s nose at the end of Round 8. A big right hand from Jack in Round 9 cemented just who was in charge.
Stevenson may have been older and slower against a younger fighter who was taking over, but he wasn’t as done as Jack’s trainer believed. He landed a left hand to the body toward the end of Round 10 that had Jack backing away, then returned to the body in Round 11, digging in and unleashing the kind of offense that had been missing for much of the fight.
It was probably the round that saved Stevenson’s championship.
Jack complained about the decision afterward. A look at his record — now 22-1-3 with 13 knockouts — reminds us that he’s dealt with close scorecards on several occasions, including draws with James DeGale in 2017 and, more controversially, with Lucian Bute in 2016. (The Bute draw was turned into a disqualification win for Jack after Bute tested positive for a banned substance.)
There was little controversial about this draw. Yes, Jack won his rounds with much more impact than the rounds awarded to Stevenson. Yet this fight was reminiscent of Lamont Peterson’s loss to Danny Garcia, when Peterson emphasized defense over offense in the early rounds and allowed Garcia to build too big a lead, even as Peterson proceeded to take it to Garcia for much of the rest of the fight.
Jack nonetheless belongs among the top fighters at 175 pounds. This was his second fight in the division after a good run at 168. He’d been an upcoming contender before being surprisingly shocked with a one-minute loss to tough journeyman Derek Edwards. He’d bounced back, though, won a title from Anthony Dirrell, defended it against George Groves and Lucian Bute, and went toe-to-toe in a draw with fellow titleholder DeGale.
He wants a rematch with Stevenson, and for good reason. If it doesn’t happen, there are also other titleholders and contenders available, including Sergey Kovalev and Dmitry Bivol (who seem to be on a collision course themselves), plus Artur Beterbiev, Eleider Alvarez and Oleksandr Gvozdyk.
Stevenson, who is now 29-1-1 with 24 KOs, retained against his toughest opponent in years. His championship reign has been underwhelming, with far too few fights — and far too many of the fights that did happen coming against subpar opposition. Much of that is his fault, though Kovalev also deserves blame for his role in their match never happening.
Stevenson has made nine defenses since beating Chad Dawson in 2013, though he fought just once in 2016 and 2017 and was coming off another 11-month layoff for this bout. Most of those fights came against second-tier contenders or other foes who stood little chance.
His next fight will be telling and should reveal whether time has begun to catch up with him, or if this was just a night in which he wasn’t at his best while in against a very good fighter.
Gary Russell Jr. Returns With Decision Victory Over Joseph Diaz Jr.
We don’t see Gary Russell Jr. often enough. That’s been a running story line for years now, a story line that has turned him, in a way, into a punch line — that each fight of his will be his one fight of the year.
It’s true, however. He’s fought just once a year since winning his world title in 2015, with layoffs of 13 months before his one fight in 2016, another 13 months before his one fight last year, and almost exactly a year before his bout this past Saturday night against Joseph Diaz Jr.
That’s a shame. Because we want to see Russell fight more often, as he’s a very good featherweight who should be in there with the best.
Diaz isn’t one of the best, but he was a good 126-pound contender who challenged Russell early. Russell responded well, adjusted, fought through an injury and emerged with the unanimous decision win.
Russell came out aggressively, working behind a jab in the first round and then moving into a higher gear and unleashing a rapid flurry to start the second. Diaz weathered it fine and then wisely began a heavy attack to Russell’s body, hoping to take some of the wind out of his sails and some of the oomph out of his shots. Russell battled right back, game for the challenge.
But then Russell hurt his hand. He said the injury happened early. That, and Diaz’s approach, necessitated a change in strategy. Russell began to work more from mid-range, preventing Diaz from getting inside. Diaz wasn’t able to adjust, and Russell pulled away on the scorecards.
Two judges had it 117-111, or nine rounds to Russell and three to Diaz. The other judge had it much closer at 115-113, or seven rounds to five.
Diaz is now 26-1 with 14 KOs. This is a setback after a step up. He doesn’t carry tremendous power or speed, so this may be a sign that he’s an echelon below the best at 126.
Russell, meanwhile, moves to 29-1 with 17 KOs. The lone defeat came against Vasyl Lomachenko back in 2014.
The featherweight vision is full of talent, with names such as Leo Santa Cruz, Oscar Valdez, Abner Mares, Carl Frampton, Scott Quigg, and Josh Warrington, who upset Lee Selby for a title earlier in the day on Saturday.
It’d be great to see Russell mix it up with any of them. Hopefully we don’t need to wait another year for that to happen.