The Big Tease: Adonis Stevenson Vs. Tony Bellew Preview And Prediction

With the vast number of most meaningful fights in 2013's rear view mirror, HBO on Saturday is delivering a doubleheader that is more about 2014: light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson vs. Tony Bellew, paired with Sergey Kovalev vs. Ismayl Sillakh, bouts meant to whet the appetite for Stevenson-Kovalev, not that appetites could be much whetter for a meeting of two of the sport's most cataclysmic punchers.

The bouts stand on their own, to an extent, especially Stevenson-Bellew. Bellew is a top-10 light heavyweight in his own right, and one with a history of rousing battles who ought to make for one with Stevenson. And Stevenson, with a win, could put the final touches on his Fighter of the Year candidacy, especially if he beats Bellew in style.

He probably will.

Let's not count out Bellew entirely, however. He is a gutsy, blustery full-blown light heavyweight with a length (6'2" to 5'11") and reach (74" to 72") advantage. His identity is a little difficult to pin down beyond that. He is neither puncher nor boxer, neither volume puncher nor artful dancer. He once was viewed as very powerful, with 10 of his 12 knockouts coming between 2007 and 2011, before he stepped up to the world stage against Nathan Cleverly. Against his stiffest competition, namely Cleverly and Isaac Chilemba twice, there were no knockouts to be had, although he looks to have shook Cleverly here and there. But he also has shown off some respectable versatility in those bouts, proving he could box well with Cleverly, viewed as the significantly better boxer of the duo. And he performed better against Chilemba in the rematch, reversing a lackluster outing where he faded for a more complete 12-round offering.

Bellew can box from the outside better than he can brawl on the inside, although he does throw stabbing body shots up close. His jab is a useful tool, given his length; he fancies his left hook as his best punch, but said he only developed it as an alternative to his right, once opponents began worrying about that shot. He figures that right will be the antidote for Stevenson's southpaw stance, and it's the right idea. He throws a lot of combinations, not always with great accuracy, but keeps a relatively busy pace to make sure he gets something through. He sounds as though he has studied Stevenson well, accurately identifying his explosive leaping shots as the thing to watch out for. He said he'll start boxing smartly at the beginning, then wants to take Stevenson late in the fight, where Stevenson hasn't been much in his career and certainly hasn't since moving up from super middle to light heavy two bouts ago. Bellew knows the judges won't be doing him any favors in Stevenson's home country of Canada, so he'll be going for the knockout one way or another — and if he's far behind, he said, he'll swing for the fences in the final two rounds.

What doesn't bode well for Bellew is that 1. he's far too slow and 2. he's had some issues staying on his feet when he should have had little trouble with it. Bellew is right that Stevenson was once knocked out by gatekeeper Darnell Boone, but that's more respectable than being dropped by Bob Ajisafe and Ovill McKenzie in two consecutive bouts. Certainly that Bellew got up speaks to that self-belief, his guts and his battle-hardened qualities, it's just that getting knocked down in the first place by that duo — and twice by McKenzie — is worrisome for his chances against the biggest puncher he's ever faced. Oh, and Bellew is no defensive wizard. Considering that his qualifications as a light heavyweight contender are built on a close fight with Cleverly in a loss, a draw with Chilemba and a disputed win in a rematch with Chilemba, it starts to get harder and harder to see what he'll do with someone like Stevenson.

Perhaps his best chance is that there might still be questions about what kind of light heavy Stevenson is. He earned the championship by knocking out Chad Dawson, a result that came so quickly Dawson hardly touched him. Likewise, Tavoris Cloud didn't connect on very much, in part because Stevenson has really evolved as a boxer in almost every recent fight, and his defense was pretty stellar against the flat-footed Cloud. Bellew is just as hittable as Cloud, but more nimble on his feet, too. So maybe if Bellew can get to Stevenson very often, and there is at least cause to believe he can, we'll find out what we don't know with 100 percent certainty yet — which is how Stevenson's chin will fare against a big, strong light heavyweight.

I suspect the answer, should we discover it, is that Stevenson will stand up pretty well. The man who lost to Boone is long gone, the loss avenged. He now stands not just as a left-handed terror, but as an athletic, sharp-boxing champion who keeps adding new wrinkles to his game even at age 36. Maybe it's not wise to count Bellew out entirely, but he should probably be counted out something close to entirely. And I expect he'll be counted out by the referee, too, and possibly early — I'll say in round 4 or before.

Whether we then get the match we're teased with by this doubleheader will depend on Kovalev doing his part against Sillakh, and on what kind of money HBO will throw at Stevenson to take the bout. His promoter is already talking about some lofty sums, perhaps knowing that Kovalev has a fearsome risk/reward ratio and willing to wait on what comes of the Lucian Bute-Jean Pascal bout that could offer big money at a lower danger level to be the king of Canada. Let's hope that if Bellew doesn't rob us of the Stevenson-Kovalev battle (and it would be OK if he did, because a Bellew who proves he's quality enough to beat Stevenson would be a mighty fine opponent for Kovalev instead), this tease of doubleheader doesn't end up leaving us high and dry.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.