Everything changed for Adonis Stevenson the moment he flattened (Bad) Chad Dawson only 76 seconds into the first round in June.
For one, it made the 36-year-old the linear light heavyweight champion as well as giving him the World Boxing Council title.
It got him another fight on the HBO specialty channel.
And it made the Blainville, Que., left-hander one of the most talked about boxers in the sport.
“It was breakout fight for him – a lot changed,” promoter Yvon Michel said.
Now, Stevenson (21-1 with 18 knockouts), the only Canadian currently with a world title, is set to defend his belts for the first time against former International Boxing Federation champion Tavoris Cloud (24-1, 19 KOs) on Saturday, in a battle of two bashers at the Bell Centre.
The Dawson fight was a huge test for Stevenson. It was his first title bout, and it was billed as a first meeting with a respected veteran and former champion who would test his boxing skills as well as his power.
But when they stepped into the ring, there wasn’t a lot of prodding with the jab or feeling out distances before Stevenson lunged forward with a left to the head that dropped Dawson down and out on the canvas.
It was the 10th time since he turned pro in 2006 that Stevenson’s hammer-like fists ended a bout in the first round, and it had some comparing his style and power with former heavyweight king Mike Tyson.
“I knock people out, so for sure I have more respect than two or three years ago,” said Stevenson, who was born in Haiti and moved to Montreal when he was 4. “But I’m more hungry because I’m a champion.
“I’m more dedicated to boxing. I know I have my title to defend and I’m prepared. It’s good to be champion, but the other side is to stay champion.”
Stevenson was a one-dimensional knockout artist only two years ago, when he asked legendary trainer Emanuel Steward to take him under his wing and refine his boxing skills.
Although his teacher died last year of an intestinal ailment, Stevenson has continued work at the Kronk Gym in Detroit under Steward’s nephew Jovan (Sugar) Hill.
Since then, he looks to have better movement in the ring and wider variety of punches. The problem is, few of his bouts last long enough to see them.
In his first fight under Steward in February of 2012, he took out Jesus Gonzales, then 27-1, in one round. It took two to beat Noe Gonzalez, then 28-1.
Under Hill, Don George (then 23-2-1) took Stevenson to the 12th before he went down, followed by six rounds in a tune-up against Darnell Boone (19-20-3) last March.
Then, came the Dawson fight, followed by more discussion on whether Stevenson is the real deal or just a banger who surprised opponents with his heavy shots.
HBO felt Cloud would provide the best test and arranged the bout. The WBC agreed to sanction it on the condition Stevenson’s next fight be against mandatory challenger Tony (Bomber) Bellew of England.
The 31-year-old Cloud won the IBF title in 2009, and defended it five times before losing a decision to 48-year-old Bernard Hopkins in March. He has never been knocked down in a fight.
“Right away, even before the [post-fight] press conference, HBO brought up Cloud’s name,” Michel said. “It’s because he’s totally different from Dawson.
“Dawson is a pure boxer, but he had some fragility. They wanted a guy with a reputation for being strong, who can withstand a good punch. This is what Cloud can do, so it won’t be a short fight.
“But at one point or another, what Cloud does to win fights is to brawl, to be physical. So even if he wants to be careful, at some point a fight will break out and at that point we will see the real nature of Adonis Stevenson.”
Director of programming Peter Nelson said HBO wants to see if there’s more to Stevenson than a big left hand.
“We felt Cloud presented an all-action-type of fight that would be telegenic, fan friendly and that would resonate with our subscribers,” Nelson said. “For a fighter who has had only 76 seconds of exposure on the network so far, we want to see a wider display of the skills he has.”
The co-feature has former WBC champ Jean Pascal (27-2-1) of Montreal in a 10-round tune-up bout with George (Honey Boy) Blades (23-4-2).
On HBO, Stevenson-Cloud will be part of a split-city double header along with former middleweight champ Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s bout with Brian Vera in Carson, Calif.