The name was given to him at birth. Thirty-five years later, it can be extended into a full-on moniker.
Adonis Stevenson, Quebec’s latest boxing deity.
In Greek mythology, Adonis was the god of beauty and desire, who died in Aphrodite’s arms and, depending on the version, was resurrected.
Not to get too overwrought with the metaphor, but given the latter day Adonis’s life story – it stretches from the streets of Port-au-Prince to the South Shore of Montreal through prison and adulthood redemption – you might say Stevenson is aptly named.
“The god of beauty, that’s me, right?” he said with a laugh this week.
The man can afford to crack wise.
Stevenson is the new WBC light-heavyweight champion of the world, having made short work – 76 seconds – of title-holder Chad Dawson a week ago. As such, Stevenson becomes the latest in a line of Quebec-based international boxing champions that stretches through the decades. He’s the most recent product of a quirky microcosm that has undergone multiple rebirths.
American promoter Gary Shaw – a crusty, old-school sort who has been known to use the theme from Rocky as the ring tone for his phone – recently proclaimed Montreal one of a tiny, dwindling handful of boxing markets in the world that can reliably draw big crowds.
“In the U.S. we have maybe four fighters – maybe – who can bring 10,000 people into an arena. But here? It’s no problem,” he marvelled in an interview. “This is great fight country, for whatever reason. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know if it’s your weather, or the water or what.”
Why hasn’t Quebec turned its back on the sweet science like everywhere else?
“The reason boxing succeeds in Montreal is it’s tied into the sporting soul of the Québécois,” said Russ Anber, a long-time Montreal boxing trainer and frequent television commentator. “This isn’t new.”
History buttresses that argument.
Newspaper accounts suggest prize fighting was a sporting staple in Montreal as early as the 1820s. In the late 19th century, boxers like Gus Lambert and Côme Leclerc were household names, despite the best efforts of civic leaders to ban their sport (“crude amusement,” one of them sniffed to a newspaper called Le Canadien).
According to an article by sports historian Donald Guay for sportetsociete.com, a website that focuses on Quebec’s sporting history, Lambert’s fame grew only when he starting training legendary strongman Louis Cyr (back in the day, boxing, wrestling and feats of strength went hand in hand).
Another famous wrestler and pugilist from the era, George Kennedy, later bought a fledgling hockey team called Club de hockey Canadien.
Academics have speculated that a fighting culture comes naturally to a large, mostly working-class city like Montreal, which has gone through a couple of centuries of income inequality and social tension. But if Quebec boxing fans once cared about homegrown fighters above all others – and there have been plenty from Fernand Marcotte in the 1970s and Gaëtan Hart and Mario Cusson in the 1980s – that has changed.
Rarely do promoters resort to pitting an anglophone boxer against a francophone to make money any more, although the trilogy of fights between Dave Hilton Jr. and Stéphane Ouellet in the late 1990s generated monstrous gates.
The string of champions continued through the Hilton brothers (Matthew and Dave), Otis Grant, Eric Lucas, Hall of Famer Arturo Gatti, Leonard Dorin and Joachim Alcine, who in 2007 became the first major world title-holder to emerge from Montreal’s large Haitian community.
“Alcine did something no one else had. Not only was he black, he was a technical boxer. He never should have been able to sell tickets, but he did,” said Anber, who trained the Jamaican-born Grant in the late 1980s and recalls that “he never fought a local Quebec guy, it didn’t happen then.”
Alcine was embraced by a broader audience, likewise for former light-heavyweight champ Jean Pascal, another boxer with Haitian roots.
Stevenson? Not so much, at least not yet.
Boxing is riddled with athletes who have checkered pasts, – ageless light-heavyweight Bernard Hopkins, a sure-fire hall of famer, was once sentenced to a 19-year prison term for assorted felonies – but even by the sport’s forgiving standards, Stevenson’s story is problematic.
In his late teens, he fell in with a street gang and became involved in a prostitution ring. He was later sentenced to four years in jail.