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Adonis Stevenson has become 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. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Adonis Stevenson has become 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. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

analysis

Quebec, the heavyweight champion of Canadian boxing Add to ...

Stevenson has kept on the straight path ever since. He’s teetotal now, and in a long-term relationship. He has two young daughters, one of whom was old enough to recognize highlights of her dad bounding maniacally around the ring in victory.

“Listen, I was 19 when that happened,” Stevenson said. “Now I’m 35, I’m mature, I’m a man, I have a family now. I guess I’m a living example that you should never give up.”

A late bloomer, Stevenson plans to leverage his new earning power and fame, and hopes to fight twice more this year. Perhaps his status as a champion will make him a bigger draw.

But the fight everyone in Montreal is clamouring to see involves a pair of former champions: Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute. They were supposed to tangle in May, but a hand injury suffered by Bute scotched those plans. They will now meet in the fall. It’s a given the card will be a sell-out.

Promoter Yvon Michel, who represents Stevenson and Pascal, believes the boxing market in Quebec is vibrant, but that doesn’t mean his job is easy.

“It’s tough in Montreal,” Michel said. “People here will support champions, winners, but the event has to be prestigious. Our Fast and Furious series [a circuit of lesser-lights events where Stevenson made his name] is helping our guys progress, but it doesn’t provide anything close to the financial resources we need to develop the talent here. We’re always starting from scratch. There’s only two boxers here who are known by people beyond the boxing nuts: Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal. And even with those guys . . .”

According to Michel, the Stevenson/Dawson matchup drew a modest 6,336 paying fans, a turnout made all the more disappointing by the fact Cuban star Yuriorkis Gamboa was in the co-feature. It won’t go down as a resounding financial success, but Michel said that’s the price of keeping the ball rolling. In a sense, he gambled a win by Stevenson would open other doors – and provide the leverage to jam them open.

“We’re investing for the medium term,” he said.

But when excitement for a fight does take hold, fans turn up. Pascal’s first title bout with Hopkins, in Quebec City, sold 16,000 tickets in a couple of hours. The rematch, which Pascal lost, attracted nearly 18,000 in Montreal.

Bute has reliably drawn that many to the Bell Centre in Montreal (the building remains the epicentre of boxing in the province, although there are also regular cards at smaller venues like the Lac Leamy Casino in Gatineau).

Michel said the boxing industry as we know it today wouldn’t be around if Eric Lucas hadn’t won a surprise victory over British fighter Glenn Catley in 2001 to claim the WBC super-middleweight crown. The next year, Leonard Dorin won the WBA lightweight title, setting the scene for two other Romanian-born Montreal fighters, Adrian Diaconu and Bute, who would both go on to hold titles.

The legacy, though fragile, endures.

Not that anyone in the rest of Canada appears to have noticed. None of the major national television networks seem interested in bidding to broadcast major cards in Montreal (HBO and Showtime have been more than happy to step into the breach).

“That is mind boggling,” Anber said. “There’s more interest in Quebec fighters in the U.S. than there is in Canada. It’s insane.”

Some of that doubtless has to do with dollars and rival sports like mixed martial arts. Quebec is not immune; Georges St-Pierre is more famous than any boxer. Perhaps it’s also due to the collapsing popularity of high-level amateur boxing across the country.

Maybe that’s the story: Quebec boxing constitutes a self-contained trend rooted in culture, circumstance and recent history.

Anber reckons a healthy share of the credit should go to a new generation of promoters, led by Michel, who have elevated the game in terms of business savvy.

Michel engineered Lucas’s success, which, like that of Grant and Gatti (who mostly fought out of New Jersey), inspired an entire generation of boxers. When Stevenson switched from kick boxing to regular boxing at 17, he trained in the same gym where Gatti had learned his craft.

In the intervening years, several boxers who call Quebec home have stepped to the fore, and a new wave is building with the likes of David Lemieux, Antonin Décarie, Dierry Jean, Kevin Bizier, Mikael Zewski and Russian émigré Artur Beterbiev.

But for the moment, the biggest hopes – financial and otherwise – are vested in a man whose nom de ring is Superman. Given Adonis Stevenson’s name, life and accomplishments, the handle doesn’t seem that absurd a redundancy.

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