Boxing: Noe Gonzalez

I do not recall a pro fighter debuting at age 29, as Adonis Stevenson did, and being on the cusp of a title shot within five years.

The same goes for Emanuel Steward, Stevenson's trainer/manager. He wasn't aware of how late Stevenson (17-1, 14 KOs) had turned pro.

"That's amazing!" Steward said when I asked him about the late start for his boxer, who is ranked as high as No. 2 at super middleweight by the International Boxing Federation.

Steward is truly enamored of Stevenson, who was born in Haiti and has lived in Canada since he was 5, and the trainer proves his commitment by choosing to also manage his fighter. Steward is asked to manage fighters every day, but unless someone has the physical goods and a stellar work ethic, is open to tutoring and is a solid citizen outside the ring, he won't bother.

Steward, the godfather of Kronk, had received a call from a pal of Stevenson's asking him to hook up with the fighter. Yeah, yeah, Steward thought. Lo and behold, Stevenson showed up, and he didn't leave.

Steward was blown away when Stevenson once showed up at 11 p.m. at the trainer's house -- a two-mile jog from where the fighter was staying -- during a snowstorm. Steward offered to drive him home.

"That's OK, I'll just run home," Stevenson said.

"That's the kind of guy he is," Steward said.

Steward trained the fighter for three weeks leading up to his most recent bout, against 27-1 Jesus Gonzalez on Feb. 18. Stevenson knocked out Gonzalez in Round 1, his fourth straight knockout since being TKO'd by journeyman Darnell Boone in April 2010.

Now, Stevenson isn't a polished product, not like Steward's diamond centerpiece, Wladimir Klitschko. Stevenson has issues with balance, footwork and staying patient. But the trainer says all of that is improving. One thing that leaped out at me while I watched video of Stevenson, a 5-foot-11 southpaw, came in his February bout. He backed up Gonzalez with a lead hook and followed with a straight left that mummified the loser, literally leaving him on the canvas on his back with limbs stiffened from body shock.

And then Stevenson leaped in celebration, to the ceiling, with NBA-level hops. The guy has athleticism and explosivity, and if Steward can refine the rough edges, look out, 168-pound champs Andre Ward, Lucian Bute and Robert Stieglitz.

Steward told me he envisions Stevenson winning a crown, and there's something else he particularly likes about the "old" new kid on the block: "He's dangerous all the way through," Steward said. "We got some kind of weird-ass guy here, one of these stamina freaks." That may be aided by Stevenson's late start, as his body doesn't have much mileage on it.

One more thing: Steward loves Stevenson's mindset, in that he seeks to stop his foe. "There's nothing like knocking [expletive] out. That's what made [Mike] Tyson special. I train all my fighters to go for the KO. But they have the stamina in case it doesn't happen."

Across the ring at the Bell Centre in Montreal on this week's "Friday Night Fights" will be Noe Gonzalez, a 32-year-old fighter from Uruguay who is ranked No. 2 by the WBC. The 28-1 hitter, who lives in Argentina, has fought only once in the U.S., but remember on last week's FNF show, Albert Mensah, from Ghana? He had previously fought just once in the U.S., then showed ex-champ Michael Katsidis that he has the goods, winning a majority decision. Gonzalez is described by his adviser, Sampson Lewkowicz, as "a counterpuncher, very powerful, has well-educated defense, and his only problem is sometimes he's not very active."

So, is this one a toss-up?

"I know that Gonzalez will knock out Stevenson," Lewkowicz told me.

All right then.

Yes, Stevenson has been stopped before, by Boone. But Lewkowicz put that ending in context.

"On Friday, it will not be a bad night for Stevenson," he said. "It will be a KO by a better fighter. Stevenson is a good fighter, but he's not elite. Once Gonzalez wins, we look forward to continue fighting in Canada."

Those are fighting words, Lewkowicz promising a KO on Stevenson's turf and then saying that his guy will take over that turf, stealing market share.

Yes, I am officially pumped for this fight, and even if the show starts late, I promise I will not be a wuss like last week and DVR it. Mensah made me look foolish, so I'm nervous about picking a winner. Gonzalez looks more polished to me. He has power in both hands and mixes shots well. Stevenson will need to be ready to dodge or absorb straight shots, left hooks and the odd uppercut. With great internal conflict, I'm leaning toward Gonzalez, liking his experience and polish.

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