When Adonis Stevenson knocked out Chad Dawson in 76 seconds with a single crushing left hand in June to win the world light heavyweight championship, it was an electrifying and spectacular performance from one of boxing's best punchers.
But heading into his first defense against former titleholder Tavoris Cloud on Saturday night before a hometown crowd at the Bell Centre in Montreal, while everyone wanted to talk about the knockout power of "Superman," he and his trainer, Javan "Sugar" Hill, wanted to talk about how they thought observers were sleeping on the champ's boxing skills.
Sure, knockouts are eye-catching. They stir emotions in fight fans and they land on highlight reels. But boxing, Stevenson and Hill said, is the foundation of every great fighter.
Hill, the nephew of the late, great Hall of Famer Emanuel Steward, who trained Stevenson before Steward's untimely death last October, bragged about Stevenson's ring intelligence and said he simply hadn't had a chance to show off his skills.
"He has exceptional boxing IQ and, if you look at the fight with Dawson, [see] how quickly he was able to set that shot up and to capitalize on the mistake that he made," Hill said a few days before Saturday's fight. "He was not able to display his boxing skills, but that is something that he has been working on for a while. I believe he has superior boxing skills."
As it turned out, Hill was on the money.
Stevenson outboxed -- as well as outslugged -- Cloud in a one-sided thrashing set up by those skills. He used superb movement and an assortment of well-timed hard blows to the body and head before Cloud's trainer, Al Bonanni, mercifully stopped the fight in the corner after the seventh round, with his fighter a bloody mess.
Stevenson had issued a comprehensive beating. He cut Cloud over both eyes, hammered him to the body and took all the fight out of him. Cloud was never, ever in the fight. Not for even a minute.
Quite simply, it was a brilliant performance from Stevenson, who has displayed an impressive versatility in his past two fights: a monstrous one-punch knockout of Dawson and a methodical, technically perfect beatdown of Cloud (24-2, 19 KOs), 31, of Tallahassee, Fla., who had never before been stopped, or even been roughed up nearly the way Stevenson routed him.
Cloud's only previous loss, after four successful title defenses of his version of the 175-pound title, had come in his previous fight on March 9, when he lost a decision to 48-year-old freak of nature Bernard Hopkins. But Cloud was never in any kind of trouble against Hopkins and was expected to at least give Stevenson a good go.
But Cloud was unable to do anything against Stevenson (22-1, 19 KOs), a late bloomer who turned 36 on Sept. 22. Stevenson showed exactly what Hill had claimed -- that he is more than just a puncher.
"Basic boxing, connecting, use my jab, movement," Stevenson said of his performance. "I trained for that. My trainer [did] a very good job. After the fourth or fifth round, [Hill] said, 'More pressure, go to the body.' So I go to the body. It was working. So I mix in body and head."
Cloud was a sitting duck the whole fight. He showed a great chin, but he got tagged. A lot.
According to CompuBox statistics, Stevenson landed 108 of 434 punches (25 percent) and Cloud landed just 35 of 176 (20 percent). But the more meaningful statistic came in the power punch category, where Stevenson connected on 85 of 160 blows (53 percent), while Cloud landed a measly 15 of 55 (27 percent).
In the very first round, Stevenson connected with a thunderous left hand -- his best punch -- and although Cloud didn't go anywhere, the shot clearly hurt Cloud's left eye.
By the fourth round, Cloud's eye was bleeding and Stevenson was in a fluid rhythm of landing combinations upstairs as well as digging body shots. One of the left hands to Cloud's flank seemed to take his wind away.
In the sixth, Stevenson drove Cloud back and connected several times to his left eye in an utterly dominant round.
Cloud never appeared to be on the verge of going down, but Stevenson was beating him up at that point, and the onslaught continued in the seventh round, when he landed a big left hand that knocked Cloud backward into the ropes. Stevenson also cut Cloud's right eye in the seventh, and the fight had become a display of violence rather than a sporting event.
Bonanni, as feisty a trainer as there is, also has compassion for his fighters. He wasted little time in alerting referee Michael Griffin that his man had had enough, and the fight was waved off, much to the delight of the Bell Centre crowd.
It was another tremendous victory for one of boxing's emerging stars, one predicted by Steward before his death.
"Emanuel Steward said when I was 168 [pounds], if I have a chance to fight Chad Dawson or Tavoris Cloud, let's do it because I will knock out both guys," said Stevenson, who dedicated the fight to the Kronk Gym legend. "So the fights happened, and you see what happened."
Stevenson, whose fan base in Quebec continues to grow with each impressive performance, is expected back in the ring Nov. 30 in Quebec. He has a mandatory due against Tony Bellew (20-1-1, 12 KOs) of England, who will be a massive underdog.
There is a good chance that 175-pound titleholder Sergey Kovalev (22-0-1, 20 KOs), the power-punching Florida-based Russian, will make his first defense on the undercard after winning a title in impressive fashion by smashing Nathan Cleverly over four one-sided rounds on Aug. 17 in Cleverly's home country of Wales.
Because Kovalev, like Stevenson, is a puncher who makes exciting fights, many have pegged a Stevenson-Kovalev showdown as one of the most intriguing matches in boxing.
If that doubleheader comes off, and if both fighters win, Stevenson and Kovalev could be steered toward each other for a fight in the first half of 2014. There is also the allure of an all-Montreal showdown between Stevenson and the winner of another all-Montreal showdown, the much-anticipated Jan. 18 fight between former light heavyweight champ Jean Pascal (who knocked out George Blades in the fifth round on the undercard of Stevenson-Cloud) and former super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute.
Stevenson will not lack for quality opponents, which means fight fans won't lack for exciting matchups.
"Now I got my mandatory, [but] I don't have a problem [fighting Kovalev]," Stevenson said, adding that he would also be at Pascal-Bute watching very closely, with an eye toward a possible fight with the winner.
Stevenson will probably be favored in any of those fights -- whether he shows up as the electrifying knockout artist from the Dawson fight or the clinical boxer who was unveiled so impressively against Cloud.