This year we've seen Stevenson go from hero to zero. The bout with Kovalev, that seemed all but signed, vanished after Stevenson signed with “advisor” Al Haymon and since then he has fought just once, taking a less than impressive decision over American based Polish fighter Andrzej Fonfara, who actually dropped Stevenson in round 9. Not only has Stevenson been inactive but we've seen Kovalev show the traits that we thought Steveson had and the Russian went on to beat the division's other top fighter Bernard Hopkins.
To end the year Stevenson will be getting into the ring with a Russian opponent. Sadly it's neither of the two, Kovalev or Artur Beterbiev, that we would have wanted to see him in with. Instead it's going to be the strong but very basic Dmitry Sukhotsky (22-2, 16). A man who looked very poor last time he was in North America, losing a near shut out to Cornelius White, and in his last fight, scoring an unconvincing win over Joey Vegas in Russia.
Last year Stevenson looked explosive, destructive and genuinely scary. He showed sheer aggression against Boone in genuinely beating him into submission. Perfect timing against Dawson who he flattened with a perfect shot. Brilliant boxing against Cloud who ended up beaten mentality and physically. And no fear against Bellew who, as often does, talked a good fight whilst being unable to deliver. This year, and now at 37 years old, he looks like yesterday's story. The bout with Fonfara, a supposed showcase, was a struggle with Stevenson fighting as if he expected an easy win rather than fighting like a man who wanted to strengthen his position with an impressive performance.
At his best, which we may well have already seen, Stevenson was a powerful puncher with solid and under-rated boxing ability, surprisingly quick movement and impressive handspeed. His only question marks were regarding his stamina and chin with his sole loss being a shock knockout to Boone in their first meeting. This year however question marks regarding his heart for the game, his age and training have all cropped up. It may well be that after reaching pinnacle last year Stevenson thinks he's still the man, sadly his avoidance of Kovalev have seen many feel he's more of a mouse. It's a shame as he is talented and has all the traits to be a genuine star and scores the types of victories we all love to see, vicious knockouts and beatdowns.
In Sukhotsky really do have a basic fighter who fights like many fighters from the Soviet bloc. His work, at it's best, comes at mid range where he can get his jab landing to set up his powerful straight though he can hold his own, at a lower level at least, on the inside. Where he excels is in his physical strength and power. He's not explosive but he has the thudding and hurtful power which does damage every time he lands, as seen when he disfigured Eduard Gutknecht in one of his biggest wins to date.
He is however very slow, basic and his movement is rigid. He needs to set his feet before punching, can be left chasing opponents and at times just looks like a very simple fighter. This was most notable against White who completely out boxed him, out moved him and out landed him in humiliatingly one-sided contest. That loss however was a stark contrast to Sukhotsky's other loss, a rather enjoyable battle with Juergen Braehmer which saw Sukhotsky coming up short on the cards after a compelling late charge at the then WBO champion. The Braehmer bout however did come some 5 years ago and in all honesty it does feel like he's missed out on ever reaching his potential.
Sukhotsky has the ability to make this tough for Stevenson if the Haitian puncher isn't at his best. If, however, Stevenson boxes on his toes, makes the most of his sharp and hurtful jab and fights at range he could do a similar job here as he did to Cloud. If Stevenson's lost a little bit of speed however there is a chance Sukhotsky can drag him into a battle, smother the champion's power a little bit and make things difficult for the home town fighter.
We suspect Stevenson will come out victorious here but we'd not be shocked if his year from bad to worse and that he ends up looking bad even in victory.