by Kieran Mulvaney
When Adonis Stevenson flattened Chad Dawson with a left hook less than a minute into their light-heavyweight title clash in Montreal in June, prompting referee Michael Griffin to call a halt to the action even after Dawson hauled himself unsteadily to his feet, his reaction at becoming a world champion was one of unbridled enthusiasm. Eyes wide, mouth open, screaming in delight, he tore round the ring, leaped into the air, hugged his team and bounced off the ropes in unrestrained delight, before seeming to yield to the momentousness of the occasion and sinking to his knees in tears.
It was a refreshingly open and emotional response to victory, a testament to the years of struggle that so many fighters endure and the ecstasy that envelopes them when they clamber to the top of the summit. And for Stevenson, it was also so much more: it was gratitude for the man who helped make it happen, who had faith in him and predicted this moment but did not live long enough to see it.
Emanuel Steward, beloved trainer and HBO boxing analyst, had taken over as Stevenson's chief second early the previous year, and ever since had been preaching to anyone who would listen that his new charge was the next big thing at 175 pounds. Tragically, Steward became ill and died in October 2012, leaving his nephew, Javon "Sugar" Hill, to take his place in Stevenson's corner; and in the space of those wild seconds after the referee ruled Dawson unable to continue, Stevenson's emotions ran the gamut from relief to joy to sadness.
"I was really happy because it was a lot of work with my team," Stevenson told Inside HBO Boxing. "I wanted to prove what Emanuel had said. Before the fight, I had a picture of Emanuel in my room. And I looked at the picture and I said, 'I'm going to win the title for you Emanuel. I got it.' I told Javon Hill too, 'We're going to bring the title back, to Detroit, to Kronk Gym, and I know Emanuel is in the room and watching.'"
Even though Steward was only with him for a short period of time, his influence on Stevenson is clear, as is the gratitude the fighter retains for the faith the trainer placed in him.
"I'm very happy to have worked with Emanuel, because he believed in me and gave me time and advice," he said. "He said to me that I would be a world champion. He told Yvon [Michel] my promoter, that if I got a chance to fight Chad Dawson, we should make the fight happen, because he knew Chad Dawson, he trained Chad Dawson, and he knew me very well too. I wish Emanuel had been there to see it, because sometimes when he would say good things about me, people wouldn't always believe it. And now they can see for themselves."
A short while later, as Stevenson took a break from shooting promotional photos and video in his gold Kronk Gym boxing gear, he pointed to his trunks – the same trunks he wore when he knocked out Dawson.
"Emanuel gave me these," he said. "He told me I would win a world title wearing them."
"I'll bet even he didn't imagine you'd do it in less than 90 seconds," came the reply.
"No," agreed Stevenson, and his mouth spread into a wide smile. "But he would have loved that I did."