By JAMES COOK
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Adonis Stevenson was the last boxer Emanuel Steward brought on at Detroit’s legendary Kronk Gym before Stewart’s death last October.
And now, Stevenson is training in Traverse City to get ready for the biggest fight of his life.
“He was Emanuel’s last fighter he accepted into Kronk,” said Javan “Sugar” Hill, Stevenson’s trainer and nephew of boxing legend Emanuel Steward. “He had dreams of Adonis becoming a world champion and a superstar fighter. This is part of completing something he started, as well as adding to the Kronk legacy for Emanuel.”
Stevenson is slated to fight Chad Dawson for the WBC light heavyweight championship on June 8 in Montreal, but he’ll be in Traverse City the rest of May training at Trigger Boxing.
The 35-year-old Stevenson has a 20-1 professional record, while 30-year-old Dawson is 31-2. The fight is slated to be broadcast on HBO.
“That’s a good matchup,” said Stevenson, whose first language is French. “I told him I’m going to knock him out. That’s why I work very hard.”
Stevenson — who goes by the nickname “Superman” — is the current WBC Continental Americas super middleweight title holder and is No. 4 in the International Boxing Organization computer rankings.
“I think he has a good chance, or we wouldn’t have taken the fight,” Hill said of the 5-foot-11 Stevenson. “Adonis is a super middleweight, but he can fight at light heavyweight, so that’s why I think it’s a good fight. People may not think he can fight at light heavyweight, but he can. He’s that strong and that physical.”
Stevenson’s only pro loss — in early 2010 to Darnell Boone — was avenged with a sixth-round KO this March at the same location he’ll take on Dawson, and 17 of his 20 wins have come by knockout.
“Adonis has learned a lot since he’s been with us,” Hill said. “I know he’s hungry. You can see in every fight he’s had with us, he’s improving. That makes me happy being the trainer, and the things we’ve been working on he’s been able to do in the ring.
“I think he’s a superstar fighter with power in both hands, which makes him exciting. He can score a knockout in any round.”
Stevenson originally wanted to train in Big Bear Lake, Calif., a semi-isolated resort area in southern California where he could run in the mountains. Then Hill remembered a 1981 trip as a 10-year-old when Steward was training Thomas Hearns here to get ready for a bout with Sugar Ray Leonard.
“I was a kid, up here playing,” said Hill, who has trained three world champions. “I just wanted quarters to play arcade games. That was the big thing back then. But it was always somewhere I wanted to come back to. It’s far enough from the big city that people won’t just stop by and watch you train as distractions.”
Hill learned from the best. His uncle trained 41 world champion fighters throughout his career, including Lennox Lewis, Hearns and Wladimir Klitschko, who is the current WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight champion.
Stevenson, who was born in Haiti and moved to Canada when he was 5, hadn’t even heard of Traverse City before their plans to train here. Now, their training schedule is four days of sparring and technique work a week, and at least one day of running Wayne Hill, the TART trail, on beaches or up Mount Holiday.
“It’s beautiful,” Stevenson said. “It’s the first time I’ve been here, but I love it.”
“I never heard of it before. The first time Javan talked to me about Traverse City, I Googled ‘Travel City,’ so I didn’t see anything. I was like, ‘Where is that?’ And Javan said, ‘No, it’s Traverse City,’ and I was like, ‘Okaaayyy.’ And then I came here and it’s beautiful.”
Stevenson’s work at Trigger involves sparring against several bigger heavyweights, including Grand Rapids professional Jordan Shimmell, 2007 Golden Gloves national champion Nate James and 2009 Golden Gloves champ Craig Lewis, each trying to mimic Dawson’s southpaw style.
Hill said Stevenson opted to move up a weight class for a title shot, since super middleweight titleholders Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler will fight May 25 at O2 Arena in London to unify their crowns, and Stevenson won’t get a shot at the winner until months later.