TORONTO — WBC light-heavyweight champion Adonis (Superman) Stevenson retained his title via majority draw with Badou Jack on Saturday night.
The Canadian may count himself lucky, given two judges scored it 114-114 and the third gave Jack a 115-113 edge.
It was a gruelling, riveting fight, with both men enjoying stretches of success. Jack was the one administering punishment when it ended, however.
"He almost went to the wrong corner after the 12th round," Jack said derisively.
Jack, whose nickname is The Ripper, rode out Stevenson's early power and began to take it to the champion from the seventh round on at the Air Canada Centre. The Las Vegas-based Swede showed resolve and courage in biding his time against the 40-year-old Stevenson who seemed to tire and fight in bursts as the bout wore on.
Asked if he thought he had won, Jack replied: "Of course."
Stevenson also said he thought victory was his, although he acknowledged it was close. He said he had come down with a cold prior to the fight which did not help his performance, although he did not want to make excuses.
"Both fighters were hurt, both fighters recuperated and you had a war," said Sugar Hill, Stevenson's trainer. "This was one of the best light-heavyweight fights in a long time."
Both camps said they were in favour of a rematch although they differed on were. Jack wanted Las Vegas or Sweden while Stevenson, as champion, wanted it in Canada.
Jack was busier in the latter rounds with Stevenson responding in spurts.,
But he came out swinging in the 11th, battering Jack with body shots. Both men were exhausted, clinching as the round wore down.
They touched gloves before the 12th before swinging away for three more minutes. It was advantage Jack at the end with the challenger staggering Stevenson with a mighty punch.
"He said it takes only one punch. What happened?" said Jack, referencing Stevenson's pre-fight claim he needed just one punch to win.
Stevenson (29-1-1 with 24 knockouts) made his ninth title defence — but only just. Jack (22-1-3 with 13 knockouts) was looking to dethrone Stevenson, who won the belt in just 76 seconds from Chad Dawson in June 2013.
Stevenson came in touting the one-punch knockout power of his vaunted left hand. The 34-year-old Jack, a former WBC super-middleweight and WBA light-heavyweight title-holder, said he was younger, bigger and smarter than the champion.
Jack, a member of Floyd Mayweather's boxing stable, also ridiculed the quality of Stevenson's recent opponents while noting the Canadian was the sixth current or former world champion he had faced in a row.
Bookmakers had the contest as even, with some giving Stevenson a slight edge.
Ring Magazine currently has WBO champion Sergey Kovalev of Russia ranked No. 1 among light-heavyweights with Stevenson No. 2 and Jack No. 8.
Stevenson, a native of Blainville, Que., weighed in at 173.4 pounds Friday while Jack tipped the scales at 175 pounds.
Some two hours before the bout Jack, a Muslim, tweeted: "Time to make history InshAllah."
The challenger, wearing a blue and gold robe, came out first to Sizzla's "Solid as a Rock." Stevenson, clad in a black and gold top, followed to the sounds of Drake's "God's Plan."
Jack got some last-minute instructions from Mayweather as the Swedish national anthem played.
The two grudgingly touched one glove as they met in the centre of the ring for the pre-fight instructions. The six-foot-one Jack had a two-inch height advantage but was giving away four inches in reach.
It was a cagey first round with Stevenson in the middle of the ring, looking to land a power blow, as Jack circled away. There was more of the same in the second but Jack caught Stevenson with a blow to the head, grinning as the champion moved away.
Growing in confidence, an unimpressed Jack shook his head in the third when Stevenson connected. The fight went to closer quarters in the fourth and fifth.
Stevenson began to string punches together in the fifth. Jack was having trouble finding his range, unwilling to engage the more powerful man in close or move back where Stevenson could use his longer reach.
Stevenson continued to score in the sixth, unleashing body shots. Jack looked to ride out the storm as the crowd chanted "Superman."
Stevenson seemed to complain of a low blow in the seventh but got no joy from the referee. Jack got Stevenson's attention with a combination of punches, driving the champion back. This time Stevenson looked to hang on.
Both connected in the eighth, sweat flying from the blows. English referee Ian John-Lewis warned Jack for a low blow. Hostilities resumed, Jack hurt Stevenson with a sharp right.
Jack connected more often than Stevenson in the ninth, with his corner dousing him with water as he walked towards them at the end of the round.
Stevenson rallied in the 10th, bringing the crowd to its feet. They stayed there for the wild 11th.
The 10-fight card was originally slated for Montreal but was switched to Toronto less than a month ago. No real reason was given other than Stevenson wanted the move. Promoters billed it as the biggest fight in Toronto in some 30 years.
Hall of Famer Aaron (The Hawk) Pryor beat local favourite Nicky Furlano for the IBF welterweight title at Varsity Stadium in June 1984. Canadian Olympic welterweight star Shawn O'Sullivan's 11-fight unbeaten streak as a pro ended at the hands of hard-nosed Simon Brown at the CNE Coliseum in June 1986.
Stevenson last fought in Toronto in 2015 when he stopped American Tommy (Kryptonite) Karpency, a former nurse in a hospital psychiatric unit, in the third round at the Ricoh Coliseum before an announced crowd of 4,300.
Stevenson's last action was June 3, 2017, a second-round TKO win over Andrzej Fonfara. Jack defeated WBA light-heavyweight champion Nathan Cleverly by fifth-round TKO on Aug. 26, 2017, on the undercard of the Mayweather-Conor McGregor showdown. He subsequently vacated the title, opting for a bigger fight and payday against Stevenson.
The ACC was configured for about 6,000 Saturday with one end of the arena blocked off and spectators restricted to the lower bowl. While there were empty seats at the other end away from the ring, there was still a decent crowd announced at 4,728.
The nine-fight undercard featured several lesser titles and an attempted ring invasion by an over-refreshed spectator who apparently considered one of the bouts boring and wanted to liven it up himself up by climbing into the ring.
He paid the price, dragged off the corner ropes by security and other officials before being hustled out.
Mayweather, former world champion who retired unbeaten, was in the crowd in is role as co-promoter along with former NHL executive Brian Burke and Toronto FC's Alex Bono and Jay Chapman.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press