“Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman–a rope over an abyss.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
Boxing, even under the best of circumstances and situations, is a circus of the macabre, a collection of men and women willing to fight their way out of poverty and others who are eager to exploit those efforts.
There are no saints anywhere near the boxing business. At some point or another, everyone involved in the sport has blood on their hands– this is something that real boxing people understand and come to accept on at least some level. There is no moral high ground in fighting for profit and even less room for moral indignation when buried in the shady business dealings that make up the infrastructure of the sport.
And because boxing walks the seedy perimeters of polite society, the sport will always be full of thugs, crooks, gangsters, wannabe gangsters, and the sleazy human pilot fish that grab at the scraps of flesh that hang from the teeth of the real beasts. Even the purest of boxing souls burns red with an almost obsessive desire to overcome something.
Adonis Stevenson, consensus light heavyweight champion and WBC belt holder, is not all that much different from many who have found themselves attracted to the dog eat dog world of big time prizefighting.
Depending on which account one reads, the Haiti-born Canadian resident was either a ringleader in a human trafficking operation or merely hired muscle in a prostitution ring almost two decades ago in his adopted home province of Quebec.
Convicted and sentenced to four years in prison, Stevenson would only serve twenty months for his crimes and, upon release, continue to pursue his boxing dreams, eventually working his way up to 2013 Fighter of the Year status and a reputation as one of the most entertaining fighters in the game.
Stevenson’s brutal crimes against women were briefly chronicled in a recent Grantland piece by Bryan Curtis and reveal the true nature of what Stevenson had actually done.
All on public record and easily accessible, the bloody tale of beatings, broken bones, knife play, and forced fight-’til-you-drop boxing matches for “his” girls was a revelation to many boxing fans, who rarely venture beyond the info peddled by the sport’s mainstream press. Up until the Grantland piece, the most fans got about Stevenson was that he had done prison time for being a “pimp.”
The omission of any and every ugly detail of this story was not entirely a coincidence, either.
In boxing today, there’s a silent, implied conspiracy between the press and the sport’s power brokers to cheerlead, promote, and cast aside anything that may hurt business. There are no overt marching orders from boxing’s heavy hitters to the media– and there really don’t have to be any. Compliance and cheerleading come natural to the boxing media’s young guns.
Unlike many of the old-time scribes who grew up in the game and alongside its colorfully rotten cast of characters, the modern boxing writer has, for the most part, served no apprenticeship in the business. They have accumulated knowledge with no expertise via the long, cold reach of the internet and are buried in trivia knowledge at the expense of first-hand experience.
Entirely educated by what they’ve seen on TV, the new breed of boxing writer will scoff at the idea that corruption is a real and persistent thing in boxing. These mostly upper middle-class kids attracted to the sport by the allure of macho fantasies and an almost hopelessly idealized concept of what a fighter should be, even those who write well and come across as reasonable, intelligent people, tend to instinctively shy away from the truly dark side of the sport.
A fight can’t be fixed. A judge can’t be bought. A ring hero can’t be a brutal beast. To dip their toe into the abyss is to acknowledge that the abyss exists and that, maybe, not everything in boxing is about noble spirits and gallant, selfless warriors. To acknowledge this is to acknowledge the fact that what they know is, really, not a lot.
But, in boxing, the bad guy often wins and, very frequently, the good guys aren’t very good people at all. The best and most gregarious of good sports can really be a foul, ugly beast behind closed doors; the arrogant villains can sometimes be good, humble family men. Boxing is a sport of extremes and its characters are human beings raised on the fringes of society and far, far away from the well-fed middle class pleasantries known by the sport’s media.
The modern boxing writer has not been able to deal very well with this dichotomy of character in the sport he covers and has become almost belligerent in not messing with anything that serves as a buzzkill to his naive romanticism.
These days, the major roadblock to reform in the sport comes from this reluctance to “ruin” the boxing facade by dwelling on the dark and complicated.
This is also the reason behind the boxing world being the last to know about Adonis Stevenson’s sins.
As a fighter, Adonis “Superman” Stevenson is a joy to watch. Heavy-handed and bursting with self-confidence, he walks through opposition and crushes their will. One can almost see his opponents’ spirit shrinking in the face of the onslaught, slowly falling to pieces in the presence of a fighter with an almost supernatural will to dominate.
As a man, Adonis Stevenson is a wretched, pitiful beast who has never truly made amends for his sins nor even expressed real remorse for what he did. Twenty months in prison is nowhere near “paying his dues to society.”
It’s okay to acknowledge both sides of Adonis Stevenson. It’s even okay to acknowledge, maybe, the ugliest of all realities– some of what made Stevenson a feared and successful thug is also what makes him a feared and successful fighter.
The story of Adonis Stevenson isn’t one of black and white, movie of the week, redemption. It’s the story of a man who used brutality to force women into a life of virtual slavery and, frankly, to this day, doesn’t seem too torn up or repentant about any of it. Stevenson’s story is also the story of a talented man who can do tremendous things in the ring and has earned his spot among the elite of the sport.
Both stories should be told. In the real world of boxing, neither cancels out the other. And, really, that’s okay.
You can email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org, just be aware that he doesn’t really care about your fraternal secret society, your need for a hug, or any unresolved Daddy issues you may have. But you CAN buy his book, Notes from the Boxing Underground! Paul is a full member of the Burger King Kids’ Club, a born iconoclast, and an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church.