Adonis Stevenson could not have found a better way to impress his famous new trainer Emanuel Steward than with a first-round knockout.
With Steward working his corner for the first time, the Longueuil, Que., fighter used his devastating left hand to put Jesus Gonzales down and out only 1:39 into their scheduled 12-round International Boxing Federation super-middleweight elimination bout on Saturday night.
Steward, who knows punching power from having taken Thomas Hearns to a world title in the 1980s, liked what he saw.
"Adonis Stevenson is one of the best pure punchers I have ever met in my life," said Steward, who has trained or managed 43 world champions including Canadian Lennox Lewis. "He's unbelievable.
"Nothing sells like knockouts. This is one of the best knockouts I have see in my 60 years in boxing."
With the win, Stevenson (16-1) takes over the IBF's No. 2 ranking, moving him a step closer to his goal of challenging Lucian Bute of Montreal for the world title. Gonzales (27-2) suffered his first deafeat since 2005.
The fighters felt each other out for what seemed only a moment before Stevenson attacked, moving in with his jab and sending Gonzales (27-2) to the floor with a crushing left to the jaw.
When referee Marlon B. Wright counted out the senseless Gonzales, Stevenson leapt up and down in the ring while the crowd of 2,809 roared in the end of the Bell Centre cordoned off for the fight.
Gonzales was taken to hospital for tests afterward and was not available for comment.
"I threw the punch, bang, and that's it," said Stevenson.
The quick KO came after a week of verbal sparring between the two lefthanders. Gonzales supports a women's shelter in Phoenix, and he brought up Stevenson's criminal record, which includes 18 months in jail starting in 1998 for his activities with a Montreal street gang.
Stevenson was convicted of being a pimp, assault and making threats, but the father of two daughters has had no arrests since his release and says he has changed his life.
"This wasn't about revenge," the 34-year-old said. "I'm not that kind of guy. I'm just happy I won."
Now he wants Bute's title.
"I'm ready to be a champion," he said. "This is my year."
Bute's promoter InterBox is in negotiations with No. 1 contender Carl Froch of England for a two-fight, home and away series. If that happens, promoter Yvon Michel said Stevenson will have to fight and beat the highest-ranked opponent available to become mandatory challenger for the world title.
But whatever happens, Stevenson established his presence in the 168-pound division with a quick win over the best calibre of opponent he has faced.
Gonzales was a top U.S. amateur, which included working with Steward in 2003, who has had a solid if unspectacular career mainly as a middleweight (160 pounds).
Stevenson was all business as he stepped into the ring in his new Kronk gym trunks and white shoes.
"I like the way Adonis came out," said Steward. "He took control of the fight.
"He wasn't just reacting to the other fighter. He set the tempo. I love that. With that type of attitude, his skills and that big puncing power, he'll be packing arenas here just like Bute. I told Adonis 'you look like a young Tommy Hearns.' "
Stevenson only made contact with Steward two months ago, but impressed the veteran trainer enough to start working together at Kronk in Detroit. Steward flew in from Austria, where he spent the past week with heavyweight Wladimir Klitschko, to be in Stevenson's corner. He was to return to Austria on Sunday.
The Hiatian-born Stevenson, previously considered a one-dimensional knockout artist with limited skill, said he worked on balance and technique in Detroit, but said the main benefit was getting plenty of sparring with world class partners like middleweight contender Andy Lee.
New York matchmaker Don Majesky said what Steward brought most to his new protege was confidence.
"He had the confidence to dominate the best opponent of his career," said Majesky. "That was a statement fight.
"He established himself as a contender, but also as an attraction, and that's just as important."
Stevenson wore a Montreal Expos cap into the ring, while Gonzales went a step father and wore an Expos shirt with Gary carter's No. 8 on the back in honour of the former catcher who died this week of cancer at 57.
The scheduled co-feature with impressive light heavyweight Eleider Alvarez (7-0) of Montreal was cancelled when his opponent, American Otis Griffin (23-9-2), pulled out. Promoter Yvon Michel said Griffin demanded a raise of his agreed upon $11,500 purse and was turned down.
There were some boos from the seats from fans who felt lightweight Arash Usmanee (17-0) was given a home town decision in his wide open brawl with Innocent Anyanwu (21-4-1) of the Netherlands. Anyanwu floored Usmanee with an uppercut in the fifth round of the eight-round lightweight bout and looked to land more power punches in the match.
But it was scored 76-75, 77-74 and 78-73 by the ringside judges for Usmanee, an Afghanistan native from Red Deer, Alta., now living in Montreal. It was the first time in his pro career Usmanee was knocked down.
It was followed by a pair of mismatches.
Dierry Jean (21-0) of Longueuil knocked down timid-looking Ryan Barrett (25-10-3) of England five times before the scheduled eight round bout was mercifully stopped by the referee.
And heavyweight Oscar Rivas (9-0), a Colombian fighting out of Montreal, had pudgy Ivica Perkovic (15-13) of Croatia down twice in the second and finished him with a left to the jaw in the third of their scheduled eight-rounder.
Tyler Asselstine (9-0) of Ottawa won all eight rounds of his super-featherweight bout to hand lanky Nicola Cipolletta (8-1) of Italy his first defeat.
Wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey into the ring was no help for Jeremy Abbott (3-3) of Dunnville, Ont., who was stopped after going down three times in the first round against Ghislain Maduma (6-0) of Montreal.
Lightweight Baha Laham (8-0) of Montreal stopped Csaba Toth (6-12) of Hungary with a body shot in the third round of a four-rounder.