Adonis Stevenson opens up about the tough childhood that begat an even tougher fighter

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“You can have success from nothing,” says a man for whom “nothing” once included food.

Adonis Stevenson

Adonis Stevenson's hunger in the ring is fueled in part by the hunger he felt as a child.

Adonis Stevenson (26-1, 21 KOs) is on the other end of the phone, speaking freely about something that can be difficult to speak freely about: his childhood, where a hand-to-mouth existence led him to ball those hands into fists.

The Haitian-born Montreal transplant is reflecting on his past on a recent Friday afternoon, a past that he wasn’t always certain would blossom into a future.

“I came to Canada when I was 5-6 years old, then after that I had problems,” Stevenson explains. “I was in a foster home when I was 7-8 years old. I don’t know my dad. My life was very, very hard. I was poor.”

Plenty of fighters come from rough backgrounds. It gives them something to fight for, something to escape.

“To be a fighter, something’s had to have happened in your life,” former two-division world champion Paulie Malignaggi once told us. “You take all these risks for something that has very little chance of happening at a successful level. For a human being to want to want to go through those risks, they’ve had to have endured something. You might know it or you might not know it.”

Count Stevenson among the latter.

He remembers in grim detail what it was like to be a young boy pressed into becoming a man while seldom being afforded the luxury of thinking beyond the next day.

“When you’re a kid and you’re in the streets, you don’t think, ‘I’m going to college to be a doctor,’” he says. “You survive, you know?

“It was very hard to be reached, with no father, six brothers and one sister,” he continues. “You don’t have time to go to school, because you just have to survive. The gangsters are like your family.”

Except those gangsters who Stevenson would pummel on the block as he developed a reputation as a local tough guy.

“I was a gang member, knocking everybody out,” Stevenson says. “But when I’d fight in the street, I’d get in trouble.”

Eventually, Stevenson made his way to the gym, but not to train to become a fighter—at least not initially. Instead, he was lured there at the behest of an acquaintance who wanted to hire Stevenson as a bodyguard. But while working out, he caught the eye of karate master Tiger Paul, who quickly took Stevenson under his wing.

“He saw that I had talent,” Stevenson recalls.

Beginning with Paul’s mentorship, Stevenson embarked on a slow-gestating boxing career, eventually becoming the lineal 175-pound champion in June 2013 when he was 35 years old, an age when plenty of other fighters begin to ponder retirement or see their skills erode.

Stevenson defends his world title for the sixth time against Tommy Karpency (25-4-1, 14 KOs) on Friday at Toronto's Ricoh Coliseum (Spike TV, 9 p.m. ET/9 p.m. PT).

Throughout his life, Stevenson never spent much time in the classroom, but thanks to the sport he grew to love, he says that he still learned plenty.

“Boxing educated me,” he states. “Boxing is about discipline, and I learned to be disciplined.”

It’s a lesson he hopes to impart on others.

“If you have a kid who’s on the street and he saw me or another boxer, he can say to himself, ‘I can do this,’” Stevenson says. “It can change his life.”

Just like it did his.

For full coverage of Stevenson vs Karpency, visit our fight page.

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