MONTREAL -- It was supposed to be another quick win for light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson, but Andrzej Fonfara had other plans.
Stevenson was forced to go 12 full rounds and pick himself off the canvas to win for the first time in his career by the iron-jawed Fonfara as he pounded out a highly entertaining unanimous decision before 6,432 at Bell Centre on Saturday night.
The Laval, Que. fighter (24-1) defended his World Boxing Council title for the third time, but it wasn't easy for the power puncher who had ended his 14 previous fights before the limit.
"Fonfara's a good fighter and he was ready," said the 36-year-old Stevenson, who knocked his Polish opponent down in the first round with a left to the head and put him down again with a body shot in the fifth, only to see him get back up and keep battling.
"A lot of people thought I couldn't go 12 rounds, but I finished 12 and I dominated."
Some were calling it a fight of the year candidate, as the heavy underdog Fonfara stayed on his feet and kept trading blows until the final bell.
Two ringside judges had it 115-110 and the other 116-109, all for Stevenson. The Canadian Press had it 115-110, giving Fonfara the fourth, eighth, ninth and 12th rounds.
The southpaw Stevenson said he injured his left hand in the second round and didn't have full power the rest of the way, even if he kept using his main weapon.
A shiver went through the arena in the ninth when Fonfara used two jabs and a right to knock Stevenson down, and the local favourite clinched and finessed his way through the rest of the round.
He switched tactics to fight in closer to his opponent and won the next two rounds.
"I wasn't worried," he said. "I was moving, clinching, being smart, but I wasn't worrying about it."
Fonfara came in a highly ranked but mostly unknown light heavyweight and looked to have made a name for himself by standing up to the 2013 fighter of the year and one of the most dangerous punchers in the sport.
"I proved tonight he is not Superman," said 26-year-old Fonfara, referring to Stevenson's nickname. "He went down.
"Stevenson was better tonight, but I'll be back. My mistake was that I should have thrown more punches and combinations. I want to train more and be a world champion in the future."
Asked what he was most proud of, Fonfara said "I'm proud I survived."
The Fonfara bout was arranged amid controversy for Stevenson, who most expected would have a showdown with hard-hitting Russian Sergey Kovalev.
The two fought together on a card in Quebec City in January, with an eye on a bout this year on the HBO specialty channel.
But then Stevenson hired U.S. manager Al Haymon, who arranged the Fonfara bout on HBO's rival Showtime, with plans for a fight later this year with ring legend Bernard Hopkins. Kovalev's management has taken legal action to try to get Stevenson to honour what it said was an a done deal.
Stevenson said he wants the 49-year-old Hopkins, a wily fighter who is a master of slipping punches and scoring just enough points to win.
In the co-feature, middleweight David Lemieux took a step toward title contention with an impressive third-round knockout of Roberto Guerrero.
Lemieux (32-2) knocked down Guerrero (26-3) in the first and second rounds. After Guerrero took a voluntary knee in the third to have his bleeding right eye cleared, Lemieux attacked and knocked him out with a right uppercut.
It was the 25-year-old Montreal fighter's seventh win in a row since a pair of losses in 2011 derailed his title bout hopes. And it was the fifth time in five fights the crowd-pleasing knockout artist won inside three rounds.
"I'm on a new chapter now," said Lemieux, saying he has renewed dedication to training towards winning a world title.
The 27-year-old Guerrero, a Dominican Republic native living in Salisbury, Md., was in his second fight since losing a bid for the World Boxing Organization belt last year to Peter Quillan.
A light-middleweight bout between top-10 contenders saw Jermell Charlo (24-0) of Houston dominate Charlie Belamy Ohta (24-2-1) of Japan in a 12-rounder.
The five-foot-11 Charlo, who had a five-inch height advantage, was knocked down by a left-right combination early in the third and was deducted a point in the ninth for a second low blow, but still earned scores of 115-111, 118-109 and 118-109 from the judges.
Eleider Alvarez (15-0), one of promoter Yvon Michel's top prospects, must have thought it strange to be put in the first fight on the card, but he pulled out a workmanlike unanimous 10-round decision over Alexander Johnson (15-2).
Alvarez was a knockout artist early in his career, but since he has been given a better class of opponents, he has gone the distance in three straight fights. A knockdown in the third against the left-handed Johnson gave him 97-92 scores on three judges cards for the win.
Welterweight Junior Ulysse (2-0) of Montreal was impressive in his second pro bout, putting Argentina's Carlos Alberto Olivera (6-7) down twice before their scheduled four-rounder was stopped at 1:38 of the first.
Philadelphia prospect Julian (J Rock) Williams (16-0-1) battered Michael Medina of Los Angeles through seven rounds before flooring him with a right in the eighth of their super-middleweight bout.