MONTREAL -- It was only a matter of time before Adonis Stevenson's past as a member of a street gang became an issue in his boxing career.
While building a 16-1 record as an undercard fighter, there was little mention of how, when he was in his late teens, the Haitian-born slugger from Montreal spent 18 months in a Bordeaux jail on charges of managing prostitutes, assault and making threats. Ex-jailbird boxers are hardly uncommon.
But the past was brought up by Jesus Gonzales (27-1), who will face Stevenson at the Bell Centre on Saturday night with four minor belts and the No. 2 ranking in the International Boxing Federation on the line.
Gonzales will wear a patch on his trucks for Natalie's House, a women's shelter in Phoenix. Whether it is simply to put Stevenson off his game or not, the 27-year-old American is making it an issue.
"It gets in his head," Gonzales said at a news conference Wednesday. "I know his past."
Stevenson was clearly upset that events he hoped were long forgotten were brought up just before the biggest fight of his career.
It will be Stevenson's first bout with renowned trainer Emanuel Steward in his corner and is a must-win if he hopes to fulfil a dream to challenge fellow Montrealer Lucian Bute one day for the IBF title. To jump from 15th to second in IBF rankings would put him in range for a world title shot.
"I'm at another level now," the 34-year-old Stevenson said. "Now I want to be a champion, so I work hard with my promoter and trainer to be a champion."
What Stevenson did or didn't do before he was arrested at 18 remains murky, but promoter Yvon Michel said that while he did time for prostitution and simple assault, he was never found guilty of rape, sexual assault or aggravated assault, as Gonzales has suggested. Stevenson only said he was jailed for "pimping."
After he left prison, Stevenson took up boxing, won a silver medal for Canada at the 2004 Commonwealth Games, turned pro and has not been arrested again. He lives in suburban Longueuil, Que., with his girlfriend of four years and their two young daughters.
"It's been 14 years," Stevenson said of his criminal past. "That's a long time.
"That's the past. I learned a lot. You have the wrong people running (with) you. You have to look at which people are going to run with you. I was very young. Now I'm older. I see the life. I'm a fighter. I have two beautiful daughters. I work very hard for my family."
Stevenson said jail was less a question of paying his debt to society as of regretting what he did and "trying to be better person."
"We don't want to diminish the fact that he was beating girls," added Michel. "That's very bad."
Despite his record, he has a waiver that allows him to travel abroad. Two months ago, he visited Steward's famous Kronk Gym in Detroit. Steward, known as much these days as boxing analyst for the HBO specialty channel, took Thomas Hearns, Canadian Lennox Lewis and several other greats to world titles.
After watching Stevenson spar and seeing his devastating left hand, Steward agreed to take him under his wing.
It meant dumping his long-time Montreal trainer Howard Grant, who was not happy to see one of his top fighters leave without notice, but Stevenson said it was important to get regular sparring partners and to improve the obvious shortcomings in his game.
While Stevenson can punch, he has little else in his repertoire. He said Steward has worked mainly on his balance and technique.
Steward was in Austria this week helping heavyweight Wladimir Klitschko train for an upcoming title bout, but is due to arrive Friday and will be in Stevenson's corner.
Like Stevenson, Gonzales is a left-hander, but has only 14 knockouts in 28 career bouts. Stevenson has stopped 13 of 17 opponents before the limit, but the American is not impressed.
"He's like a big elephant," said Gonzales. "He walks around, trots around, doesn't know too much. He can't get no better."
Gonzales said he has been a supporter of Natalie's House for years but it will be the first time he wears its logo on his trunks. He said it is one of many charities or causes he has supported in Phoenix.
"I don't get into the psychological (expletive)," he said. "I stick to the game plan. I know how to beat him and I'll beat him that way.
"This all came up when we started talking about (fighting Stevenson). That's his past, not mine. I don't care what he's done. I know I've done a lot of good in my life."
Trained by his father, Gonzales worked out for the bout at the National Sport Development gym in Calgary, because of the higher altitude and to get used to the cold. Also, his promoter Fanbase is partly based there. His main sparring partner was Calgary light middleweight Janks Trotter.
Stevenson holds the NABA, NABO and IBF Intercontinental titles after his victory in December over Aaron Pryor Jr. Gonzales won the NABF belt from Francisco Sierra in his last bout in July.
The co-feature has impressive light heavyweight prospect Eleider Alvarez (7-0) of Montreal defending his minor NABO title against American Otis Griffin (23-9-2).