Gennady Golovkin, the champion middleweight boxer from Kazakhstan, has knocked out the last 14 men he’s faced. He’s won all 27 of his professional fights, and in only three of them did his opponent reach the final bell still on his feet.
He’s a chiseled, relentless punching machine with power in both hands and arms like pistons. Anyone who’s watched him in the ring has seen the talent. But he’s fought in America just three times, and he’s yet to square off against a grade-A foe. In other words, he’s at that step in a boxer’s career where the promotional hype machine begins plow a path toward the pay-per-view mega-fights.
Now, a giant poster of his face hangs in Times Square. He’s come to New York, like millions of others, to become a star. On Saturday night he headlines HBO’s boxing card at Madison Square Garden.
And that’s where Brownsville’s Curtis Stevens comes in.
Stevens is the best fighter to come out of Brownsville since Zab Judah, who was the best fighter to come out of Brownsville since Shannon Briggs, who was the best fighter to come out of Brownsville since Mike Tyson.
He’s trained at East New York’s Starrett City Boxing Club since he was five. These days, he’s one of the most powerful punchers of his weight class. His right hand could knock the acorns from a tree. He’s won three of his last four fights by first round knockout.
Like Golovkin, Stevens has been touted as a future boxing superstar — an exciting fighter who dishes out the sort of brutality that can fill an arena and pull up TV ratings. And at 28, he’s three years younger than Golovkin.
But Stevens, 25-3 with 18 knockouts, stumbled in some of his biggest bouts. His first professional loss came in his first professional title shot, when he was 19 and vying for the WBC Youth World super middleweight title. A year later, in 2007, he lost a unanimous decision to the highly touted 23-year-old Andre Dirrell, who then rose to become one of the top super middleweights in the world. In 2010, Stevens was one his way to a shot at the IBF Super Middleweight title, but lost a decision to Jesse Brinkley.
The perception among many boxing observers has been that Stevens has struggled to channel his impressive abilities into the fights he most needs to win. Analysts throw around words like “hunger” and “heart” and “focus” to explain why Stevens hasn’t yet become an elite fighter.
All this, of course, makes him the ideal opponent for Golovkin — talented enough to boost the résumé and turn the hype up another notch, but not quite polished enough to pose a real threat to the rise of HBO’s newest golden boy. Beat him in his hometown, no less.
But fortunes can turn in boxing faster than in any other sport. One punch can knock narrative on its side. A once-promising fighter thought to lack sufficient drive can, with a vicious right hook-left uppercut combo, morph into the redemptive figure who finally got his mind right thanks to some inspirational trainer or a soul searching moment or pure perseverance or fill-in-the-blank, and now he’s back on the path to the mega-fights. And now the next big thing is the coulda been.