After the eighth round of the bout, Curtis Stevens’s corner threw in the towel. Stevens had fought a solid a fight, showed a strong chin, excited his hometown Madison Square Garden crowd with a few thudding hooks that wobbled Gennady Golovkin, the middleweight champion who has now strung together 15 consecutive wins by knockout.
But while Stevens’s highlights came sporadically, Golovkin maintained a steady, punishing pace, controlling the fight with his long jab, smooth footwork, and a constant barrage of combinations. Over eight rounds, Golovkin threw nearly 800 punches, landing 293, which was nearly three times as many as Stevens hit. He dropped Stevens with a left hook in the second round. Early in the eighth, he hurt him with a body shot then stung him with three more. By the waning seconds of the round, Stevens was in full retreat, opening up his defensive shell to throw just enough punches to keep the referee from stopping the fight.
Stevens, a Brownsville, Brooklyn, native, had absorbed Golovkin’s punches better than any opponent had before. And with Stevens’s power, there was always the chance that he could catch Golovkin with a game-changing shot. Yet when the ref walked over to Stevens’s corner following the bell, his trainer Andre Rozier didn’t hesitate to end it right there. It couldn’t have been an easy call, particularly given the stakes, this fight being one that could alter a career’s trajectory.
In boxing, though, the stakes go beyond title belts and HBO paydays. That became especially clear 30 minutes after Golovkin raised his hands in victory, when Magomed Abdusalamov, the 32-year-old heavyweight fighter who lost in the night’s undercard, told his manager he had a headache. Doctors at Roosevelt Hospital discovered a blood clot. After the brain surgery, they placed Abdusalamov in a medically induced coma.
Abdusalamov’s fight against Mike Perez was brutal, but not in the cringeworthy way that sticks in the mind. Perez won a clear unanimous decision, but Abdusalamov traded shots to the final bell and never got knocked down. He left the ring with a swollen face and a broken nose. It was the sort of bout you’d call a “good fight,” describe as “entertaining,” and then forget about a week or two later.
But now it will be hard to forget about. Abdusalamov is in stable condition in the intensive care unit. Surgeons removed a piece of his skull to relieve the swelling. As his promoter Nathan Lewkowicz told the New York Post, Abdusalamov will not fight again.
“Obviously,” you might say. But in boxing, such decision are less obvious than they should be.
In March 2012, a 24-year-old junior featherweight named Frankie Leal got knocked out and was carried from the ring on a stretcher. The final punch was a left hook that crumpled Leal to his knees. Leal was able to get to his feet by the time the ref said “seven,” and he put up his gloves to show that he was ready to keep going, but the ref stopped it.
Leal would fight again, five more times. He suffered another knockout a few weeks ago, on October 19. Again, he reached his feet, wobbly, before the 10 count, and again he would be taken away on a stretcher minutes later.
On October 23, Leal died from brain trauma.
As we’ve learned by now — from research into boxing, football, and hockey — it’s not the biggest hits that do most of the damage, but the accumulation of sub-concussive hits.
Curtis Stevens (25-4) is 28 years old, and — as he showed against Golovkin (27-0), one of the pound-for-pound best in the world — he remains a legitimate middleweight contender. He will likely fight many more times over the next six to 10 years and possibly make good money doing so. He will dole out punishment, and he will take punishment. On Saturday, he didn’t take more than he had to.