Elvin Ayala had no idea he’d be fighting for a title this weekend until he stepped foot inside Mohegan Sun Casino for Thursday’s pre-fight press conference. The sudden news has done little to change his approach. “I’ve been training hard regardless,” said Ayala (26-5-1, 12 KOs), the New Haven, Conn., native who will face New York’s Curtis Stevens (22-3, 16 KOs) for the NABF middleweight title Saturday in the nationally-televised co-feature of NBC Sports’ Fight Night series.
“For years, I’ve been talking about trying to get the beast out. Well, today it’s out. You’re going to see a different me on Saturday night.”
Saturday’s show, which is co-promoted by Main Events and Jimmy Burchfield’s Classic Entertainment & Sports, also features the 10-round main event between No. 3-ranked light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev (19-0-1, 17 KOs) of Russia and former world champion Gabriel Campillo (21-4-1, 8 KOs) of Spain. The live telecast will begin 9 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports Network.
Stevens, a former title contender from Brownsville, represents Ayala’s toughest test since facing David Lemieux in 2010. Since then, Ayala has won six consecutive bouts to rise to #9 in the WBC middleweight rankings, so fighting for a title Saturday night is “just a bonus.”
“Right now, I’m bubbling. I’ve got a lot going through my mind,” Ayala said. “I know my opponent is trying to stop me from eating and stop my children from eating. He’s a strong opponent, but I’ve been in there with the best.
“There was no Christmas, no New Year’s and no birthday for me,” added Ayala, who turned 32 on Tuesday. “It’s just been training, so I know when I go in there Saturday night I’ll be 100 percent.”
Stevens, initially irked when Ayala said he was “no Arthur Abraham” – a reference to Ayala’s world-title bout against Abraham in 2008 – will face an additional challenge Saturday night in front of the Mohegan Sun crowd, which figures to be pro-Ayala.
“The fight may be in his backyard, but on Saturday night he’ll be in my house,” Stevens said.
“I feel great. I had two years off [after losing to Jesse Brinkley in 2010], which gave me a lot of time to think. Before I was partying a lot, and not really focusing on boxing. The loss to Brinkley might’ve been the best thing that happened to me. I’ve been through a lot, but come Saturday night I’ll be ready to climb to the top. The crowd won’t bother me; in the ring it’s my house. There won’t be much he can do with a wild beast on him.
“And whether I’m fighting for a title or not, I’ve got to win. I’ve got no choice.”
Added Ayala: “Unless [the crowd] can come in there with me and hold him down while I punch him, it won’t help me win the fight. If I’m not moving, slipping and using combinations, all the screaming in the world won’t help me. I appreciate the support – I always do – but I need to focus on what I need to do to win. He’s a strong opponent, and whether he’s happy, mad or neutral, I know he’s coming to beat me.”
The main event promises major fireworks as the Russian Kovalev looks to move one step closer toward challenging for a world title in the light heavyweight division.
“Right after we signed him, the first thing he asked me was how soon he could fight for a world title, not how many tune-up fights he could have,” said Main Events president Kathy Duva. “He’s really, really ready. This is a make-or-break fight for both of them. With a win, Sergey would be making a statement that he is, in fact, one of the best light heavyweights in the division.”
Since fighting to a draw against Grover Young in 2011, Kovalev has won each of his last three fights by knockout, including a third-round knockout win over Lionell Thompson in September.
“I’ll do my best to put on a great show,” Kovalev said. “You won’t regret spending your money.”
“He only has one thing on his mind,” added Kovalev’s trainer, Egis Klimas, “and that’s to become a world champion. He’s here to prove it on Saturday night.”
Campillo is looking to make one more run at championship glory. From 2009 to 2010, he held the World Boxing Association (WBA) light heavyweight title, defending the belt once against Beibut Shumenov before losing the rematch – and the title – by split decision in January of 2010. Campillo also challenged for the International Boxing Federation (IBF) light heavyweight title in February, but lost a narrow split-decision to Tavoris Cloud.
“This is an important fight for me,” Campillo said. “I’ve been training really hard for this. When you come to see me, you’re coming to see a great fight.”
The undercard includes an eight-round super middleweight showdown between Vladine Biosse (14-1-1, 7 KOs) of Providence, R.I., and Marcus Upshaw (14-8-2, 6 KOs) of Jacksonville, Fla., and a six-round female bantamweight bout between undefeated Shelito Vincent (6-0) of Providence (New London, Conn.) and Bronx native Nydia Feliciano (5-3-3).
Hartford, Conn., super featherweight Joseph “Chip” Perez (10-3, 1 KO) will face Jason Sosa (7-1-3, 3 KOs) of Camden, N.J., in a six-round bout; Brooklyn’s Ian James (2-4-1, 1 KO) will battle newcomer Edwin Cotto of Willimantic, Conn., in a four-round lightweight bout; and unbeaten heavyweight Jarrell Miller (4-0, 4 KOs) of New York will face Philadelphia’s Joey Dawejko (7-1-1, 3 KOs) in a four-round bout. New Haven newcomer Jimmy Williams will make his professional debut in a four-round welterweight bout against Springfield, Mass., veteran Noel Garcia (2-15-2, 1 KO). Tickets are priced at $40 and $125 and can be purchased by calling TicketMaster at 1-800-745-3000 or online at www.ticketmaster.com.