By Graham Houston
The boxing world is in agreement that tonight’s middleweight title fight between Gennady Golovkin and Curtis Stevens won’t be going the full 12 rounds at Madison Square Garden’s theatre (TV coverage on HBO in the U.S. and Sky Sports in the U.K.) Furthermore, there seems to be almost unanimous accord that Golovkin is going to win, probably quickly. I’m certainly expecting Golovkin to retain his WBA and IBO titles with a stoppage victory but I think that Stevens is going to be dangerous initially, and I’m not sure that Golovkin is going to blow Stevens away as easily as some believe will be the case.
Stevens, at 28, is a much more disciplined and mature fighter than when he was boxing as a 168-pounder earlier in his career. I think he is now a much better fighter than he was when Jesse Brinkley outclassed him in January 2009, which was the last time that Stevens lost.
Since returning to the ring as a 160-pounder — after a two-year layoff — Stevens has scored three one-round KOs in four consecutive wins. He looked devastating when blowing out Elvin Ayala and Saul Roman. There is no doubt that Stevens can crack with the left hook. I believe that Stevens trained something like 10 weeks for this fight and he looked in tremendous condition at the weigh-in, with sharply defined musculature.
I think it’s fair to see that Stevens will be in the best shape of his life for this fight and I don’t think that Stevens is simply going to take a knee if things get rough — I believe he is going to give it all he’s got in front of a New York hometown crowd.
Also, I understand that Stevens asked his promoter, Kathy Duva, to make the fight. This could be a case of: “Be careful what you wish for,” but I do get the sense that Stevens really believes he can pull off the huge upset
Golovkin is deservedly an overwhelming favourite. The undefeated champion from Kazakhstan is, of course, one of the most destructive fighting machines in the business, and he looked spectacular in his last fight when crunching Matthew Macklin with a brutal left hook to the body in the third round.
Golovkin’s veteran trainer, Abel Sanchez, has been outspoken in his view that Golovkin is going to make short work of Stevens. “It will be an explosive, quick fight,” Sanchez told Dan Rafael of ESPN.com. Sanchez predicted that this will be even shorter than the Macklin fight if Stevens comes at Golovkin.
“If he comes at us, he’s through,” Sanchez said.
As the somewhat stocky Stevens isn’t known for being a moving, side-to-side, slick type of boxer, one has to assume that he will take his chances and go for the KO. Throwing heavy shots up close is what Stevens does best. Staying back and trying to box on the outside would be out of character for Stevens and surely wouldn’t lead to a successful outcome against the 4½-inch taller Golovkin.
So, if Stevens takes the fight to Golovkin I think we are likely to see a violent and exciting fight for however long it lasts, because Golovkin likes to fight on the front foot and is supremely confident in his ability to hurt his opponents — I don’t think he’ll back down from a firefight.
I can see the possibility of Stevens nailing and rocking Golovkin, but I can’t quite envisage him landing the punch that will be heard around the (boxing) world.
GGG, as Golovkin calls himself, looks simply the more accomplished fighter. Golovkin is much the more seasoned of the two boxers — thanks to his vast amateur experience that includes a world championship and an Olympic silver medal — and I see Golovkin as having the better chin, the better defence and perhaps even the superior hitting power, with a greater punch-variety.
So, if Stevens is unable to land a blockbuster in the first two or three rounds I think that the challenger from Brooklyn is going to find himself increasingly outscored and broken down as the rounds go by.
Assuming that Golovkin does the expected, takes command of the fight and starts zeroing in with heavy shots, we can’t be sure how much punishment Stevens can endure, which makes it a little bit problematical for players thinking of taking a shot with one of the “under/over” wagering propositions.
Although the journeyman Marcos Primera dropped and stopped Stevens in the eighth round, that was seven years ago when Stevens didn’t have the level of conditioning that he does today, and even then the stoppage was somewhat controversial, with Stevens seeming to be weathering Primera’s follow-up assault after getting off the floor: In a rematch four months later, Stevens beat Primera comfortably on points.
The more experienced Jesse Brinkley outclassed and beat up Stevens — after Stevens seemed to hurt Brinkley with a left hook in the opening round, causing a swelling under Brinkley’s eye — but the Brooklyn fighter gamely stuck it out till the final bell.
That fight was on Brinkley’s home turf in Reno, NV. At home in the Big Apple, I think that Stevens will be somewhat be harder to stop than generally anticipated.
Still, it would surprise me to see Stevens go the distance.
I’m expecting Stevens to give a determined effort and win the respect of his opponent and the critics, but I can’t go against Golovkin here. I’m expecting Golovkin to get Stevens out of the fight in about six rounds — but not without one or two bumps on the road to victory.
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Photo: Wojciech Kubik