(New York, NY, USA; Gennady Golovkin [silver trunks] and Curtis Stevens [brown trunks] box during their middleweight bout at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. Golovkin won after the fight was stopped after the 8th round. Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
One view coming into Gennady Golovkin-Curtis Stevens Saturday night on HBO, probably not the prevailing one, was that Stevens was a patsy undeserving of stepping into the ring with GGG. We can dispense with that after Stevens gave Golovkin no worse than one of his two hardest fights to date. Problem is, pretty much every GGG fight ending is inevitable at this point in his career: his opponent bludgeoned, his face mangled, some kind of early ending. At the end of the 8th, Stevens' corner had seen enough and called a halt to it.
What we can make of this is that Stevens is a middleweight of contender caliber, and/or that the Golovkin hype train has gotten ahead of the reality, um, bus. But neither knockout puncher hurt his stock as someone you want to see on your television, that's for sure.
Something similar can be said for the undercard bout between heavyweights Mike Perez and Magomed Abdusalamov. That bout didn't end in a knockout, and Perez took over in the back half to win a unanimous decision, but when was the last time you were reminded of the division being worth a damn? That Perez and Abdusalamov made me enjoy a heavyweight fight is enough to make me want to see them again on TV.
GENNADY GOLOVKIN-CURTIS STEVENS
My view coming into the bout was that Stevens had a puncher's chance to end it at any time, but that Golovkin was the fighter better equipped to capitalize on his own puncher's odds. I thought it would end earlier than it did because of that, but Stevens hung in there through eight and in so doing disrupted the Golovkin narrative a little.
Before you're tempted to dismiss this win entirely based on Stevens' thin resume and some dismal outings prior to his move down from super middleweight, keep in mind that Stevens fared far, far better against Golovkin than a proven top-10 middleweight in Matthew Macklin. Stevens could be dropped and badly hurt at 168; at 160, he stood up to the GGG punches that more established middleweights could not. Thus, I'm inclined to believe this out says more about Stevens' qualities than GGG's deficiencies.
Stevens did come out tight, repeatedly double-tapping his back right foot on the ring apron like it was a nervous muscle twitch. Both boxers fought with an abundance of respect for each other's power and applied the requisite defensive responsibility, neither man's strong suit. And in the 2nd, it really did appear it would end early. A double left hook up top dropped Stevens, whose reaction of shock at the power of the punches is bound for social media infamy. Stevens survived the remaining 30 seconds or so, then took the 3rd round to gather himself. By the 4th round, he was right back in it: Reasonable minds can differ, but I saw Stevens wobble GGG with a left in the 5th. I gave Stevens the 4th, too, with some giving him the 1st. Every other round was a Golovkin whooping, is all, with Golovkin pounding his heavy jab in Stevens mug, punishing him with right crosses, and going to the body with great success to a degree you wonder why he didn't do more of it.
By the end of the 8th it was getting typically ugly for a Golovkin opponent: swollen face, Stevens in full retreat. The corner and the referee had a summit and the bout was wisely stopped.
Despite the borderline wobbling, we did learn that Golovkin could hang with a big puncher — he can dish it, and he can take it out. Despite the competitive affair — there are grounds for debate about whether Stevens or Kassim Ouma fought GGG better — Golovkin demonstrated that he's well-equipped to win the tough ones. He might not be the merciless android he has seemed at times, but he sure is a force to contend with. After the bout, he mentioned wanting to fight middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. Stevens showed Saturday with his superior speed that Golovkin can be bothered by quickness, something Martinez has in even greater quantities than Stevens. But Golovkin also showed that being bothered by something and being beaten by something are worlds apart.
- Mike Perez-Magomed Abdusalamov. This one, too, had the air of a match-up about to end early. Perez caught Mago with a billion flush punches in the 1st round, repeatedly wobbling the Russian, only for Mago to somehow remain on his feet. Perhaps punched out, Perez became vulnerable to Mago's huge shots for the next few rounds, losing the next three on my card even as he openly wondered to his corner whether his nose was broken. But Perez eventually took back over, thanks in part to superior conditioning, at least until his momentum was stifled in the 9th by a point deduction for low blows. In the meantime, Mago became convinced something was going on with his jaw, with the visible evidence backing that up. He was a mess by the end of the bout, to the point that you wonder whether it should've been stopped sooner. Yet in the 10th he was still throwing punches with fight-ending explosiveness, so maybe it would've been premature to pull the plug. Either way, Perez — a Cuban Olympian now fighting out of Ireland — established himself as one of the division's rising forces, while Mago fought more than well enough not to be tossed on the scrap heap.