Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
VERONA, N.Y. -- It only took a few minutes of a conference call with boxing media – normally the kind of anodyne event notable, if at all, only for the occasional puzzlingly left-field questions thrown fighters’ way – for the feelings that David Lemieux and Curtis Stevens have for each other to erupt into view.
Stevens was in the middle of answering a question when Lemieux, disagreeing with his answer, interrupted him. Stevens jawed back. And then the verbal back-and-forth escalated.
“You’re going to get knocked out,” asserted Lemieux.
“Tell the doctor to bring smelling salts,” shot back Stevens. “They’re going to need it to wake your ass up, pretty boy,”
“I’m going to destroy you,” Stevens continued. “You’re going to get what you want. Your whole front furniture will be missing from your mouth.”
If the whole exchange (of which the above is a mere excerpt) reads in transcription a little like a case of “I know what you are but what am I?” served with a side of “I’m not touching you!”, the animosity between two men who bludgeon people into unconsciousness for a living is real.
“'The last time that my opponent spoke so much and I so disliked him … I broke three of his ribs and his nose,” said Lemieux a few days ago. On Friday, the morning of the weigh-in for his Boxing After Dark main event clash with Stevens at Turning Stone Casino on Saturday night, Lemieux expanded a little on the reason for his animus.
“Stevens is a guy who likes to downgrade fighters to hype up a fight,” he explained. “I dislike him because of his character. He’s a clown and I’m going to have to deal with it in the ring.”
And yes, this is boxing, where it can be a challenge to distinguish between the honest and the deceitful, the authentic and the artificial. And yes, some of Stevens’ statements and actions have clearly been with the deliberate attempt to stir up a reaction: witness specifically his establishment of a GoFundMe page to pay for Lemieux’s hospital bills.
But while there doesn’t appear to be the depth of dislike that characterized the relationships between, for example, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales or Fernando Vargas and Oscar De La Hoya, there is legitimate needle between the two middleweights. Part of it may be fueled by some past personal history, dating back seven years or so, although the extent to which Stevens and Lemieux palled around in the past as a result of a mutual association with light-heavyweight Jean Pascal is a matter of some dispute: Stevens insisting they were good friends until he arrived in the Canadian’s weight class, Lemieux throwing cold water on the notion of them fraternizing much at all.
Stevens, it should be noted, has some history at getting under the skin of his opponents. Prior to his November 2013 encounter with Gennady Golovkin, for example, he posted several photos on social media of he and friends gathered in prayer around a coffin emblazoned with the Kazakh’s initials. Infuriated, Golovkin turned to Stevens at the final pre-fight press conference and asked, “Are you serious?” After angrily beating the New Yorker into submission after eight rounds at Madison Square Garden, Golovkin emphasized that it was important to, as he put it in his then-very-fractured English, “respect box.”
Some of that needling is a consequence of Stevens’ character and origin. Whereas Lemieux is sociable and frequently smiling, Stevens is less so. He isn’t hostile to interlocutors by any means, and when in the right mood can be interesting and expansive company. But there is an intensity to his very being that perhaps reflects his being birthed in the same rough Brooklyn neighborhood that spawned Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe and Zab Judah, among others.
“I’m from Brownsville,” he said on Friday. “I wasn’t supposed to make it out. I’ve got to be special. I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want to make my mother happy.”
How she feels about her Curtis relentlessly poking his opponents into fury is unrecorded, but however much Stevens and Lemieux may want to do harm to each other, they are professional enough to ensure that they set about their task in a measured way, not being reckless and doing only what they do best. Fortunately for fans, what each man does best is box very well and punch extremely hard; their skills and in-ring intensity, mixed with a dash of vitriol, make for a set of ingredients that should ensure the resolution of their rivalry will, for the neutral, be a satisfying one.
Weights from Verona:
David Lemieux: 159 lbs. | Curtis Stevens: 158.25 lbs.
Yuriorkis Gamboa: 131 lbs. | Rene Alvarado: 130.25 lbs.