Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
VERONA, N.Y. – Nine-and-a-half months remain in the year, but David Lemieux may as well already seize the award for Knockout of the Year right now and dare anybody to take it from him. There may be more claimants before 2017 is over, but so vicious and frightening was Lemieux’s one-punch obliteration of Curtis Stevens at Turning Stone Casino on Saturday night that they are almost certainly destined to be pretenders rather than contenders.
This was a knockout of such sudden ferocity that, for many minutes afterward, there was fear for the health of Stevens, who lay unconscious and unmoving on the ring apron as medical professionals attended to him with real urgency. He was awake and showing some responsiveness as he was stretchered out of the arena, but his mother, who had been sitting at ringside and rapidly made her way to her stricken son, will have undergone some of the most anxious moments of her life. It was a knockout for the ages, one that highlighted both the beauty and the feral brutality of boxing.
The middleweight clash had promised action from the beginning, because of the history of both combatants, each long renowned as a furious puncher, because of the bad blood that had brewed between them in the build-up, and because of the stakes that were at hand: a possible return to the championship picture for the winner, the threat of mediocrity or irrelevance for the loser. And from the opening bell, those stakes were apparent as Lemieux (37-3, 33 KOs) tore into Stevens (29-6, 21 KOs) with both fists. A furious first round saw Lemieux land a big right hand that appeared to hurt Stevens and back him to the ropes, only for Stevens to respond with a powerful hook as the Canadian sought to press his advantage. At round’s end, it was Lemieux’s turn to launch a hook, this one clearly hurting the Brooklynite, who ate another hook to the body as the bell sounded to end a frantic three minutes.
Lemieux continued to attack in the second, but Stevens appeared to have regained some solidity and was seeking to meet Lemieux’s fusillade with more selectively explosive artillery of his own. A straight right from Stevens landed cleanly on his opponent’s jaw, but Lemieux came back with a hook to the head and digging punches to the body once more.
Then came the third round, another fast-paced and furious two minutes and then Lemieux backing Stevens to the ropes, the two men uncorking hooks at the same time, but Lemieux’s landing first, detonating with nuclear force on his foe’s jaw and rendering him instantly unconscious. Stevens landed under the bottom rope, his right arm falling to one side and sending the timekeeper, fearing the entirety of the New Yorker’s muscular body was headed onto his table, scurrying backward. But Stevens did not move, even a little bit, other than for the rapid but shallow movement of his ribcage, until finally, as his neck was braced and he was loaded onto a stretcher, his eyelids flickered open, his hands showed some involuntary movement and he slowly came to consciousness.
Lemieux will receive the plaudits, and rightfully so, for he did what boxers are asked to do and in spectacularly emphatic fashion. But thoughts afterward turn to, and remain with, his fallen foe.
Yuriorkis Gamboa returned from a 15-month layoff, and a barren spell of four fights in over four years, to score a unanimous decision over Nicaragua’s Rene Alvarado in the co-main event. Aside from a called knockdown – which was really a slip – in the 10th and final round, Gamboa (26-1, 17 KOs) was comfortably in control throughout, but it was rarely if ever the kind of exciting outing that he would have wanted to announce his re-entry to a stacked junior lightweight division.
The Cuban émigré was fast and skillful enough to all but shut down Alvarado’s offense, but was unable to close the gap to his reluctant opponent to enable him to unleash combinations. As a result, he mostly pot-shotted from the outside, and found his punches being caught by Alvarado’s gloves, as the restive crowd began to boo. He did open up in the 8th, and appeared to floor Alvarado (24-8, 16 KOs) – although referee Benjiy Esteves ruled (correctly upon review) that the Nicaraguan had slipped – and was fortunate to escape a forfeiture of points or worse when he landed two rapid-fire punches with his foe still on the canvas.
Aside from that, however, there was little action to speak of, although Gamboa can at least satisfy himself that he came through his latest comeback with a victory, with the hope of greater and more exciting times in future. His problem is that, at age 35 and with what should have been the most productive years of his career having been largely wasted, the future is unlikely to be as long as he would like.