By Eric Raskin
Boxing sometimes goes by such alternative names as “the sweet science” and “the manly art of self-defense.” Do not expect to hear either of those phrases bandied about on the evening of March 11 at Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York.
Science? Art? Defense? Not when David Lemieux and Curtis Stevens start swinging.
In a way, the middleweight contender clash between Lemieux and Stevens on HBO Boxing After Dark (Saturday at 11:00 PM ET/PT) is the perfect appetizer for the middleweight title fight one week later between Gennady Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs. Golovkin and Jacobs are known for their punching power (they’re riding knockout streaks of 23 and 12 fights, respectively), but also for their world-class skill and technique. Lemieux and Stevens bring approximately the same pure power, but are significantly closer to average in their delivery systems — the skill and technique departments. So what we get is the “keep it simple, stupid” version of what follows one week later. It’s just power against power, and may the best punch and/or the best chin win.
“The sweet science” is for connoisseurs; Lemieux-Stevens is for everyone.
“He comes to fight. I come to fight,” Stevens (29-5, 21 KOs) said plainly when the bout was announced. “You are going to want to see this.”
“We’ll see who is stronger, who takes the punches better. It’s going to be exciting,” echoed Lemieux (36-3, 32 KOs). The Montreal-based slugger also mixed in some trash talk in that unmistakable French-Canadian accent of his: “Curtis Stevens came knocking on the wrong door … It’s not going to end well for him … I’m going to be victorious. I’m going to be vicious. It’s a fight that all the fans will want to see.”
It’s a fight that fans were frothing at the mouth for last May, when, on the Canelo Alvarez-Amir Khan card in Las Vegas, both Lemieux and Stevens turned in dynamic, destructive performances. Lemieux, fighting for the first time since his gutsy but one-sided defeat at the hands of Golovkin in a pay-per-view main event, got back in the win column with a four-round blowout of Glen Tapia. Stevens, four fights removed from his own TKO loss to Golovkin (just like Lemieux’s, it ended in the eighth round), obliterated previously unbeaten Patrick Teixeira in just over four minutes of action.
But, this being the boxing business, the parties involved waited to strike until the iron had gone lukewarm. Lemieux marked time with a shutout 10-round decision over Cristian Fabian Rios last October, while Stevens injured his left hand en route to a tepid points win over James De La Rosa in November. After that, there was no sense in tuning up any further. It was time to make the most natural, attractive available fight for both warriors.
Former sparmates Lemieux, 28, and Stevens, 31, both harbor dreams of another shot at the elite of the division, but since both fell considerably short against Golovkin, there’s no clamor for it – at least not until one of them separates himself by blasting through the other. What there is clamor for is two offense-minded veteran contenders meeting in a fight that either man can end with one punch at any time.
“It’s close to a 50-50 fight,” says Abel Sanchez, who, as Golovkin’s trainer, has studied Lemieux and Stevens’ strengths and weaknesses as carefully as anyone. “And by the way, Lemieux can’t be in a bad fight. They’re different kinds of fighters. Lemieux is very strong, but he’s not as technical – Curtis has better balance, a better method of punching than David does. I think they’re equal in power, but David is more crude in how he delivers it than Stevens is.”
At a perhaps generously measured 5’7”, Stevens gives away height to nearly every opponent (officially, three inches to Lemieux). That means he needs to work his way inside to get in range to land his power punches, the battle within the war that should go a long way toward determining this outcome.
“Curtis looks very ordinary when he doesn’t let his hands go,” says Sanchez. “He can’t be too selective with his shots. He needs to let his hands go and not try to do it all with one punch. Curtis can make it a fun tactical fight and make Lemieux have to think about both hands coming at him, but if he doesn’t do that, if he isn’t throwing enough, I think that David’s got the edge.”
Of the two, Stevens undoubtedly gave Golovkin more problems. “The Cerebral Assassin,” who is trained by former 154- and 160-pound titleholder John David Jackson, won a round on a couple of the official scorecards against GGG – something Lemieux didn’t do – and he checked Golovkin’s chin a few times. But Lemieux’s trainer, Marc Ramsay, doesn’t seem overly concerned.
“It’s more about what David Lemieux can bring to that ring, not Curtis Stevens,” Ramsay said on Feb. 28 on the final prefight media conference call. “Curtis is a good boxer. Curtis is a powerful boxer, like everybody knows. But at the end of the day, I don’t focus that much about Curtis Stevens because the result of the fight is not in the hands of Curtis. I think David is the more complete fighter, and we’re going to show it.”
Stevens wasn’t in the mood to talk smack when the fight was first announced, but on that Feb. 28 media call, he found himself firing back. “Tell the doctor to bring smelling salts,” he told Lemieux directly. “They’re going to need to wake your ass up.”
The same medical attention will not be required for the fans at Turning Stone. This one has “manly art of straight-ahead offense” written all over it.
In the televised co-feature, often electrifying Cuban lightweight Yuriorkis Gamboa ends a 15-month absence from the ring and begins what might be his last big push at age 35. Fighting for the first time under the Golden Boy Promotions banner, Gamboa takes on Nicaraguan journeyman Rene Alvarado, who is coming off the biggest win over his career, an upset split decision over Jayson Velez last July. The blur-fisted Gamboa has let some of his prime years pass him by – he turned 30 in December 2011 and has fought only five times since. If he’s going to realize his potential, his last chance to do so begins Saturday night.