by Kieran Mulvaney
In the build-up to Saturday night's middleweight title fight, there was a lot of focus on the vaunted left hook of challenger Curtis Stevens and the question of whether it could prove an equalizer against the overall skills and power of champion Gennady Golovkin. Sure enough, a left hook landed heavily, and almost conclusively, early in the fight; but it was Golovkin who threw it and Stevens who found himself flat on his back.
To his credit, Stevens peeled himself off the canvas, but despite putting up a valiant fight he was ultimately overwhelmed, his corner stepping in to rescue him after eight rounds at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. It was Golovkin's fifteenth straight knockout, and his 25th stoppage in 28 career victories.
Although Golovkin justifiably has a reputation as a power puncher and knockout artist, he is a cerebral assassin, and even as he stalked Stevens behind a stiff and swift jab in the early going, he did so with a degree of caution, careful not to leave himself open to powerful counter blasts from the American, and was always looking for the slightest of openings he could exploit. About two-thirds of the way through the second round, he seemingly found such an opening, suddenly stepping forward with an extra hint of aggression and landing a pair of right hands behind Stevens' guard that caught his opponent's attention. Stevens backed up, and Golovkin unleashed first one hook and then another to knock Stevens down.
Few opponents are able to haul themselves to their feet after being on the receiving end of that kind of blow from Golovkin: just ask Nobuhiro Ishida and Matthew Macklin about that, among others. But Stevens not only did so, he survived Golovkin's attack at the end of the round; he survived the third round, too, even though he appeared a man now bereft of confidence, who slid along the ropes in defensive mode as the champion sought to inflict further damage.
Golovkin was like a shark, circling slowly, taking bite after bite out of his mortally-wounded prey, but with each attack he was careful not to leave himself unnecessarily vulnerable. Still, however, Stevens hung in there, and in the fifth, something extraordinary happened: the prey, all but eviscerated and with few other options, made a desperate effort to fight back.
A series of lefts and rights backed Golovkin up, but the champion shook them off and moved forward again, sensing that in Stevens' increased aggression lay an opportunity, in that the challenger was inevitably leaving himself more open to further punishment. In the sixth, one right and then another backed Stevens to the ropes again, where he spent much of the rest of the fight. In spurts, the American would find success, generating torque behind punches that bounced loudly off the champion's head. Golovkin's punches were shorter and less flashy, but they were heavier, and one after the other, they ground Stevens down.
The eighth was three minutes of battering, Stevens' brave challenge now reduced to covering up on the ropes as Golovkin, smelling blood, went in for the kill. There was no one punch that made the difference, no particular blow that rocked back Stevens' head or nearly brought him to his knees, but a succession of heavy hands, one after the other, that finally squeezed the life out of his valiant foe. When the end came, from Stevens' corner after the bell, it was a merciful stoppage. Stevens had been strong, he had fought harder than many had expected, he had inflicted his share of damage and asked questions about Golovkin's defense; but he had been beaten, and beaten up.
In ten rounds of heavyweight action on the undercard, Cuban Mike Perez, now training with Golovkin trainer Abel Sanchez, outlasted tough Russian Magomed Abdusalamov to win a hard-fought unanimous decision. After an opening four rounds of back-and-forth action, the more skillful Perez gained the upper hand, and by the seventh, the face of the exhausted Abdusalamov was swollen and bleeding. A southpaw in the right hook hurt the previously unbeaten Russian badly in the tenth and final round, but Perez, himself weary from a brutal contest, was unable to finish him off inside the distance.