Wednesday April 1st, 2015

Last fall, Curtis Stevens was a man with limited options. In October, Stevens, a former middleweight title challenger, lost a lopsided decision to Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam. The loss cost him an opportunity to fight for the IBF middleweight title. It also knocked him out of the mix of middleweights the premium networks—HBO and Showtime—were interested in.

At 30, Stevens found himself at a crossroads. His promoter, Main Events, had lost its contract with NBC, the network Stevens was largely built on. For Stevens, it came down to rebuilding his career off television or trying something different. Different, in this case, was BKB—Big Knockout Boxing.

BKB, the brainchild of DirectTV, debuted on pay per view last summer, with a show headlined by Gabriel Rosado’s knockout of Bryan Vera. Its modified rules are designed to increase the likelihood of—you guessed it—big knockouts. Instead of a ring, fighters enter a circular pit 17-feet in diameter. Rounds are two minutes long instead of the traditional three. Title fights are seven rounds; non-title bouts are five. There are no ropes. Intentionally stepping out of the pit is the equivalent to a knockdown on a boxing scorecard. Last August, Rosado and Vera battled in an entertaining fight that ended with Rosado scoring a sixth-round knockout.

Stevens was first approached by BKB before the N’Dam fight. He passed, preferring to fight for the chance to fight for a middleweight title. When BKB came calling again, he quickly accepted.

“I was all for it,” Stevens said. “Look, I’m a fighter. I’m from Brownsville. Put me in a phone booth, an elevator, a ring with four ropes, whatever. I’m not the guy who really cares where he fights.”

For Main Events, BKB offered an opportunity to keep Stevens busy fighting a style that suits him well. On Saturday, Stevens will challenge Rosado for Rosado's BKB middleweight title (PPV, 10 pm) at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. 

“This is his kind of fighting,” says Main Events matchmaker Jolene Mizzone. “And as a fan, I like it. I like it when guys come forward. That’s what Curtis is going to do.”

As a fledgling product, BKB has faced the expected challenges. Finding fighters has proven difficult. The production has been high quality—DirecTV produces radio simulcasts like The Dan Patrick Show and The Rich Eisen Show—and continues to evolve. For the Rosado-Stevens show, BKB will extend the time between fights to create more time to tell the fighters stories. In addition, BKB will introduce its new technology that measures the pounds per inch velocity and force of every punch thrown through a microchip embedded in the wrist of the fighters gloves.

The network is willing to pay competitive purses, too. Stevens will make $200,000 for the Rosado fight. He will make another $30,000 if he knocks Rosado out.

“We’re working really hard on finding fighters and educating them about the pit,” says BKB co-commissioner Chris Long. “We show them the event, we show them real money, we show them that we are not some fly by night thing.”

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

BKB has not been shy about going after some of boxing’s biggest names. Ruslan Provodnikov, Brandon Rios and Mikey Garcia have been offered fights. Last summer, BKB approached 160-pound kingpin Gennady Golovkin. A potential summer fight against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. had just fallen apart, so BKB gauged Golovkin’s interest in stepping in the pit. Golovkin declined, ultimately electing to face Daniel Geale on HBO.

Still, Golovkin’s promoter, Tom Loeffler, admitted to being intrigued by the concept.

“I think it’s interesting,” says Loeffler. “It’s geared towards a fighting style and that is going to be appealing to boxing fans. And look at what happened with Rosado: He beat Vera and got another shot on HBO.”

Indeed, BKB’s appeal now is something it hopes to eventually be rid of. Rosado used his BKB win as a springboard to an HBO-televised middleweight showdown against David Lemieux. Stevens admits that he hopes to do the same thing. To combat the one-and-done mentality, BKB is investing in younger fighters and tying them to multi-fight contracts. Anthony Johnson, an undefeated cruiserweight prospect who will fight on the undercard of Rosado-Stevens, is one of five fighters BKB recently signed to three-fight deals.

“We want fighters to see this as a legitimate boxing league,” says Long. “We want them to see this as a legit place to earn a living. We want them to want to stay and fight with us.”

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While BKB currently operates as a pay-per-view event—the eight-fight Rosado-Stevens card is available for $29.99—the company hopes to eventually duplicate the UFC model, with a broadcast partner showing monthly smaller shows and pay per views being built over that time. To enhance its coverage, BKB produces BKB Unfiltered, a docu-series that airs on DirecTV’s Audience Network and later online. BKB is also pushing for its fights to be formally recognized on a fighters boxing record; currently, they are not.

“To me, not being recognized kind of feels like you are the crazy uncle no one wants to have around,” says Long. “We would like it all to be one record. A fight in BKB should be the same as a fight on HBO or Showtime.”

For now, BKB hopes its action packed fights continue to draw an audience. BKB has four more shows planned for 2015 and hopes to expand to more in '16. Stevens certainly sees the potential. After training in a small ring in Big Bear, California, Stevens—who worked with Shane Mosley for this fight—stepped in the pit for the first time this week.

“You really can’t go anywhere,” says Stevens. “You have to engage. It’s kill or be killed. I like to be the predator, not the prey. This is great for me.”

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