Boxing is a strange business. Where else can an athlete come off a two-year layoff, drop down in weight, knock out three unheralded challengers and position himself as one of the most appealing contenders in your division? That’s exactly the spot Curtis Stevens finds himself in right now. Last Saturday, Stevens (25-3) knocked out journeyman Saul Roman in the first round with a devastating left hook. And because of feuding promoters, rival networks and the recent exposure the hard hitting Stevens has received fighting regularly on the NBC Sports Network, Stevens’ name is rocketing up the list of potential opponents for titleholders Gennady Golovkin, Peter Quillin and Daniel Geale.
“I want to get back in the ring soon,” Stevens told me on Wednesday. “I was off for two years. I want to keep everything in motion as quickly as possible. My time is now.”
Main Events CEO Kathy Duva has made it clear that Stevens will be back before the end of the year. Here’s a look at some of the options:
Chances of Golovkin-Stevens: 40 percent
Golovkin’s promoter, Tom Loeffler, wants to make the fight. Loeffler has an HBO date in November at Madison Square Garden and the Brooklyn-born Stevens makes the most sense. Loeffler and Duva have discussed a deal, but those discussions, at this point, have gone nowhere.
Said Duva, “My feeling about the offer was that it was not serious.”
And it’s not just about the money. Duva and Andre Rozier, Stevens’ uncle/trainer, are not convinced that Stevens is ready for the fight. Stevens has explosive power but has fought just 11 rounds in his last four fights since making the move down to 160 pounds. Both Duva and Rozier would like to see Stevens get more rounds and get more comfortable at his new weight. They would prefer Stevens get that experience fighting on HBO, perhaps on Golovkin’s undercard in November, against a Matthew Macklin-type, but Duva has no problem bringing Stevens back to one of her NBC shows in November or December.
Chances of Quillin-Stevens: 15 percent
Now this fight makes a lot of sense. Both Quillin and Stevens have Brooklyn ties, making the Barclays Center -- where Golden Boy has an exclusive deal -- a logical site. Quillin is desperate for viable opponents (“The pickings at 160 pounds is pretty slim,” said Quillin’s promoter, Richard Schaefer) and Stevens is a good one. For Stevens, Quillin’s title would give him more leverage in future negotiations with Golovkin.
Yet while Schaefer told me that Stevens was one of the names he discussed with Quillin’s advisor, Al Haymon, don’t count on this happening anytime soon. Golden Boy isn’t big on doing business with other promoters, preferring to make in-house matches with its deep stable or sign up unaffiliated fighters. Moreover, Golden Boy fighters fight exclusively on Showtime. Main Events has been aligning itself with HBO, and is wary about irritating network executives, which is precisely what would happen if it took Stevens across the street. As much as this match makes sense, don’t count on it.
Chances of Geale-Stevens: 5 percent
Geale fights Darren Barker on August 17, so theoretically he could be ready for a December fight. But it’s doubtful HBO would want to invest any serious money in this, not with Geale still trying to build a name in the U.S. It’s a good fight, but not for 2013.
Chances of Stevens-Rosado: 70 percent
Internally at Main Events, there is a strong interest in putting Stevens-Rosado on NBC in December. Rosado is a quality junior middleweight, who has fought his last two fights -- a loss to Golovkin in January and a no contest with J’Leon Love in May -- at middleweight. Rosado is tall and comes forward with an all-action style, which would go a long way towards preparing Stevens for a showdown with Golovkin.
The problem: Rosado. Rosado was one of last year’s Cinderella stories, working his way from anonymity to the IBF’s No. 1 spot at 154 pounds. But since his loss to Golovkin, Rosado has had an inflated view of his place in the sport. He has complained in interviews and on Twitter that he is not getting the respect or the money he deserves, despite not having done much to earn more than he has received. The smart move for Rosado would be to go back to 154 pounds, win a few fights and collect a title. That would position him for the big money fight he craves, against Saul Alvarez, in the next couple of years. But if he wants to stay at 160 pounds, a fight against Stevens may be the biggest he is going to get.
Chances of Stevens-Lemieux: 75 percent
Lemieux, once one of the hottest middleweight prospects in boxing, had his career derailed in 2011, when he lost back-to-back fights to journeyman Marco Antonio Rubio and Joachim Alcine. Since then, Lemieux has won four straight fights against lesser competition, all by knockout, all in his native Montreal. Stevens-Lemieux--in Canada, preferably, where Lemieux sells tickets--would be a terrific war between two straight ahead power punchers with huge knockout percentages that both need a stepping stone to get to a bigger fight. It’s close to can’t-miss.
Marco Antonio Rubio
Chances of Stevens-Rubio: 55 percent
Rubio is a rugged veteran who went the distance with Julio Cesar Chavez last year. Rubio would love a rematch with Chavez -- a rematch for the interim WBC title was ordered by the organization last month -- but sources close to Chavez say that Chavez’s days as a 160-pounder are more than likely over. Chavez will fight at 168 pounds in his return next month against Brian Vera and the only fight he would likely drop down for is a rematch against Sergio Martinez, which would probably need to be fought at a catchweight.
The unpredictability of the sanctioning bodies being what they are, it’s possible the WBC, once Chavez declines the fight, could sanction a Stevens-Rubio fight for the interim title -- Stevens is ranked No. 5 by the WBC -- a fight that HBO could get behind on a Golovkin undercard or one Main Events would happily put on NBC.
Chances of Stevens-Lee: 10 percent Lee has been off the grid since getting knocked out by Chavez last year. He has won two low-profile fights since then and is reportedly slated to appear on the David Haye-Tyson Fury show in the U.K. next month. Given the wars Lee is often in, it’s difficult to see him being able to fight again in December. But his name, power and popularity in the northeast makes him an outside candidate. -- CHRIS MANNIX