- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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The middleweight division is hot right now, and it could get even hotter if Curtis Stevens can punch his way into a big fight.
Champion Sergio Martinez drew a crowd of about 50,000 to his homecoming fight against Martin Murray in Argentina in April, and titleholder Gennady Golovkin has been shredding challengers and has become one of the rising stars in boxing.
"Kid Chocolate" Peter Quillin also holds a belt and has been very impressive in recent outings, and he continues to gain a following thanks to his crowd-pleasing style and outgoing personality. Titleholder Daniel Geale of Australia has also looked good in recent fights -- so good that it prompted HBO to welcome him with open arms for his American debut against England's Darren Barker on Aug. 17 in Atlantic City, N.J.
And former titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., although taking his next fight on Sept. 7 against Brian Vera at super middleweight, is the biggest name in the division should he decide to return to it.
All of those fighters need good opponents for future fights, and that's where Stevens comes in. He has designs on taking his place among the top fighters in the division and is anxiously awaiting a significant opportunity.
The 28-year-old Stevens, a big puncher from Brooklyn, N.Y., who has dropped down in weight from the super middleweight division, is likely to get an opportunity in one of those bigger fights, but only if he takes care of the business in front of him.
Stevens takes center stage in a scheduled 10-round main event against Saul Roman of Mexico on a Saturday night tripleheader (NBC Sports, 10:30 ET) at the Mohegan Sun Casino Resort in Uncasville, Conn.
The card also features two other scheduled 10-round bouts. Former heavyweight title challenger (and former light heavyweight and cruiserweight titlist) Tomasz Adamek (48-2, 29 KOs), 36, of Poland, will face late replacement Dominick Guinn (34-9-1, 23 KOs), 38, of Hot Springs, Ark., the former heavyweight contender who took the fight on two weeks' notice when Tony Grano withdrew because of a neck injury.
Also, former heavyweight title challenger Eddie Chambers (36-3, 18 KOs), 31, of Philadelphia, is dropping down to the cruiserweight division and will face South African southpaw Thabiso Mchunu (13-1, 10 KOs), who will be fighting outside of his home country for the first time.
Stevens has had his ups and downs, including lackluster performances in decision losses to Jesse Brinkley in a 2010 upset and Andre Dirrell in a 2007 stinker. But after the loss to Brinkley and a two-year layoff because of promotional and managerial issues, Stevens dropped down to middleweight.
He wasn't a big super middleweight to begin with, and he figured his power would be even better fighting smaller opponents. Since switching divisions and gaining stability by signing with promoter Main Events, Stevens has won three fights in a row -- the first two by first-round knockout, followed by an eight-round decision against Derrick Findley in April.
Some might have been disappointed that he went the distance with Findley, but not Jolene Mizzone, Main Events' matchmaker. She was happy to see him pushed to go rounds with a durable opponent and overcome the adversity of a flash knockdown, which looked more like a slip on TV replays than an authentic knockdown.
"I needed to see that kind of fight from him," Mizzone said. "He didn't get the knockout, but he showed a lot of maturity. He didn't fold even when he was getting hit behind the head the whole time. He kept his composure. That showed me a lot, and I felt good about what I saw after the fight."
Now Stevens (24-3, 17 KOs) will face Roman (37-9, 31 KOs), a 33-year-old journeyman to be sure, but one tough hombre who is riding a three-fight winning streak.
There is a clear reason that Roman was selected as the opponent, Mizzone said. Besides the likelihood that the fight will produce good action, Roman was the choice because Mizzone believes he will come right at Stevens and throw a lot of punches.
"I am not comparing Roman to Golovkin, but Curtis needs to see that style, since that is a fight that is possible for him after this," Mizzone said. "Roman comes at you, throws a lot of punches and has power. He has more knockouts than Curtis has fights.
"So I want to see how Curtis handles somebody like that. But what I also like about Roman is that he has had a full eight weeks to train and he wanted this fight. This is not a guy just coming to survive and get a paycheck. He is coming to win."
Stevens isn't so much interested in getting rounds, and neither is his trainer, Andre Rozier.
"I train for the knockout," Stevens said. "But if the knockout don't come, it don't come. It doesn't really matter, as long as I get the win. In my eyes, it really shouldn't take that long.
"I watched a couple tapes on [Roman]. If he gets hit good, he goes down. But somehow he gets back up and fights. He's a tough Mexican. But he's never fought anyone with the power that I have. The way I see it, if I hit him, he'll go down and not get back up. But if he does get up, I'm a finisher. So it's over."
Said Rozier: "My theory on boxing, especially professional boxing, is there is no overtime in this game. The least amount of time spent in the ring extends your longevity. If you can get in and get out, it makes it a little bit better than having a 10-round war. So I prefer for him to get in, do what he has to do, score a knockout and get out as soon as possible.
"From what I've viewed from some of Roman's fights, he's a straightforward, come-at-you type of fighter, and that should play right into Curtis' hands."
Golovkin's next defense is likely to be Nov. 2 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. He doesn't have an opponent yet, but the fact that the fight is supposed to be in New York benefits the Brooklynite Stevens. And if Stevens wins Saturday, the timing is right around when he would be looking for his next bout anyway. And then there's this: Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions, the promoter that guides Golovkin's career, has prominently mentioned Stevens as a possible fall opponent.
HBO, which televises Golovkin's fights, is also keeping a close eye on Stevens and almost certainly would accept him as Golovkin's opponent if he looks good against Roman.
Main Events promoter Kathy Duva said she is confident that Stevens will get his opportunity.
"He's going to be fighting for a world title, but we'd like to give him more rounds so he will be ready," she said. "I don't think he needs to be a mandatory to get those fights. The problem is he needs rounds and he needs to be exposed to the audience, so that is what he will get with this fight, we hope.
"But we've already had conversations with HBO, and they're interested. And fighting Quillin [on Showtime] is also a natural since he also [lives in] New York. So there's potential to do business with HBO, which is already interested, or with Golden Boy [Quillin's promoter] and Showtime. That's the nice thing about being with Main Events, is that we can work with anybody."
Stevens is trying not to get too far ahead of himself, but he knows how important a good performance against Roman is for his future.
"I'm ready right now," Stevens said of fighting for a world title. "If it was up to me, I'd fight a champion right now. But the question is, do they want to give me a shot? I'm high-risk. Nobody wants to get in there and get hit by me.
"If it was up to me, I'd fight Gennady Golovkin because he's the most feared middleweight. I'm calling him out. People are scared to fight him. I'm asking to fight him. But I just have to wait my turn. I'm anxious to get it, but I have to wait. They are the champions, so I have to hope they will give me my shot."
Former super middleweight Curtis Stevens is picking up momentum at 160 pounds, but he'll need to handle Saul Roman on Saturday to take the next step toward what he hopes will be a middleweight title fight.