It took longer than expected—and the participants left with their heads intact—but middleweight Gennady Golovkin gave the crowd packed into The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York what they wanted Saturday night, retiring Curtis Stevens at the end of the eighth round.
Brought in to sell tickets and test Golovkin’s chin, Stevens, Brooklyn, New York, held up his end of the bargain. Brooklyn was in the house, and the former “chin-checker” slugged his opponent with enough leather to confirm the frightening reality that Golovkin, perhaps boxing’s foremost giver, can take too. Unfortunately for Stevens, on this night, Golovkin was his typical generous self.
Like Golovkin, Stevens conducts himself with a puncher’s confidence: the belief that his best shot is more than any man can endure, and that at some point over twelve rounds, that punch will find the mark. Unlike many of Golovkin’s victims—men who shuffled to the gallows seemingly resigned to their misgivings—Stevens came to fight. Given only a prayer’s chance at the upset, he dispensed with benediction and winged unholy hooks at Golovkin’s head. Faced with a daring he rarely encounters, Golovkin was limited early to jabbing and throwing a few retaliatory rights. There was a tangible tension in the opening minutes, with both men well aware of the catastrophe a false move could cause.
Attacking Golovkin, however, is an all-or-nothing proposition, with each punch’s potential for damage exceeded by the risk taken to deliver it. Stevens would pay for this risk in the second round, when Golovkin, Karaganda, Kazakhstan, dropped him with a pair of left hooks. It wasn’t pain, so much as shock that formed on Stevens’ face as he regained his feet. And while he weathered Golovkin’s abuse for the remainder of the round, Stevens now understood the nature of the beast before him, and he was a different fighter when he rose from his stool for the third.
Stevens retreated to the ropes for much of the remainder of the fight, where Golovkin, 160, treated him like a heavy bag. Leery of investing in the body earlier—lest he find himself getting the worst of Stevens’ best—Golovkin sensed the dwindling threat before him and ravaged Stevens’ torso. With his corner begging him to come forward and punch, Stevens, 160, would sporadically explode off the ropes. He had some success in these flashes of aggression: Stevens was never more effective than when throwing with Golovkin and even managed to weaken Golovkin’s knees with a well-timed left hook. Undeterred, Golovkin simply jabbed Stevens to the ropes and shellacked him again.
It was not power, but durability that Stevens displayed on this night. He covered up well, stayed small, and even dropped to a squat when all other avenues of escape were blocked. Still, Golovkin plugged his fists into Stevens like a switchboard operator. Furious yet patient, he targeted each blow at the opening produced by its predecessor while remaining wary of retaliation. Stevens’ toughness kept him upright, but he took a merciless pounding, especially to the body. After a grim eighth round, and a quick powwow between Stevens’ corner and referee Harvey Dock, the fight was stopped.
What is next for this mobile Chernobyl? Golovkin declared himself, “open for everybody” and named middleweight boss Sergio Martinez as a desired opponent. Martinez, however, is targeting Miguel Cotto, an undersized junior middleweight who has lost two of his last three fights and has never fought above 154 pounds. Heavy lies the crown. Some might argue that Golovkin has yet to earn the right to fight Martinez. Perhaps this is true. Of course, in his three fights prior to ascending the middleweight throne, Martinez fought junior middleweight luminaries Alex Bunema and Kermit Cintron, and lost to Paul Williams. Whether Golovkin deserves the Martinez fight is irrelevant—the only way he gets Martinez is by becoming the most lucrative opponent available.
To do that, Golovkin, set to return in February in Monte Carlo, needs to continue his butchering ways. Were Martin Murray or Daniel Geale to suffer his brand of frigid execution, the hype surrounding Golovkin would ratchet up again. At that point, the only questions left would be of the “What’s left to prove?” variety. Even if his pursuit of Martinez is futile, there are worse ways to make a living than pummelling outgunned opponents for HBO money. If Golovkin really wants a challenge, super middleweights Andre Ward and Carl Froch could provide one, as could catchweight kingpin Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Whomever he targets, Golovkin, already 31 years old, needs to strike now.
Given his game performance, Stevens, 25-4 (18), will probably find himself on HBO again. He is not an elite fighter, but then, neither is Golovkin to some. What Stevens is, however, is a fighter with the guts to call out Golovkin, and he showed the toughness and power to stay relevant. For now, maybe, relevance in defeat is all you really ask for when you ask for Golovkin.