On March 18th Madison Square Garden will host unified Middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin’s defense against Daniel Jacobs. This is not an article about that fight. No, I won’t bore you with a tale of the champion, his belts, or a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden. We’re heading upstateto the Turning Stone Resort and Casino to look at what just might be a more exciting middleweight matchup: David Lemieux (36-3, 32 KOs)and Curtis Stevens (29-5, 21 KOs).
It is often said, “flawed fighters make the best fights.” Offense-minded boxers with leaky defenses or suspect chins can make for popcorn munching, edge-of-your-seat action.Both fighters had theirrespective flaws exploited by Golovkin, who defeated Stevens in November of 2013 and Lemieux in October of 2015. They have been on the comeback trail ever since, working toward another title shot at 160 and perhaps a chance for revenge.
Curtis Stevens had moments of success against Golovkin, but was broken down throughout the fight and suffered a corner stoppage. After his TKO8 loss to Golovkin, Stevens (#2 WBC/#5 IBF) fought three times in 2014: a TKO1 victory against an overmatched Patrick Majewski, a last-minute TKO10 victory over Tureano Johnson (an escape on-par with Chavez vs. Taylor), and a UD10 loss to Hassan N’Dam (the only opponent he shares with Lemieux, who outpointed N’Dam behind the strength of four knockdowns to win the IBF Middleweight title in 2015). After his defeat at the hands of N’Dam, Stevens spent the next 19 months without a fight.
Since dropping two straight in 2011, Lemieux (#3 WBC/#6 IBF/NABO Middleweight Champ) went on a tear, stopping seven of his next nine opponents and capping the success with his aforementioned UD12 victory over Hassan N’Dam that earned him the IBF title and a unification bout with Golovkin, who out-jabbed Lemieux and stopped him after eight punishing rounds.
Both men fought twice in 2016, earning knockouts against suspect competition on the Canelo-Khan undercard and following them up with letdown UD victories where they looked less than stellar.For Stevens it was a second round destruction of prospect Patrick Texieraon a counter right hand, followed by 10-round UD victory in October in which a left shoulder injury took away his left hook, his best weapon, and forced him to potshot through the final two-thirds of the bout.
On the undercard of Canelo-Khan, Lemieux looked crisp and determined against a Glen Tapia that seemed to know he was in over his head. Lemieux throws jabs about as often as a Pop Warner team throws the football, which is to say, not very often. He is a come-forward, seek and destroy fighter who is at his best when he can get a full head of steam. Deviations from this game plan are not welcomed. No one can deny that Lemieux has power. His issue is the judicious use of that force. Lemieux looked gassed early in his next fight against Christian Fabian Rios, a southpaw who circled away from Lemieux’s left hook and had success landing his own lefts as Lemieux struggled to chase him down and sustain an offense. Lemieux won a wide decision victory, but the scorecards did not tell the entire story.
Going back seven years and excluding the Golovkin bout, Stevens has been outfoughtonlywhen he was smothered by Tureano Johnson, or when N’Dam used his legs to stay out of danger and outpoint him. Lemieux in not a smothering swarmer, nor is he going to box off the back foot because, quite frankly, I’m not certain he has a back foot.Sooner or later, Lemieux is going to march right up to Stevens and make it a brawl. Lemieux is undefeated since June of 2012 against everyone not named Gennady Golovkin, stopping eight of 11 opponents inside the distance. His biggest foe has been his own stamina. In the past Lemieux struggled to make weight, and his one-speed, bad-intentions, bombs-away style lends itself to an inconsistent work rate.
All of this is to say that both boxers can bang, butStevens is the more complete boxer, moves his head more consistently, is a better counter-puncher, and arguably is the better one-punch knockout artist. Stevens fought admirably off the ropes in his loss to Gennady Golovkin, but Lemieux seems to deflate if forced to go backwards. This leads me to believe that if Stevens is hurt, he still has a chance, but if Lemieux is hurt the fight probably will not go beyond that round.
If Stevens works behind his jab and sets up his combinations, something that his corner has needed to remind him to do at various times, he will be a handful for Lemieux. Despite being the shorter man, the Brooklyn native has a slightly longer reach and varies his punches well. Being shorter could give Stevens the advantage in body punching, allowing him to test any lingering stamina issues that Lemieux might carry into the ring. Stevens also has a left hook that can flip any middleweight’s light switch. If he lands one on the button, we might have ourselves a Knockout of the Year candidate.
Lemieux will try to make the bout a battle of will, and if Stevens cannot back him up, or use movement to keep him from getting set, then Lemieux could systematically break him down and bust him up en-route to a spectacular KO victory. Lemieux, despite having a slightly shorter reach, is the taller man and will have the advantage of punching downward. When he is at his best, the Canadian’s left hooks are short and quick, and they are often followed up with overhand rights with violent alacrity.
This bout may not benefit from the trappings and media-scrum of a top-tier championship fight, but it has all the attributes of must-watch boxing for casual and die-hard fans alike. Lemieux-Stevens features two veteran contenders on the comeback trail with some bad blood between them, true toss-up odds, four-fisted furious punching power, and not one chance in ten of going the distance. And it’s free on premium cable, folks. If you claim to be a fan of boxing and you miss this fight, the ghosts of Rocky Graziano and Tony Zale will haunt you forever.
So on March 11, tune into the fight, tune out everything else, and enjoy one of the most exciting matchups thus far of 2017.