In a sport in which men can die, are beaten senseless, or get an ear chewed off, Curtis Stevens managed to put the boxing world in a lather simply by mocking his opponent.
While spooning a cold, gray-brown mash of tuna, hard-boiled egg and mayo into his mouth – one of many grim post-workout meals at the eastern Pennsylvania training camp where he’s preparing for his next fight – Stevens explains that he was merely being playful when he pretended to bury the very-much-alive Gennady Golovkin, the reigning World Boxing Association and International Boxing Organization middleweight champion, in a coffin.
Stevens insists he didn’t mean any offense by the stunt – he was just trying to get more money into the purse for their middleweight title fight on November 2 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. “I had to do something to piss him off,” he explains. “I was like, I'm gonna beat him up, but not for $300,000!”
The fighter fondly recalls the evening several weeks ago when he and his crew returned to the Brooklyn neighborhood of his childhood for the mock funeral. There, on a sidewalk in Brownsville, they put flowers and candles around a black, cardboard casket three feet long and emblazoned with Golovkin’s initials. A plastic hand was sticking out of the lid.
Few words were said during this “memorial,” but the pictures Stevens uploaded to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram generated a lot of comments. Many of them heated. “His fans were like, ‘How could you be a man of god and promote stuff like that?’ ” Stevens says.
Golovkin’s trainer remains infuriated by Stevens’s stunts. “He's a 'B' fighter who talked his way into a title fight,” Abel Sanchez told Newsday. “It was tasteless, because this...is a very vicious and dangerous sport. It just shows him to be a very immature individual."
Stevens, who is – what’s the opposite of resplendent? – wearing sweats and an Oakland Raiders beanie with a pom-pom on top, concedes that goading Golovkin into this fight was his goal. And his reward.
Brownsville is New York City’s unofficial boxing capital and its official murder capital. It is a tough place to live, an easy place to die, and it has birthed some of the world’s best fighters, including Mike Tyson. One of the neighborhood’s most promising new boxers was gunned down on its streets last year, reportedly mistaken for a target during a gang retaliation shootout.
Now, though, Brownsville boxing is enjoying a boomlet with Stevens’s return to the ring after a long hiatus. Although he now lives in Queens, he’ll always have “Brownsville” tattooed across his back. He had to taunt and tease his way into this fight after watching his career get buried during a long battle with his former promoter that kept him out of the ring for two years.
Stevens says he started training when he was 5 years old. His mom, a counselor in a youth jail, got home from work late in the evening, so his uncle and trainer Andre Rozier took Stevens to the gym after school and started teaching him how to throw jabs and right hooks.
At the age of 8, he won his first fight, and two years later, he got his first knockout. That victory was followed by several other knockouts, nurturing what might be Stevens’s biggest weakness as a fighter: hubris.
Stevens turned pro in 2004, after hip-hop mogul Chris Gotti agreed to bankroll him. Under Gotti's tutelage, boxing became a cultural event in Brooklyn, attended by Jay Z, Fat Joe, Ja Rule and Ashanti. Stevens and another local fighter became known as the Chin Checkers. (“We checked in, we checked out, we checked your chin,” Stevens explains.)
Stevens was then snatched by another promoter, Lou Dibella. He was paid $25,000 for his first fight under Dibella and a monthly stipend. “Fifteen hundred a month,” he says, “I was like ‘God damn, Jesus!’ It was coming in too fast for me.” He used his winnings to buy a midnight blue Lexus sedan. “I didn't buy a little hoopdie,” he recalls, perhaps thinking of a Hyundai. “I bought an LS-430.”
"We was the talk of the town,” he recalls. “I didn't know what to do with myself.” He was training hard, getting in great shape. “I saw abs for the first time in my life!"
But his promoter wasn’t getting him the fights he wanted, so he initiated a one-boxer boycott. He stopped fighting and tried his hand at events promoting, which explains why he was so desperate to goad the middleweight champion into fighting him this summer.
Golovkin, now has 24 consecutive knockouts, and the word on the street – at least the streets where people talk about boxing – was that nobody wanted to fight him. Stevens saw his chance.
“They were saying ‘He is the most feared man in the world,” scoffs Stevens, who has a pro record of 25 wins against three losses. “I was saying, ‘What the hell is everybody so scared of?’ ”
He remains confident and unapologetic. After all, he’s already won: He’s back in the ring, and getting paid like a champion.