By Jake Donovan
Elvin Ayala is riding high on a recent six-fight win streak, all of which has taken place in his home state of Connecticut.
The streaking middleweight – who celebrated his 32nd birthday earlier this week – once again enjoys home court advantage, when he faces Curtis Stevens tonight at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn. The scheduled 10-round middleweight bout serves as the night’s televised co-feature to the light heavyweight crossroads showdown between Sergei Kovalev and Gabriel Campillo.
Both bouts air live on NBC Sports Network, as part of the season two premiere of its Fight Night series.
Ayala is a fighter in the mold of Gabriel Rosado, who resurrected his career on the series and has now graduated, so to speak. The North Philly fighter garners his first major title fight, ironically in a conflicting show when he faces Gennady Golovkin in New York City in a middleweight title fight airing live on HBO.
It is believed that a win tonight could label Ayala (26-5-2, 12KO) as boxing’s next feel good story, and proof that fighters are more than their records suggest. Still, he has to actually win the fight, a status he doesn’t take for granted even while fighting in familiar surroundings.
“When I get in the ring, I know that my opponent is going to try his hardest to stop me from eating, to stop my children from eating,” Ayala says of Stevens, who lives not too far away in Brooklyn, but still far enough to where he enters the lion’s den. “I am a beast. I’ve been saying for a long time that I’m trying to get the beast out. Today I can say that I’m ready.”
Naturally, Stevens believes he’s ready for anything as well – most of all, to upset the apple cart.
“I may be in his backyard, but come Saturday night he’s going to be in my house,” insists Stevens (22-3-1, 16KO), who boasts less than one round of ring action in the past three years. “I’ve taken a lot of bumps and bruises. Come Saturday night, I’m ready to climb back to the top.”
Stevens was forced to sit out of the game for two years over a promotional dispute before signing with Main Events last year. The move gave him a home borough fight, scoring a 1st round knockout on the non-televised undercard to former stable mate Zab Judah’s knockout win over Vernon Paris last March in Brooklyn.
He hopes to one day return home for a far more significant fight. Until then, he’ll have to settle for invading someone else’s property, a role not entirely unique to him.
“I remember seeing him for the first time on the undercard of one of Tomasz Adamek’s fights,” recalls Kathy Duva. “One of the things I look for in a fighter on the undercard like that is how the crowd responds to them. Curtis Stevens had an arena full of Polish fans cheering for him against another Polish fighter (Piotr Wilczewski, whom he knocked out in three rounds).”
A similar performance could see Stevens steal some fans from Ayala’s home base. Neither fighter appears very concerned about any perceived advantage among the crowd. All that either of them can control – or worry about – is what happens in the ring once the bell rings.
“I love fighting here in my hometown, I call Mohegan my hometown. Right now, I’m bubbling,” states Ayala, though realizing that regardless of the cheers and support, he still has to fight. “I wish they could hold him down while I punch on him. Fans will be there cheering, but if I’m not in there slipping and punching, then (hometown advantage) doesn’t mean anything.”
It’s one of several subjects on which both fighters agree.
“It’s only me and him in there,” Stevens says. “Ain’t too much you can do when you have a wild beast on you.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox