By Thomas Gerbasi
If you weren’t around New York City in 2004-05, you probably wouldn’t understand, but during that period, there wasn’t anything bigger coming out of the Big Apple boxing scene than Curtis Stevens and Jaidon Codrington, buddies who were collectively known as The Chin Checkers.
There was a buzz in the air, hip-hop heavyweights Chris Gotti and Damon Dash were making their presence known as manager and co-promoter, respectively, and local venues were being packed every time the two fought. It was a heady time to be a 20-year-old knockout artist.
“I was fighting every month, fighting two times a month, selling out the Hammerstein Ballroom, and just knocking people out, being the talk of the town, and one of the up and coming prospects in the New York area,” said Stevens, now 28, of those days.
It’s hard to believe that it was eight years ago, but time waits for no one, especially not prizefighters, and the crushing blows that spelled an end to The Chin Checkers came fast, starting in late 2005. First the 9-0 Codrington got knocked out in 18 seconds by Allan Green in a Showtime-televised bout. Eight months later, the 13-0 Stevens got stopped in eight rounds by journeyman Marcos Primera.
With the duo’s air of invincibility shattered, the buzz faded.
Codrington found daylight by making it to the finals of The Contender reality show in 2007 before getting stopped by Sakio Bika, but the fire was largely gone, and though he recently won a fight in August and has one scheduled in Ukraine on November 9th, his day job isn’t boxing anymore, but as an Atlanta police officer.
Stevens fought on as well, losing disappointing bouts to Andre Dirrell (2007) and Jesse Brinkley (2010) in between eight wins before managerial and promotional issues put him on the shelf from 2010 to 2012. Losing two prime years was a tougher blow to take than anything he absorbed in the ring, and seeing the boxing world pass him by wasn’t easy.
“You’re watching everybody you fought in the amateurs fighting for world titles, becoming world champions, fighting on HBO, fighting on Showtime, and I’m just sitting there saying ‘damn, when is my time gonna occur? When is this finally gonna be over?’” he said. “So I just made a promise to myself that when I did get out of the contract, I was going to dedicate everything to boxing.”
When Stevens made his return in March of 2012 with a first round TKO of Romaro Johnson, it was a low-key affair, but it was also in a new weight class – middleweight. And the difference was notable, even if the opposition wasn’t.
“When I first turned pro I was fighting at light heavyweight, then to super middleweight, and now middleweight, and it was just the right time and the right thing to do,” he said. “I always should have been fighting at middleweight, but I can’t really point to a reason why I wasn’t fighting there at the time. It was probably because I fought at light heavyweight my whole amateur career and I was so used to fighting at the heavier weight. But I was so hungry coming off the two year layoff that I was willing to go in there and sacrifice everything.”
And beyond the physical benefits of bringing the power that knocked 168 and 175-pounders out down to 160 pounds, Stevens sounds more focused, more determined, more eager to make a mark in this sport, and on Saturday, following three more wins after the Johnson fight, he gets his chance when he faces Gennady Golovkin for the WBA middleweight title.
“Everything happens for a reason,” he said of his rise, fall, and rise. “I believe that my setback was the Brinkley fight. After I lost that fight I believe I needed that to humble myself more. Without no test, there’s no testimony, so I believe that was my test and on November 2nd will be my testimony, becoming champ of the world.”
Oddly enough, he even gives credit to his layoff for helping to push him to this point.
“I believe my two years off kept me afloat. It helped me in a good way, and in a bad way as well because I was off for two years and I didn’t fight,” he said. “Maybe if I had fought in those two years I probably would have been world champion already, but God has a plan for everybody and everything happens for a reason, so I took the two years off, got my mind back right, and here I am fighting for the title.”
On paper, Golovkin-Stevens is one of those fights that will be explosive and short. Whoever lands clean first may be the one walking away with the belt, and while popular opinion has “GGG” being the one leaving New York City victorious, Stevens is a live underdog who has every intention of proving the doubters wrong.
“Now I’m back at it again, and this is my opportunity to shock and prove everybody wrong who think I’m just gonna go in there and get run over by Golovkin,” he said. “You must have forgot who I was and what I can do.”
In the lead-up to the fight, Stevens hasn’t been shy about letting people know what he plans on doing Saturday night, but at the same time, there is certainly respect there from the Brooklynite toward the champion.
“He’s somebody that comes to fight, he means business, he’s a strong man, and he likes to fight,” said Stevens of Golovkin. “It’s boxing, so you’ve got to love to fight to be in the sport. He knocks people out the way I do, and he’s a good fighter.”
Stevens knows that he’ll have to be more than good to win the title though, and as fight night approaches, you have to wonder how he’s keeping everything together, especially since he’s fighting on his home turf at the Madison Square Garden Theater.
“In my eyes you don’t keep everything together,” he admits. “You just let everything flow. The closer it gets to the fight, I get more anxious, I get more mad, I get more evil and edgy. This is something that I dreamed about since I was eight years old and stepped in the ring for the first time, and here’s my time, right now, so I just gotta grab it.”
That’s a lot of pressure, knowing that a childhood dream is on the doorstep; perhaps even more so considering that Stevens is getting a second chance many fighters don’t get. He knows where he’s been and where he’s at, though. Now it’s just a question of finding out where he’s going.
“I think about it every night,” he said of winning the belt. “Some nights there’s anxiety from thinking about it too much and I don’t get good sleep because it’s something I always said I wanted. And to be here and to have it in my grasp, it’s amazing. So in my mind I’m saying, you’ve just got to grab it. You’re either gonna give it up or go in there and take it right out of his hands. Come November 2nd, I’m gonna be great.”