Call it unfinished business for Curtis Stevens. Just don’t call it a comeback, because the way the proud Brooklyn native sees it, he was never gone.
“It was always my plan,” said the 36-year-old former world title challenger when asked why he’s returning to active duty two-and-a-half years after his last fight. “My uncle made up his own plan in his own mind without discussing that with me. But you know how family is.”
Stevens’ uncle and former trainer Andre Rozier won’t be in his nephew’s corner for that first fight back on March 3. In their last fight together, Stevens was dropped three times en route to a three-round TKO loss to Wale Omotoso in August 2019, and Rozier said that was it for the career of the knockout artist from Brownsville.
Stevens had other ideas after his first (and last) visit to the junior middleweight division.
“My last fight, I did an Epsom salt bath to make the 154 weight and it took my legs,” he said. “That's the only reason why I lost that fight. Other than that, I was gonna take him cold out. But to wash that away I'm gonna come back strong.”
Splitting his time between Florida and New York, Stevens had no promoter and no one knocking on his door, but he worked in the shadows, biding his time until he got another phone call.
“I stayed in the gym, stayed training, just kept getting ready for whatever date I was gonna come back,” he said. “I knew I was gonna come back; I just didn't know when.”
When is March 3 at the Melrose Ballroom in Queens against an opponent to be determined. It’s a far cry from Madison Square Garden’s Theater, Barclays Center, Prudential Center, T-Mobile Arena or the other high-profile venues he competed in over the course of a 30-7 pro career that began in 2004. Back in those early days, Stevens was part of a group that injected a much-needed energy into the New York City fight scene, and along with Jaidon Codrington, the “Chin Checkers” was introduced into the Big Apple boxing lexicon.
Neither got to where they were expected to go, Codrington getting shockingly stopped by Allan Green in 18 seconds and never seeing a world title fight. Stevens went further than his stablemate, earning a shot at Gennadiy Golovkin’s world middleweight title in 2013 before getting halted in eight rounds.
Since then, Stevens had some good wins and some crushing losses, most notably a 2017 knockout at the hands of David Lemieux, but after fighting only once per year in 2017, 2018 and 2019, it appeared that the story was over. Yet it’s not that easy for someone who has been boxing since the age of five. And with a solid training camp with Gary Stark Sr. and a return to the more comfortable confines of the middleweight division, Stevens believes he has a run left in him.
“I'm gonna make some noise,” he said. “Whoever wrote me off, that's cool, I've never been actually written in. But best believe, they're gonna eat every word that they said or doubted about me. I could put that on everything that I own.”
As for those around him, the reaction to his return has been mixed.
“It all depends on who it is I'm talking to,” Stevens laughs. “If I'm telling my mother I'm coming back, she's like, ‘Okay.’ She knows where I've been. I tell Andre, he's okay, but that's my uncle. He's the reason why I started boxing, so he's always looking out for my best interests. But he's for my comeback, but I'm just not training with him. At the end of the day, I have the final word on my career. I know everyone wants the best well-being for me, but only I know what happened and the reason why I lost the fight (to Omotoso). Me trying to go to '54 and me never doing the bath before, I knew that took my legs.”
The concern is understandable. Lose a couple fights, some on the biggest stages in the sport, and people will think you’re done, especially when you’re on the wrong side of 35. But there was always a feeling that we never got to see the best of Curtis Stevens, and he believes he still has what it takes to show us.
“My goal is always to become world champion,” he said. “So it's the same goal, I'm just gonna try to do it in a quicker time. I'm getting older, so I'll get in there, knock a couple guys out and try to get the champion and knock his ass out.”
Of course, that’s easier said than done, but what would a boxer be if he didn’t dream big. And now that Stevens has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of the sport, he goes into this next chapter armed with knowledge he didn’t have when he first laced up the gloves in the pro ring.
And if possible over a phone line, you can hear the maturity in his voice.
“That's the thing,” he said. “I've been pro for years now, so now I know the game in and out. I know what promoters try to do, I know what managers try to do and I know how everyone moves and they move for themselves. Most people move for themselves, so I know I have to do what's best for my interests now. I've been in boxing a long time and I see everybody and I see everything for what it is. So now, it's just time to take the step forward and move in the right direction.”
Last question, Mr. Stevens. What did you miss the most?
“Fighting,” he says without hesitation. “I've been boxing since I was five years old. It's hard to see all these guys fighting and think, ‘Why can't I fight?’ I'm like, ‘Oh damn, you ain't got no promoter, so that's the first reason why you're not fighting.’ (Laughs) And then it’s just trying to get a fight. These guys are fighting bums and they're making them out to be Superman. Why? Put me back in there and I'll show you how Superman really looks.”