By Jake Donovan
The last time James “Keep ‘Em Sleepin’” Stevenson was seen on air was his sensational war with Sammy Vasquez last August. The pair of unbeaten welterweights exchanged bombs for nine rounds, but the night ended with Stevenson dropped and eventually stopped in the 9th round of their Fox Sports 1-televised slugfest.
The hard-hitting welterweight from Baltimore returns to the airwaves this weekend, as he takes on the challenge of gatekeeper Roberto Garcia. The bout serves as the opening leg of the latest edition of Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions series on Spike TV (Friday, 9:00pm ET/8:00pm local time).
Also on the show, cancer survivors-turned-major titlists Anthony Dirrell and Daniel Jacobs make the first defense of their titles versus Badou Jack and Caleb Truax, respectively.
While the stakes are high in the evening’s main event and co-feature, Stevenson is fighting for his career against a house favorite. Garcia is based out of Texas but fights in Chicago for the third time in his last four starts. His last appearance saw Garcia surviving a late knockdown to edge out Breidis Prescott in their ESPN2-televised bout last summer.
Stevenson (22-1, 15KOs) rebounded from his lone career loss with a confidence-building 1st round knockout at home in Baltimore last November. That fight came well off the radar, with his valiant-in-defeat effort versus Vasquez presently serving as his last impression left on the boxing public.
He has a chance to change that perception this weekend.
“I get to show the world what I can really do,” insists Stevenson of the televised opportunity. “I'm not stressing or worrying about anything this time around. My last fight, I was real stressed out.”
Stress has been a habitual part of Stevenson’s career, and for good reason. The knockout artist sprinted out to a 15-0 start to his promising career before suffering a series of setbacks in his personal life, all of which were beyond his control.
A dog attack in 2011 left the unbeaten prospect hospitalized and requiring stitches, forcing the first layoff in his career. The untimely passing of his father and mother-in-law further extended his ring hiatus before returning in September '12.
Six water-treading wins followed before running into Vasquez. In order to climb back towards contention, he’s been asked to take on a fighter in Garcia (36-3, 23KOs) who has designs on returning to the junior middleweight division after spending his last two fights shrinking down to welterweight.
A maximum catchweight of 151 lbs. is in place for Friday’s fight, with both combatants easily making weight. Garcia tipped the scales at 150 lbs., while Stevenson was considerably lighter at 146¾ lbs.
“We could've fought at 200 lbs. and I'll still whoop his butt,” assures Stevenson, who fully expects a tough but winnable fight on Friday. “I know he's gonna come at me. I'm just going to adjust and be ready for him. I promise in the end, he’ll be sleeping.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox