Fighting at 160 pounds for just the second time since returning to professional boxing in March, Stevens (23-3, 17 KOs) made an emphatic statement in the nationally-televised co-feature of NBC Sports’ Fight Night series Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Casino, stopping Elvin Ayala 1 minute, 10 seconds into the opening round of a scheduled 10-round bout to claim the vacant North American Boxing Federation (NABF) middleweight title. The event, co-promoted by Main Events and Jimmy Burchfield’s Classic Entertainment & Sports, aired live on the NBC Sports Network.
Stevens, a hard-hitting Brooklyn native who fought most of his career at super middleweight and light heavyweight, dropped Ayala with a hard left hook to the temple in the opening minute.
“I came out jabbing early on – jab, jab, jab,” Stevens said. “At one point, I saw him overcommit. He was trying to set me up. So I ‘stayed in the bucket,’ as my coach put it, and when he threw that right, I found my opening.”
Ayala appeared wobbly as he rose to his feet, but continued to fight.
“I told myself, ‘If he gets up, his ass is grass,” Stevens said.
Sensing his opponent’s weakness, Stevens kept applying the pressure and ultimately finished the bout seconds later with another flurry that sent Ayala into the ropes.
Saturday was Curtis’ second bout as a middleweight and second consecutive first-round knockout win since his loss to Jesse Brinkley in January of 2010. Ayala, of New Haven, Conn., lost for just the first time in seven bouts, ending an impressive win streak that dated back to June of 2010 when he lost by first-round knockout to Canadian David Lemieux in an equally-brutal finish.
The two fighters exchanged barbs leading up to the fight and again at Thursday’s pre-fight weigh-in. Ayala drew Stevens’ earlier this month by claiming Stevens was no Arthur Abraham, a reference to the former super middleweight world champion whom Ayala lost to nearly five years ago in Germany.
“This is boxing. People talk junk,” Stevens said, “but it got under my skin when he said I was no Arthur Abraham. I’m a more devastating puncher than Abraham. I said to myself, ‘He must not respect me,’ but I made him respect me [Saturday].
“I’m cut from a different cloth. This is a great feeling. I took two long years off. To come back like this means a lot. I don’t want it given to me; I want to take it.”
The main event ended in similar fashion with unbeaten Russian light heavyweight prospect Sergey Kovalev (20-0-1, 17 KOs) – ranked No. 3 in the world entering Saturday – stopping former world champion Gabriel Campillo 1:30 into the third round. Kovalev dropped Campillo three times in the third, ending the bout for good with an overhand that put Campillo flat on his back.
The night began with a controversial decision as heavyweights Jarrell Miller (4-0-1) of Brooklyn and Philadelphia’s Joey Dawejko (7-1-2) fought to a draw due to an untimely, two-point deduction from Miller’s scorecard in the third round for excessively shoving the shorter Dawejko to the canvas. Miller won the final three rounds on each scoreboard, but the deduction resulted in a 37-37, 37-37, 37-37 finish.
Super featherweights Jason Sosa (8-1-3, 4 KOs) of Camden, N.J., and Chip Perez (10-2) of East Hartford, Conn., traded blows for three rounds until Sosa finished Perez with an overhand left 50 seconds into the fourth round. Perez also hit the canvas in the opening round, but fought back strong in the second and third before hitting the deck again early in the fourth. Perez beat the count, but the referee stopped the bout as Perez wobbled to the neutral corner.
Super middleweight Marcus Upshaw (15-8-1, 7 KOs) of Jacksonville, Fla., returned to Mohegan Sun for the first time in three years and pulled off an impressive comeback win over Vladine Biosse (14-2-1) of Providence, stopping Biosse at the 2:25 mark of the eighth and final round after losing the first two rounds. The taller Upshaw began using his reach to his advantage midway through the fight, preventing Biosse from working the body. Upshaw sent Biosse to the canvas in the fifth and eighth rounds and finished the fight for good after the second knockdown with another flurry in the closing seconds.
Willimantic, Conn., lightweight Edwin Cotto (1-0, 1 KO) put on an impressive performance in his professional debut, stopping Brooklyn’s Ian James (2-5-1) 18 seconds into the fourth and final round. Cotto scored knockdowns in the second and third and ended the bout for good in the fourth with a flurry of lefts and rights that sent James tumbling into the referee’s arms.
Welterweight Jimmy Wlliams (1-0, 1 KO) of New Haven also put on a show in his debut, stopping Noel Garcia (2-16-2) of Springfield, Mass., 39 seconds into the third round of their scheduled four-round bout. Garcia put up a good fight before Williams dropped him late in the third. He continued to press forward in the fourth and ended Garcia’s night with a vicious, 1-2 combination.
Facing her toughest test to date, New London, Conn., female bantamweight Shelito Vincent (7-0) remained unbeaten with a 59-55, 58-56, 58-56 unanimous decision win over Nydia Feliciano (5-4-3) of the Bronx. Vincent finished as strong as she started, overwhelming Feliciano in the sixth and final round and pressing her opponent against the ropes to secure the victory.