Any talk of Curtis Stevens upsetting unbeaten middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin this weekend has been met with a predictable level of opposition.
Sure, most are willing to give the heavy-hitting Brooklyn, N.Y., native at least a puncher's chance when he steps into the ring Saturday at New York's Madison Square Garden Theater (HBO, 10 p.m. ET/PT). But outside of that, the responses have been typical: Stevens doesn't have the skills to win a decision against Golovkin. He doesn't have the chin to withstand his power. And, wait a second, isn't Stevens the same guy who lost -- badly -- to Jesse Brinkley a few years back?
At the first two points, Stevens just shakes his head. In fact, any talk of Golovkin's supposed superhuman powers draws a villainous laugh from Stevens, who believes HBO has sold the general public "a facade" of Golovkin's true talent, thanks to careful matchmaking.
But bring up the Brinkley fight with Stevens, and you've hit a serious nerve. Stevens, once considered a top prospect at 168 pounds, was knocked down twice by the former "Contender" participant en route to a wide decision loss in their 2010 title eliminator.
The defeat was devastating for Stevens, a heavy favorite who turned in an admittedly dreadful performance. But, he says, it's also far behind him. After the loss, he was out of the ring for two years due to a contractual dispute. But he has recently undergone a rebirth at middleweight, recording four straight wins, albeit against limited competition, including three by first-round knockout.
The problem for Stevens (25-3, 18 KOs) is that most boxing observers haven't forgotten the Brinkley fight and, in a fickle way, likely will hold it against him until he produces a big enough win to erase the memory.
"That loss has already been erased, but the thing about it is, I don't understand people," Stevens told ESPN.com. "I already told them that I was in there looking for the knockout. It was my wrong game plan. So once I can admit to myself what I did wrong, I don't understand how anyone else can't say, 'He admits he did wrong. Let's move on from it.'
"I believe they're so scared to want me to excel, to achieve, to be great and meet the potential they know I have, they still want to downgrade me from the Brinkley fight. That was three years ago! And I had four fights after that. How you still living on the Brinkley fight? I know I lost. I said I lost. I said it was a learning lesson. So why y'all still just ... is that the only thing y'all have to talk about?"
Stevens, 28, credits his time away from the ring for improving his focus and drive, especially after he was forced to sit and watch fighters he came up with through the amateur ranks suddenly winning world titles.
"I believe I became a little more humble," Stevens said. "I was always mature, but I just humbled myself a little more. I had a son, and suddenly it wasn't for me anymore. It was for him, so he has a great life and has everything he wants in life when he grows up."
It's clear Stevens' punching power is what gives him the best shot at knocking Golovkin (27-0, 24 KOs) off his lofty perch as boxing's next big thing. But just as many have questioned the recent string of opponents Stevens has torn through, he believes Golovkin's competition deserves the same level of scrutiny.
"He's not all what they're making him out to be," Stevens said. "He's knocking out 154-pounders. Then they're saying he has the highest KO ratio. OK. Knockouts is what I did to Saul Roman. Knockouts is what I did to [Elvin] Ayala. Knockouts aren't the corner throwing in the towel because they seen too much damn blood."
Stevens says most of Golovkin's opponents, including Matthew Macklin in June, already had lost by the time they enter the ring to face him. He guarantees that won't be the case for him. In fact, during the months leading up to their fight being made, Stevens was the only fighter who publicly called out GGG.
"Macklin was scared s---less going into that fight," Stevens said of Golovkin's third-round KO win, on a one-punch body blow. "That's the thing I think people are always misunderstanding with me. I'm not scared in this thing called boxing of someone else. You can't be scared of someone. For me, I always have super confidence. I asked for this fight. They didn't offer me the fight, I asked for it."
Just as Stevens was humbled during his initial rise up the ranks, he is confident he can help provide Golovkin with the same humility, potentially giving the former Olympic medalist his own Brinkley moment.
"I'm just letting the world know that after Nov. 2, his ass is going to be over," Stevens said. "His little reign of terror on HBO, that everyone thinks he is this or that, is going to be dead because that's what happens to fighters when you try to make them a superstar when they haven't fought no one. Then they finally get in there and fight someone and they get beaten badly. What happens to them? They come back to where they started."
Stevens has already been there and back. Saturday will mark his chance to leave his setbacks permanently in the past, while providing a new performance for former skeptics to think about when they hear his name.