With a mandatory shot at a middleweight title at stake for the winner, former titlist Hassan N'Dam made sure to stay out of harm's way Wednesday night against hard-hitting Curtis Stevens.
N'Dam used every inch of the tiny ring inside the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California, to bounce and dance away from Stevens' big left hook en route to a unanimous decision win by judges' scores of 116-111 (twice) and 118-109. ESPN.com scored the bout 117-110 for N'Dam.
The victory secures N'Dam (31-1, 18 KOs) a shot at the winner of the Oct. 8 bout (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) between middleweight titlist Sam Soliman (44-11, 18 KOs) and former undisputed champion Jermain Taylor (32-4-1, 20 KOs) in Biloxi, Mississippi.
N'Dam dominated Stevens (27-4, 20 KOs) by controlling the action from the opening bell. Utilizing a smart game plan built on constant movement, N'Dam worked behind his quick jab while circling away from anything heavy in return.
The native of Cameroon, who fights out of France, added an exclamation point by flooring Stevens with a short right hand to the temple in an exciting Round 8, which belied the lack of action throughout the remainder of the fight.
Stevens, 29, was unable to duplicate the success of his April victory over Tureano Johnson, in which the Brooklyn native rallied in the final round to score a dramatic TKO. Despite appearing to hurt N'Dam in the closing seconds of the final round, it proved to be too little, too late for Stevens.
The majority of the blame for Stevens' lack of success offensively fell upon himself due to his reluctance to use his jab or consistently target the body. Stevens spent the majority of the fight following N'Dam around, looking to load up with one big punch.
By Round 6, N'Dam appeared to light a fire under Stevens by trash-talking and clowning him with bolo punches. Stevens responded by stepping up the pressure and wobbling N'Dam the following round with a right hand.
After being floored early in Round 8, Stevens enjoyed his best stretch of the fight when he fought back off the ropes to hurt N'Dam with a series of hard counter shots. But Stevens gave back any momentum he had built one round later by lowering his output significantly and allowing N'Dam to win the round without landing any significant punches.
The victory is the fourth straight for N'Dam, 30, since he was knocked down six times in losing his middleweight title to Peter Quillin in October 2012. Stevens suffered his first defeat since being stopped by unbeaten titlist Gennady Golovkin last November.