On Saturday, January 19, 2012 Main Events and Classic Entertainment & Sports will present Fight Night to be broadcast on NBC Sports Network. The co-featured bout of the evening features CES fighter Elvin Ayala (26-5-1, 12 KO) taking on Curtis Stevens (22-3, 16 KO). As Ayala is a Providence promoted fighter, and I am the Providence boxing examiner I thought I'd break down the fight in advance of the bout on Saturday night.
The Story on Stevens: Stevens is a tough nut to crack. He's almost a prototypical "gatekeeper" in that he's always going to give second tier fighters a run for their money but he'll never been able to break through to the top level in his weight class. The one time Stevens fought a legitimate "top tier" fighter was back in June 2007 when he lost a very one sided bout to Andre Dirrell at the very same Mohegan Sun where he will perform on Saturday night. In 2009 it looked like Stevens was about to breakout when he wiped the floor with previously unbeaten Piotr Wilczewski sending the Pole to the canvas twice en route to a third round stoppage.After the victory over Wilczewski, Stevens fought in an IBF super middleweight title eliminator against Jesse Brinkley, a fight that many (including myself) thought Stevens would win. Brinkley through had other plans and fought the fight of his life knocking Stevens to the canvas once and outpointing him over the course of 12 rounds. Stevens has only fought once since the Brinkley fight, a March 24, 2012 1st round TKO over Romero Johnson at the Aviator Sports Complex in Brooklyn where Stevens dropped Johnson three times in the first round for an automatic TKO.
The Story on Ayala: Elvin Ayala has had a weird career trajectory. Unlike Stevens, he's been to the mountain-top challenging Arthur Abraham for the IBF middleweight title in March 2008. After being knocked out in the final round by Abraham in a fight that Ayala admits he didn't properly prepare for, the fighter from New Haven, CT struggled to get his career on track going 2-2 over his next four fights and bottoming out with a first round knockout at the hands of David Lemieux on June 11, 2010. After the Lemieux fight took 8 months off, rededicated himself to boxing, hooked up with Peter Manfredo Sr., and has gone on a run of six straight victories, including two relatively good decision wins over Derrick Findley and Eric Mitchell.
The Fight Plan: For Stevens the fight plan has to be to get inside, unleash his heavy hands and damage the smaller framed, and quicker Ayala. Stevens has 16 knockouts in his 22 victories, but he was also the 2002 National Amateur Champion at light heavyweight and is the naturally bigger and stronger guy. Ayala can be hit, and he can be knocked down (and out) by heavy hands and Curtis Stevens has heavy hands. If you asked Ayala he'd tell you that he's quicker and his defense is better than Stevens' offense, but if that's true I haven't seen any evidence of it. Ayala has to be the faster guy, he has to use continuous movement and he should absolutely take the advice of his corner (Peter Manfredo Sr.) who has already devised a game plan to beat Stevens once. Jessie Brinkley lived behind his jab and kept Stevens at bay, out pointing him even in a fight where Brinkley was hurt just as bad (if not worse) than Stevens. This fight will be at 160 which should play right into Ayala's hands -- he's the natural middleweight, and Stevens dropping down two weight classes from his most comfortable light heavyweight could prove problematic. There is no reason to think Stevens won't have power at the lower weight (ask Romero Johnson) but if Ayala can turn this thing into a track meet, use constant movement and pick his spots right by the later rounds Stevens may tire and that could open the door for Ayala to secure the win.
Prediction Time: As the Providence Boxing Examiner it behooves me to have Providence based fighters succeed. Unfortunately I'm just not sold on Elvin Ayala. He's never stepped up and won, and in fact any time he's stepped up in competition he's failed spectacularly (see again, Lemeiux, David). From everything that I've read coming out of the Stevens camp, "Showtime" is re-focused on boxing and he understands that this is his last shot to ever get to that level where he thinks he belongs. The middleweight division is very good right now at the top, and when I think of either of these guys vying for a shot at one of the top dogs at 160 pounds I just can't see a scenario where Elvin Ayala is in that conversation. Curtis Stevens though has heavy hands, he's got a very good pedigree and if his power and stamina is there at 160 pounds he could be a dangerous guy at the lower weight. I think Ayala will keep it close in the first few feeling out rounds, but I expect Stevens' power to dictate the middle round and I wouldn't be surprised to see this fight stopped somewhere between the 6th and 8th rounds with a TKO victory for Curtis Stevens.