New York, August 4—Light heavyweight Jason Quick finds himself in the unenviable position of being “Chin Checker” Curtis Stevens’s latest opponent tonight at Lou DiBella’s Broadway Boxing show at the Manhattan Center on 34th Street.
Quick, a tall and lean 30-year-old with muscles like a life-size action figure would win hands down if he were taking on Stevens in a bodybuilding contest. But this is boxing, and impressive packaging doesn’t count for much once the bell rings. This is not to say Stevens (7-0, 6 KOs), a short thick fireplug of a man, is someone you’d want shooting you an ugly sneer in or out of the ring.
Quick came to boxing late and had a limited amateur career—less than 20 fights. But he has been off to a good start as a pro, going 4-0-1 (3 KOs). His opposition has been equally green, too, with a combined record of 6-3. Brownsville’s (some might want to substitute “Chin Checker” with “Big Mouth”) Stevens began boxing not long after leaving the sandbox. The 20-year-old’s amateur background is so long and accomplished, my fingers ache just contemplating typing it: 185-11: 5-time Silver Glove Champion; 2-time National Junior Olympic Champion; 2-time Junior World Champion; 2002 Golden Gloves Champion; and 2002 US National Champion. And along the way, his path crossed with Quick’s, and guess who came out the victor?
A native South Carolinian and former Marine, Quick served in Somalia in 1993 and Bosnia in 1995. He has the requisite jutting, square jaw of “The Few, The Proud,” and a dignified bearing that commands respect. Both his gym and street clothes are always impeccably clean and pressed; the cornrows he wears are nicely kempt. His promoter, Sal Musumeci, describes him as a “classic southern gentleman.” So when I approached him for an interview a couple of weeks ago and was promptly dismissed with a wordless shake of the head, it was not taken as rudeness or apathy. His war paint was being applied and anything that didn’t contribute to his imminent battle was shunned. (Should he win tomorrow, we can offer a few helpful pointers on intelligent P.R.)
I didn’t blame Quick for feeling too restless to talk. The enemy surrounded him wherever he looked: Taped to a lamppost in front of Gleason’s Gym was a poster of Stevens’s brash face; and there were several more advertisements inside the gym. Stevens even showed up to one of Quick’s sparring sessions and heckled him. I wondered if all this served to motivate Quick or drain his confidence? My hunch is that he’s not scared, but might lack the boxing chops to do anything about it.
Stevens is the perfect foil to Quick’s noble solemnity. He wears sunglasses at night and gaudy fur coats. He plays the role of the neighborhood bully from the worst section of Brooklyn. If he’s shifting between adolescence and manhood, I’d say most of his weight rests on the former. His backers are hip hop moguls Irv Gotti and Damon Dash; masterminds of turning urban swagger to profit. Stevens has taken a page from Floyd Mayweather and Roy Jones, Jr., who inspire identification and rejection in equal parts from fight fans.
In a recent interview with Boxingtalk.com, Stevens had this to say about the upcoming fight, “One thing’s for sure, a chin or two will be checked…Jason Quick called me out and I'm going to show you what I do to people that call me out. Where I'm from, you call someone out, they lose the f***ing head off their shoulders.”
Regardless of how you come down on this kind of murderous talk, it shouldn’t obscure the fact that Stevens works his tail off at the Starrett City Boxing Club in East New York; that he sacrificed his childhood for this game while other kids were mastering Nintendo; or that if you let him get you on the ropes, he will, as promised, knock your f***ing head into the cheap seats.
“Curtis’s biggest mistake was taunting Jason,” says Sal Musumeci, doing his part as his fighter’s advocate. He claims the fight will be a story of the bull and the matador, “and you know who always wins that.”
In truth, Stevens’s level of competition has not been much greater than Quick’s. When he took a step-up in his last fight against the 20-30-8 Shannon Miller, where he failed to score a KO, he didn’t look like a prospect with such an impressive pedigree. He was confused, frustrated, and one-dimensional, as the journeyman refused to lie on the ropes and fold up. I saw Stevens shrink that night with each passing round, as his loud cheering section mellowed into the occasional invective-filled squawk.
During his final sparring sessions, Quick looked awkward fighting inside with his opponent. He got caught with shots he shouldn’t have, but the Marine kept charging forward like he was storming the beach at Iwo Jima. Former WBA lightweight champion Joey Gamache, now a sage trainer at Gleason’s, appraised Quick with his eyes. He looked over his shoulder at me and read my pessimistic expression. “It’s gonna be tough,” he said. “But in the end it come down to who wants it more.”