Battle of the “Gatekeepers”
Story by Andreas Hale
Photos by Marty Rosengarten / RingsidePhotos.com
When Jesse Brinkley (34-5, 22 KOs) and Curtis Stevens (21-2, 15 KOs) meet on Friday night in their super middleweight battle at the Grand Casino Resort in Reno, both fighters know that they are the “gatekeeper” to their opponents’ future.
Brinkley is the #6 ranked contender by the IBF and Stevens is the #10 ranked contender by the IBF. The winner will capture the number two mandatory spot with the IBF world rankings and earn a title shot at champion Lucian Bute.
It’s an interesting contest for each fighter as they cannot afford another loss or poor performance if they want to be contenders in the relatively crowded and talent-rich super middleweight division. The fact that the fight will be broadcast as the main event for this week’s ESPN2 Friday Night Fight series enhances the stakes as fans will capture a glimpse of two top contenders in one of the most exciting divisions of boxing.
To say that the pressure is on would be an understatement.
Brinkley is riding an eight fight winning streak as he prepares to face the hard hitting Stevens. Brinkley, a former contestant of “The Contender” took pause in his career after dropping four out of five fights (late 2004 to early 2007) before retooling and winning five of his next eight bouts by knockout. He is also holding the WBC USNBC championship which is crucial to a contender staying in the top ten of the WBC.
Stevens has reeled off four wins in a row (three by KO) since losing a unanimous decision to Andre Dirrell back in June 2007. His only other blemish on his professional record was to hardcore veteran Marco Primera, who stopped him in the eighth round in July 2006. He avenged that loss in November 2006 and has been dominant since outside of his loss to Dirrell.
When they meet, expect Stevens to come out swinging as he has made it no secret that he is looking to dispose of Brinkley early.
Brinkley is more of a workhorse fighter who will look to grind out every round rather than seek an early knockout.
Considering that Brinkley has a relatively sturdy chin – only one loss by TKO – he may be able to take Stevens into deep waters and box his way to victory.
Stevens does have lights out punching power and could end Brinkley’s evening early if given the opportunity.
It’s a difficult fight to choose a winner but the showdown does promise to be entertaining.
Neither fighter is looking past his foe, but both already have their future forecasted in a similar path. Assuming they win tonight’s clash, both Brinkley and Stevens are looking forward to their promised title shot with IBF super middleweight champion Lucian Bute. Another possibility is with WBC/WBO middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik who has discussed moving up to 168-pounds.
Each fighter has been a “gatekeeper” of the super middleweight division - battling opponents who wanted to enter the top ten rankings. Now each of the “gatekeepers” will fight to remain a contender.
It is a certainty that the battle of the “Gatekeeper’s Gatekeeper” will leave one fighter knocking at the door for a title shot while the other will have to consider his future.
That alone should set the stage for a contest where neither combatant leaves anything in the ring.
The Brinkley-Stevens bout is the headline bout of “Reno Xtreme Fights II” and will be televised live by ESPN2 Friday Night Fights beginning at 7p PT/10p ET. Doors open at the Grand Theatre inside the Grand Sierra Resort at 6p and the first bout is at 6:30p. A limited amount of tickets are available at the Grand Sierra Resort box office (800.648.3568).