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Countdown to Showtime

BY Zachary Levin ON February 26, 2006
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Thursday, February 16, 8:50 to 9:50 P.M.

Brownsville super middleweight Curtis Stevens readies himself in a spare dressing room at the Manhattan Center in New York.

It’s dimly lit. Two-person love seat. Frayed carpet. Chairs. Closet-sized bathroom—only a mirror.

He’s 10-0—Tysonesque—a murderous puncher against soft touches. Jose Spearman’s (29-8-4) expected to be his toughest test.

Countdown.

8:50 p.m. Stevens—“Brownsville” stitched on his black scully—black boxer-briefs, boxing shoes, does toe touches. Those around stand back.

Team member Gary Stark Sr. rubs in Abolene. Stevens grumbles when visitors enter.

He demands boom box and rap music.

Lenny Wilson, aka “Biscuit,” pipes up from the couch to a reporter: “He like the energy, get him hyped up. That why they call him Showtime.”

8:53: Robert Orlando, New York State Athletic Commission official, talks loudly on cell. Ends conversation abruptly. Stark tapes his hand.

Stevens dons black shirt with his likeness on front, “SHOWTIME” on back. “Don of Dons” tattooed on his neck.

8:57: Taping continues. Mike Rella, cutman, inspects ice-filled bucket—Vaseline, sponge, Enswell, water, Avitene, Thrombin, Adrenaline. Latex gloves, Q-tips, gauze pads, neatly on chair.

9:01: Stevens hunches over a backward-turned chair. His lats flare. “Brownsville,” tattooed in bold italics, on his back.

His right hand’s finished taping. Stark pounds the taped fist. They exchange nods. Stevens gets up—shadowboxes.

9:05: Chris “Gotti” Lorenzo, manager of “Chin Checkers” (Stevens and Jaidon Codrington) and President of Murder Inc. records, enters.

Toilet flushes. Andre Rozier—head trainer, boxing-gear designer, and Stevens’ uncle—exits bathroom.

9:07: Left hand being taped. “Where my soldier at?” Curtis mumbles on cell phone.

9:08: “Buddha,” posse member, folds arms.

9:10: “Stark always tapes him?” a reporter asks. “Yes,” says Rozier. “He’s the best?” the reporter presses. “I taught him,” replies Rozier.

9:11: Both hands taped. Official Orlando signs his name on the wraps in magic marker. Stevens shadowboxes—short, tight punches.

9:13: Heavyweight posse member enters, shrugs. “No radio?” Stevens asks. “Dang!”

9:14: “Biscuit” stretches Stevens’ back and shoulders.

9:16: Ref enters. Clicks off rules. Leaves.

9:20: Stevens shadowboxes. Talk turns to featherweight Luis Del Valle—multiple Golden Glover. “Nigga’s up early in the morning,” Stevens huffs. “Like he’s on something, like he’s Stacked.”

9:21: Still shadowboxing. “Tic tock, tic tock. Move your head,” Rozier instructs. “Get low, get low.” “Stay loose.” “Role them punches.”

9:22: Cell phones fire—rap instead of ring. Stevens finds his groove. “Get busy with it, son.”

9:23: “Where Greg?” Stevens says clipped. “Where Greg?”Pad man Greg Dyer, oversized T-shirt, medicine-ball paunch, takes deep breath, loosens up. Sweating, he secures extra padded mitts.

9:25: “When’s the baby comin’ out, Greg?” says stablemate Gary Stark Jr. Tension diffused.

9:26: Stevens paces. Sniffs. Spits. Works jaw. Bares teeth.

9:29: Door opens. Crowd of homies flood the room. Door closes; reopens. Single head appears. “Get the f**k outta my locker room,” Stark Jr. yells. Door slams shut. Everyone laughs.

9:30: Jaidon “The Don” Codrington, Stevens’ best friend, enters about 10 minutes after other Starrett City fighters. He was recently KO’d in 18 seconds on Showtime. Stevens doesn’t look up.

9:31: “Don’t let him breathe,” whispers Rozier, putting on latex gloves. “Stay on top of him, like Ricky Hatton.” “Throw that hook and roll.” “Bang that body.” “Walk to him.” “Move that head, Pop. Move it.

Stevens doesn’t realize Hatton’s in the house.

9:32: His shadowbox combinations are with bad intentions. “Ggggrrr! Rrrhhhh!” he growls.

His people howl.

9:33: “Buddha” brings golden drinks in plastic cups. Stevens downs one.

“Apple juice?” a reporter asks

“Red Bull!” Stevens replies.

Stevens snorts. Goes back to shadowboxing. Stabs carpet with trailing foot. Steps forward, stabs again—a tic.

9:34: Stevens squeezes hands into 10-ounce Grant gloves. Rozier checks reaction. Stevens nods. Wrists taped. Official signs gloves.

“Why not Cleto-Reyes? A puncher’s glove,” a reporter asks.

“He could put ‘em to sleep wearing 60-ounce pillows,” Rozier shoots back.

9:35: “He sticks his head out when he throws the right,” Gary Stark Sr. says of Spearman.

“Know what that means?” Stark Jr. jumps in.

“He’s a sitting duck,” Sr. answers.

“He’s a sitting duck anyway,” the fighter says.

9:36: He drills the mitts. “UH-OH!” the stablemates exhort with every crack.

“Talkin’ ‘bout decapitations. Repudiations. Miscalculations,” a voice raps.

Blam! Blam! Pow!

“WHEW!” echo the team.

9:38: ‘Cut me, Mick, I can’t see!” Stark Jr. ribs Greg, mimicking Stallone.

9:40: Rozier, rubbing his shaved onyx dome, watches his charge coolly. The room’s packed. Advice coming from every corner.

9:41: Stevens steps into his cup.

“Watch the uppercuts,” Stark Sr. warns.

9:42: Curtis catches shots on his gloves. Not moving his head. Not rolling.

“Tic, tock, tic tock!” Rozier barks. Stevens adjusts.

9:43: “3 minutes!”

Pad work’s done. Everyone’s sweating. Temperature climbed 15 degrees.

Rozier places jacket he designed on the boxer. Small flag of Panama on the back—a reminder of Duran.

9:44: “Brownsville” bandanna placed over Stevens’ mouth, bank robber-style. Second one put on his forehead, low over the eyes.

9:45: Sounds in the ballroom grow louder. Stevens checks himself in mirror.

9:46: Dressing room door bursts open. Bodies pour out—Stevens at the center.

9:48: The entourage shuffles side-to-side, waiting in the drafty hallway. Fans take their seats. Spearman’s in the ring.

“Come on, already. Let’s do this!”

Stark Jr. bangs “We Will Rock You” on the wall. “I feel like I’m gonna fight,” Codrington announces.

9:49: “You’re on!a producer shouts. Stevens’ boyz in the crowd spot him. “Brooooownsvillllllle!” “Brooooownsvillllllle!” they chant.

9:50:  Ringwalk. Slapping hands. Flashes. Loud rap. Hoots. Hollers. Outstretched fingers trying to touch. Lipsticked honies on tiptoes. Brownsville bandanas.

Climbs steps. Stands on ring apron. Faces crowd. Ropes parted by Rozier. Enters ring.

It’s SHOWTIME

* * *

Postscript: After the two roughest rounds of his career, Stevens uncorked a short left hook with a second on the clock. It immediately rendered Spearman unconscious (2:59 of 2nd round). The ref didn’t attempt a count. Stevens remains a wicked-punching, undefeated prospect.

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