Atley, a bear of a man who lost to Tom McNeely before McNeely took on Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight crown more than 30 years ago, sees tremendous potential in the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Stevenson. The 24-year-old boxer wowed a sellout home-town crowd last month with a knockout in a six-bout card at the American Legion Hall. It was the first boxing match in the borough in nearly 15 years.
Since resuming the pursuit of his dream two years ago, Stevenson, a 1987 graduate of Kennett High School, where he played basketball, has had 14 amateur fights. He lost his first three, then reeled off 11 straight wins, the last five by knockout. During that span, he's won the state Golden Gloves crown and, in 1994, taken the heavyweight title at the Keystone Games. He won the Games crown by knocking out Sol Polizzo in 17 seconds.
His knockout win in the Legion Hall bout did not come quite as quickly, but it impressed about 500 onlookers, mostly townspeople who already knew Stevenson. He flattened Bernie Ross of Chester in 87 seconds. It was sweet revenge; Ross had handed Stevenson one of his early losses.
"Troy's a good fighter," Atley said at a recent training session in the gym, with its undersized ring and assortment of punching bags. "He was one of the ornery ones, but he likes to train and he's very coachable. When he lost those first three matches, I sat him down and told him, 'You're going to fight my way or else.' "
Trainer Rob Kurzinsky, a former boxer at West Chester University, likes what he sees in Stevenson, too.
"Troy's a physically gifted fighter who has great athletic ability," Kurzinsky said. "He's still awkward, but that's what makes him so dangerous.
Because of his athletic ability, he can get away with things (in a bout) that might hurt other fighters.
"He can punch, too. I don't know where the power is coming from. We tease him about not being able to crack an egg with a punch but he can hit."
Stevenson attributes much of his success to a strong left jab and his ring speed. He calls himself a punching boxer and claims he's "one of the fastest cruiserweights around."
He's also demonstrated that he can take a punch. During a recent sparring match with Rick Tackett, Stevenson lost part of a tooth.
"Rick makes me fight a little better," Stevenson said. "He's a hard puncher and he's a true heavyweight."
Stevenson has been fighting at 195 pounds, which would be in the cruiserweight division. Heavyweights are 200 pounds or more. Eying a pro career, he plans to add some pounds to become a true heavyweight.
"I'm not aggressive enough," Stevenson said of his pro potential. "I need to be a little more dedicated, too."
A cousin from Kennett Square, Terry Tillman, has been Stevenson's inspiration. Tillman won a medal in the 1980s as a middleweight at the Pan American Games. He fought 108 times as an amateur, and was ranked No. 4 in the world in 1985.
Although several of Atley's boxers will be competing in a U. S. Amateur Boxing tourney Jan. 20 in Upper Darby, Stevenson has decided to forgo that to prepare for the state Golden Gloves in March. "I'll probably try to get a tuneup fight in February for them," he said.
Stevenson, who moved from Chester to Kennett Square when he was a young boy, said he was surprised by the crowd at the Legion hall but delighted to be fighting in front of people whom he knew. In addition to the 500 who witnessed the fight, 200 were turned away because there was no more room.
"It was a great card," said Dave Ruff, who operates a gym in Wilmington and helps train Stevenson. "We hope to do it again soon. Troy needs to get more fights if he is going to improve his marketability as a professional."
Atley has discussed turning pro with his ace boxer. He's made it clear that new pros can expect to make $250 to $300 a bout, not the multi-millions the bigtime heavyweights make.
For Stevenson, that probably means not giving up his 11-hours-per-shift weeknight job as a maintenance man at the Mushroom Coop, or his weekend job as doorman/bouncer at the Red Clay Room, a reception and banquet hall, both in the borough. He's convinced that he would a better pro than amateur fighter, however.
"I'm a slow starter. The pro bouts are longer," he explained. "The amateur bouts are only three rounds; you have to get in and get the job done quick.
"And if I don't give the pros a shot, then I won't have fulfilled my
Besides, he wouldn't want to disappoint his great-grandmother.