Shakur Stevenson dominates Brazilian opponent in Rio debut
Shakur Stevenson showed why he’s USA Boxing’s best hope among men for gold this year in Rio and why he’s also a darling of a number of top professionals who see in him a bit of themselves.
Newark’s Stevenson, 19, dominated Brazil’s Robenilson de Jesus on Sunday in Stevenson’s bantamweight debut. The No. 4 seed was faster, fresher, bouncier and just better as Stevenson coasted to a unanimous decision victory by scores of 30-37, 29-28 and 29-28 to advance to the quarterfinals on Tuesday against Mongolia’s Erdenebat Tsendbaatar with a bronze medal up for grabs. Stevenson, who was booed during introductions, toyed with his opponent, smiling throughout the match as he ripped off three-punch combinations and did pretty much what he pleased, winning far easier than what the judge’s scores would indicate.
Also in Sunday’s early session, USA’s Gary Antuanne Russell upset fourth-seeded Thailand’s Wuttichai Masuk in a light welterweight bout by split decision; judges’ scores were 29-28, 29-28 and 28-29 as the men moved to 9-3 overall in Rio. Russell advanced to Tuesday’s quarterfinals against Uzbekistan’s Fazliddin Gaibnazarov where a win would assure him of at least a bronze medal.
In the opening frame, Stevenson, a southpaw who is friendly with Andre Ward, Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr., showed a nice boxing style, darting in and out, letting his offense unfurl behind a jab. In the second, he stood more in the pocket, comfortable he could elude the wild swings of de Jesus. With 35 seconds left in the second, the bout was interrupted while de Jesus was checked for blood above his right eye after the boxers exchanged blows in close and they appeared to accidentally clash heads.
The bout was allowed to continue and Stevenson picked up where he left off, landing a straight left and whipping combinations as de Jesus was left covering up, unable to keep up with Stevenson’s hand speed.
Stevenson tossed de Jesus to the mat when the two got tangled up to start the third, de Jesus starting to show signs of fatigue. In a show of his dominance, Stevenson landed three straight left uppercuts in a row while he pinned his opponent on the ropes. He later landed a three-punch combination with a minute left as de Jesus fell to the canvas again in what seemed like fatigue. As the third round ended, Stevenson slapped his chest in celebration while de Jesus trudged back to his corner, clearly tired and beaten.
The men’s team qualified just six out of a possible 10 weight divisions for these Games, making it the smallest contingent of boxers the U.S. has ever sent to a non-boycotted Olympics since 1908. But the team has probably already surpassed expectations with Nico Hernandez capturing a bronze medal in his semifinal loss on Friday to Uzbekistan’s Hasanboy Dusmatov. The men’s team has fallen short in recent years, unable to win a medal in the 2012 Games and winning just a bronze in 2008 by Deontay Wilder in Beijing. Stevenson could begin to change the narrative around USA Boxing if he continues to fight like he did on Sunday.