Friday, December 02, 2022  |

News

Aficianado

Shakur Stevenson: A guiding lightweight

Shakur Stevenson is the new Ring Magazine junior lightweight champion. Photo by Mikey Williams/ Top Rank Inc via Getty Images
28
Sep

Editor’s Note: This feature originally appeared in the August 2022 issue of The Ring, which is available for purchase at The Ring Shop.

SHAKUR STEVENSON HAS BEEN SO DOMINANT DURING HIS BRIEF TIME AT 130 POUNDS THAT HE IS NOW WIDELY EXPECTED TO WREAK HAVOC AT 135 AS WELL

It doesn’t take long for the tide to change in boxing.

It seems like only yesterday that hard-to-please fight fans looked upon Shakur Stevenson as a cure for insomnia. Dominant decision wins over Christopher Diaz, Joet Gonzalez, Toka Kahn Clary and Jeremia Nakathila may have pleased the purist, but those looking for destructive and career-defining performances were sticking the knife in and twisting it before Stevenson had hit the showers.



Not anymore.

A brilliant junior lightweight title win over Jamel Herring (TKO 10) last October and a dominant showing against Oscar Valdez (UD 12) in their unification clash in April have taken Stevenson’s reputation into the stratosphere. The latter triumph saw the Newark-born star add the Ring and WBC titles to his collection, and many insiders now include him among the finest pound-for-pound fighters in the world today. Stevenson’s supremacy at 130 pounds is so obvious that he’s now being encouraged to move north to lightweight in search of bigger game. However, Stevenson only made the move to 130 in June 2020 and he’s had five fights at the weight. Fans are obviously enthused about the possibility of him punch-swapping with the likes of George Kambosos, Devin Haney, Vasiliy Lomachenko, Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia at 135 pounds, but not everyone is convinced it’s the right time for Stevenson to move up.

Valdez was no match for Stevenson’s talent, size and ring savvy. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)

“He just got to 130 pounds,” said Philadelphia-based trainer Stephen Edwards with a touch of frustration. “I think that too many fighters leave weight divisions too soon because of public demand and things like that. They end up losing what could be their peak performances. For example, I always thought Oscar De La Hoya left 140 pounds too quickly. He looked awesome at 140 pounds, and the first [Julio Cesar] Chavez fight was the best I ever seen him look.

“I don’t understand all the pressure for Shakur Stevenson to leave 130 when he only has two [sanctioning body] belts and there’s two other belts out there. It’ll be easier to make 135, but he’s a young guy, so he could fight two times in the next six months, get the other belts and then leave. If he doesn’t, then someone will say he didn’t fight this guy or he didn’t fight that guy or he didn’t [fully] unify.”

Edwards is a historian and his point is well-made. Example: Brazilian great Eder Jofre would eventually claim a world title at featherweight, but he achieved greatness at bantamweight. Jofre dominated world-class 118-pounders for four years, achieved undisputed status and made seven total defenses. Sure, he lost to Fighting Harada twice, but if Jofre didn’t hang around and mop up at 118 pounds, then he wouldn’t be regarded as one of the finest bantamweights in boxing history. That’s how you forge a legacy.

However, in the 21st century, the sport of boxing and those calling the shots move almost as fast as Stevenson’s hands. While it would be a nice nod to tradition and history for him to pursue true and everlasting greatness at 130 pounds, the 18-0 Stevenson will likely be swayed by money and superstardom. Can we blame him? Not a chance. And one thing’s for sure: Every hardcore boxing fan on the planet will be tuning in to see if he can take down the top players at lightweight.

The Ring now takes a look at potential matchups between Stevenson and the 135-pound elite:

 

GEORGE KAMBOSOS JR.
Record: 20-0 (10 KOs)
Status: Ring, IBF, WBA and WBO lightweight champion

Kambosos burst onto the scene with a gutsy and determined 12-round split decision win over the previously unbeaten Teofimo Lopez in New York last November. The affable Australian dropped Lopez early, got off the floor himself and outhustled the reigning champion to claim a sensational triumph.

A year prior to that career-defining win, Kambosos faced Welshman Lee Selby in an IBF eliminator. Again it was a competitive encounter with Kambosos emerging as a 12-round split decision winner at the Wembley Arena in London.

“Kambosos has the ability to stop you punching because he always looks like he’s ready to fire back with the right hand,” said Selby, who once reigned as the IBF featherweight titleholder. “That’s the way he made me feel. I wasn’t really looking to let my right hand go, I was just boxing behind my jab, because it felt like if I did throw the right, it would leave me open for his right uppercut or the straight right.”

And what does Selby make of Stevenson?

“I think he’s very good,” stated the former world titleholder in earnest. “I watched highlights of his fight against Valdez, who I shared many rounds of sparring with when both of us were in our prime. It was very good sparring, so I know how good Valdez is, but Stevenson beat him quite comfortably.

“Stevenson has a great boxing IQ. I rate him up there with the likes of Terence Crawford and Errol Spence. He keeps out of range, he’s a nice boxer, he throws very sharp punches. I think he’s the full package. Some of these top fighters ride on the back foot, up on their toes when they’re in punching range, then they go from toe to heel and that keeps them just out of range. You can’t see it when you’re in the ring with them.” 

Before a Kambosos-Stevenson fight can even be discussed, the former has the small matter of a full undisputed championship fight against Haney, which is scheduled to take place on June 5 in Melbourne. Selby was noncommittal when it came to picking a winner for that fight, but he did say that Haney could struggle with traveling such a long distance and the effect that will have on his preparation.

If Kambosos were to come through against Haney and emerge as undisputed champion, would he have the right stuff to take down Stevenson?

“No, Stevenson wins,” said Selby without a moment’s hesitation. “I can’t see anybody beating him. I think he beats them all at lightweight.”

 

DEVIN HANEY
Record: 27-0 (15 KOs)
Status: WBC lightweight titleholder, rated No. 3 by The Ring

Haney’s ring moniker is “The Dream,” and he has the chance to fulfill his own against Kambosos just after we go to press. Blessed with lightning speed and excellent skills, the sharpshooting 23-year-old was upgraded to full WBC titleholder in 2019 and has made four successful defenses. He’s only encountered adversity on one occasion, when he was shaken up late by three-division world titleholder Jorge Linares. 

“Haney throws a lot of combinations, he’s very lengthy and he has good speed,” acknowledged Jamel Herring. “He did get shaken up by Linares, but it’s boxing, and the punches that hurt you are the ones you don’t see. He recovered like a true champion, pushed forward and won that fight.”

Despite displaying incredible bravery, Herring had very little success against Stevenson, who looked incredible when they squared off in Atlanta. It was The Ring’s Performance of the Year for 2021, so if anyone is qualified to discuss the outstanding abilities that Stevenson possesses, it’s the former Marine known as “Semper Fi.”

“Shakur is very technical but, more importantly, it’s his ring IQ that makes the big difference,” he said. “You have a lot of guys that know how to fight defensively, but it’s his hand-eye coordination [that makes him special]. He’ll see little twitches and he’s gone. Even when you look at what he’s doing in slow motion, you’ll see yourself throw with good speed and power, but he still gets out of the way. He picks up on the timing and then counters. And when he counters, he throws punches in bunches and that throws you off. The other thing I had issues with was even when I was defensive and had my guard up, he’d punch around the guard. He’s really great at angles and turning the punches over where they break through just enough.”

If Haney comes through against Kambosos, then a matchup with Stevenson for the undisputed championship would be a massive event. Politically, it might be difficult to make, but – if you can excuse the pun – we can all dream.

“I just think when you compare these two, you’ve got to lean toward Shakur based on competition level,” stated Herring. “Stevenson is getting better with each fight. I’m not taking anything away from Haney, but we need to see more from him against the higher echelon-level fighters. The fight against Kambosos will show us where he’s at, not only skill-wise but mentally. He’s going into a big arena where he’s not the A-side this time. Shakur welcomed the boos [when he fought Valdez in Las Vegas] and handled that very well. Boxing is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical, and you have to be very tough.

“I don’t think Shakur has any problems moving on to the lightweight division. It’s not really the size [that matters], it’s his technique. You have to hit the kid first. We haven’t seen him shaken up or damaged in the slightest during his entire career, so you’ve got to hit the kid. If you can’t hit him, then there’s nothing to worry about on his end. I also believe he’ll move on to the junior welterweight division.”

 

VASILIY LOMACHENKO
Record: 16-2 (11 KOs)
Status: Rated No. 2 by The Ring at lightweight, No. 7 P4P

The most decorated fighter on this list is the great Lomachenko, who proved in his December demolition of Richard Commey that an upset loss to Teofimo Lopez did little to blunt his ambition or drive. The Ukrainian wizard turned in an electrifying performance at Madison Square Garden, dropping Commey in the seventh round on his way to a dominant unanimous decision win.

Former Olympic champion Luke Campbell challenged Lomachenko for an assortment of lightweight titles in August 2019. He lost a wide decision at the O2 Arena in London but asked questions of the three-weight world champ during the early rounds before Lomachenko adapted.

“My feet were important, but I could also match his feints and movement,” recalled Campbell. “My mistake was committing with the [right] jab. Every time I committed with the jab, he timed me with a left hand to the body. I shouldn’t have been committing to the jab, because he’s small and compact. A couple of times I put a dent in him, but Lomachenko was definitely my hardest fight.”

As we go to press, Lomachenko remains in his native Ukraine supporting his countrymen during the Russian invasion. To say boxing is secondary in these circumstances is an understatement, but if we are lucky enough to see him back in the ring, what can we expect in a potential showdown with Stevenson?

“Lomachenko is super-smart and he can make the best look ordinary,” said Campbell. “Look what he just did to Commey. Commey is a good fighter – he can punch, he’s a big lightweight, and Lomachenko played with him in every round. He was even waving the referee in because he was giving him that much of a beating.

“But Stevenson is a helluva fighter himself and he’s hard to hit. He’s certainly a better fighter than me. He probably hasn’t got my punching power or my reach, but he’s got other attributes that make up for that. I think it would be quite cagey actually – two southpaws – and they’ve sparred in the past. I think [Team Lomachenko] brought Stevenson in for one of their camps. Lomachenko will know what he’s like in sparring and he’ll know the things he does. They’ll look at mistakes and they’ll look at what he’s doing right. They’ll analyze that sparring tape and they’re very smart. That’s why Lomachenko has such a great boxing IQ – he studies people. I can see Lomachenko edging that fight right now.”

Despite picking Lomachenko head-to-head, Campbell believes that Stevenson will eventually reign supreme.

“He’s definitely going to be a pound-for-pounder,” said Campbell, echoing the thoughts of just about everyone in the boxing business. “I think he’s an unbelievable fighter. Moving up to lightweight, he’s certainly got the mindset, the skill and everything else to beat them all.”

 

GERVONTA DAVIS
Record: 27-0 (25 KOs)
Status: Rated No. 4 by The Ring

What a fight this would be.

Gervonta “Tank” Davis is arguably the most exciting elite-level fighter in the sport today. The 27-year-old from Baltimore has captured an assortment of title belts at 130, 135 and 140 pounds, although the straps won above 130 fall into the WBA regular category, which The Ring does not recognize.

However, regardless of belt legitimacy, Davis is an authentic knockout artist with an excellent skillset. His explosive sixth-round blitzing of Leo Santa Cruz won Knockout of the Year for 2020, and his surprising jump to 140 pounds led to an 11th-round stoppage of the Ring-rated Mario Barrios last June.

“I heard that when Tank was getting ready for [Jose] Pedraza, he sparred Shakur, and I heard it was great work,” said Edwards. “Those guys match up well. I think Tank is an elite boxer and an elite puncher, so we’d see what Shakur can do against a guy who could potentially knock him out. I think it’s a dangerous fight for Shakur.

“I don’t know who wins. Tank is a tremendous fighter and a lot better than some people think. For me, they’re both top-10 pound-for-pound fighters. I don’t have a winner in the fight, but Tank matches up better against him than any of the other 135-pounders out there. He has the speed to close the distance, he’s sparred him before, and he has the power to maybe make Shakur move a bit more than he wants to move. Shakur doesn’t run from you; he kind of just teases you, and when you come at him, he takes a step back. After you stop coming at him, he just goes back to his jab and straight left hand. Against Tank, he’d have to be very cautious.”


Gervonta Davis stops Rolando Romero with one punch in Round 6


Despite the fact that Edwards would rather see Stevenson fulfill his full potential at 130 pounds before moving north, he’s still excited about the possibilities that await him in the lightweight division.

“Look, I think he’ll be a great addition to the division,” acknowledged Edwards. “I never agreed with people calling those other guys ‘The Four Kings’ when [Stevenson] was only a division below them. He has the chance to be the best one out of all of them. I think he’ll do excellent in the lightweight division, and there’s not one of those guys that I’d favor to beat him.”

 

RYAN GARCIA
Record: 22-0 (18 KOs)
Status: Rated No. 5 by The Ring

Garcia is the only fighter on the list who has yet to win a world title, but he’s no less dangerous as an opponent. The 23-year-old may be blessed with the looks of a movie star and a colossal social media following, but Garcia is far from being a product of 21st century hype.

His hand speed is incredible, his timing exemplary, and if Davis hits harder, it’s not by much. However, we’ve also seen moments of vulnerability from Garcia, who was floored heavily by a left hand from Luke Campbell in the second round of their January 2021 bout.

“I put him to sleep,” said Campbell, who was stopped in the seventh. “I’ve never seen anyone recover from a shot as quick as that. I was certainly impressed, because I’ve never seen anybody get put to sleep, get up at the count of four and their legs are fine.

“Garcia’s got punch power in both hands. He throws loose and fast, but it’s the timing that comes with it. He surprised me in that I caught him with some really good shots and he got stuck in. I didn’t expect that, although I still think I was winning the rounds. Of the seven rounds we fought, I thought I was five rounds up. He landed on my arms and stuff, but I was knocking his head back with the jab. Unfortunately for me, I had 16 months out of the ring, I killed myself to make the weight and he got me with a great body shot.”

A Garcia-Stevenson showdown would be huge. Like other potential matchups on the list, it might be difficult to make, but hopefully the boxing gods can work some magic. And despite the fact that Garcia still lacks the prerequisite world championship experience, Campbell is convinced it would be a very competitive fight.

“Stevenson could definitely outbox him, but he hasn’t been in with someone like Garcia who’s got that dominance,” said the Englishman. “Garcia’s big, he can match Stevenson for speed, and he’s got great timing and power. I definitely believe that Lomachenko and Garcia are his biggest tests, so if I was Stevenson, I’d probably go the Kambosos-Haney route. 

“I do rate Garcia, and I believe that if he lives up to his potential and he’s dedicated, he’ll also be on the pound-for-pound list and go through the weight categories. He’s got good boxing ability and the speed, timing and power that comes with it is a dangerous formula. I’m not sure who wins that fight. Stevenson is good at making people miss, and if Garcia isn’t landing, then Stevenson wins. But if Garcia is landing shots and getting to him little by little, then Garcia is right in that fight.”

close

SIGN UP TO GET RING NEWS ALERTS