Shakur Stevenson kicks off 2018 in ESPN opener
The highly-touted Shakur Stevenson begins his second year as a pro tonight. from the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino. in Reno, Nevada, where he faces Juan Tapia in the opening bout on ESPN (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
Last year Stevenson went 4-0 (2) after winning a silver medal for the United States, in the 2016 Olympics. For the young man from Newark, New Jersey, 2017 was a chance to get acclimated to the pro game.
“I just learned that professionals is way better than the amateurs; that’s what I learned,” Stevenson told UCNLive.com earlier this week. “I learned that it’s not no games; you’ve got to take it serious and one punch can really end your career. It’s serious; that’s the main thing I learned.”
Stevenson is still just 20 years old and now facing boxers who are more physically mature but he points out that it’s not something completely foreign to him. “I’m kinda used to it; when I was fighting amateurs I was fighting grown men. One of the dude’s, I fought in the Olympics, at 29. So I’m kinda used to it now; I just felt my skill level had to adapt.”
There is also the adjustment to boxing with smaller gloves. Recently, the amateurs have done away with headgear making that a bit easier with which to get adjusted.
“Most definitely, I feel like my last year in the amateurs, we fought straight, no headgear, and had a bunch of fights with no headgear, so I’m used to that no headgear part and the smaller gloves is just a glove. I haven’t really got hit super-solid yet, so I haven’t really felt like the effect of the smaller gloves.”
The first few fights, it was evident that Stevenson was still just a developing youngster, who still needed to attain his “man-strength.” However in his most recent outing, on December 9, versus Oscar Mendoza, in which he scored a second round TKO, he flashed the form that made him such a hot commodity coming out of the Olympics.
”Yeah, no question,” said Carl Moretti, the vice president of Boxing Operations for Top Rank.” His punches seemed harder and straighter, sitting down more on his punches. I think he’s really learning how to be more of a professional and that’s the key with these guys with these huge amateur backgrounds – how to become a professional.”
As current WBO junior lightweight titlist Vasyl Lomachenko prepared for Guillermo Rigondeaux, last fall, Stevenson served as one of his sparring partners.
“The sparring he’s gotten over time, over the past couple of months and everything, you’re starting to see the results of it. Physically, he’s getting older and stronger and, as a result of that, you’re going to see better performances,” said Moretti.
It’s clear that the precocious Stevenson wants to be moved quickly (Shakur Stevenson Plans Busy Run, Hopes For Title Shot in 2019) but, again, he’s only 20 years old. His journey is just beginning.
Moretti says, “I think we have to remind ourselves of that first. He’s just such a competitor that he sees guys that have 20, 30 fights and his confidence is there that he can beat them. Y’ know what? At the end of the day, I’m sure he can beat a lot of them but, like I said, there’s no clock on this kid. He just turned 20. So I know everyone says, ‘Well, if he’s on TV, he’s got to fight somebody,’ Who made you boss? We’ll move him the way we sit fit and go from there.”
But with great hype comes great expectations. When asked if he feels any pressure, Stevenson answers, “I kinda feel it but I don’t put too much focus on it because, either way, I’ve got to fight and I’ve got to perform, so I ain’t really too focused on the pressure. I had a lot of pressure on me in the Olympics, being that nobody brought home any medals the last two Olympics or something like that.
“So I had a lot of pressure on me then. I stepped up to the plate and did what I had to do, so I’m going to keep going.”
In the upcoming years, as he fights often, you’ll see Stevenson on ESPN airwaves as often as the Duke basketball team. This new deal is one of the reasons his brain trust, led by manager James Prince, decided to eschew offers that came with more upfront money. “I got a great team behind me. I feel like my management, they helped me, in that aspect of it, because RocNation (Sports), they did throw more money at me, honestly,” explained Stevenson, who also has retired two-division champion Andre Ward involved in his career. “My managers helped me see that Top Rank was a better fit for me.”
He admits not taking the bigger signing bonus wasn’t necessarily easy.
“Looking back, at that time, it was hard making that decision but I guess it made more sense for me to be with Top Rank. They’ve proven themselves now. I feel like they helped me make the best decision,” said Stevenson, who’s been consistently featured on the four-letter network and has been to Bristol, Connecticut, to go through their “car wash.”
Stevenson says, “I kinda knew they had something like a deal in the works, when I signed with them but I didn’t know it was going to be that big, having the ESPN deal. I didn’t think it was going to be as big as this. Now I’m glad that I done it. They’re doing everything they’re supposed to and they’re doing everything right.”
Should he come out relatively unscathed tonight, Moretti says Stevenson will return in “April or May. We’ll figure that out in the coming weeks.”
“I feel like my first year as a pro was getting used to the pros” said the youthful southpaw, “It’s a lot different than the amateurs and I’m fighting people who are actually coming in there to, like, win and, in the pros, some people are coming into survive. So I think I’ll be more adjusted and I’m going to be able to show a lot more skill.”
Here’s a full, two-hour edition of “The Next Round,” with Gabe Montoya and me. “Mr. KO Tickets” Jim Boone gives us the box-office report.
Doug Fischer, Michael Montero and Yours Truly preview all of this weekend’s action (“Boxingpalooza 2018”) on the latest installment of “10 Count.”
The NBA Celebrity All-Star Game precedes the ESPN card. It would be ironic if Terence Crawford (who’s participating) hits a late show to send the game into overtime and delays the start of the broadcast…Yeah, as I hinted on Twitter over the weekend, the May 12 date is a huge issue, as it relates to the proposed Jorge Linares-Vasyl Lomachenko bout…So it looks like the Jeff Horn-Crawford bout, which will be paired with Manny Pacquiao-Mike Alvarado, will take place in Las Vegas and not at the Madison Square Garden, in New York, on April 14…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.