Shakur Stevenson makes a statement
While WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford who was the headliner at the CHI Health Center in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, where he faced the fiery but limited Jose Benavidez Jr., the most intriguing match-up of this nationally televised card on ESPN was the semi-main between featherweights Shakur Stevenson and Viorel Simion.
Stevenson, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist from Newark, New Jersey, was being stepped up in competition in just his ninth professional outing.
Since turning professional in April of 2017, the highly-touted southpaw was thought to be a blue-chip prospect who would be on the fast track. However early reviews on Stevenson were mixed. While he was certainly winning his bouts with relative ease, he wasn’t scoring those eye-opening KOs that get the public and press so excited.
Turning just 21 in late June, it’s clear he still didn’t possess his “man strength” and perhaps it would be a bit of a longer developmental process than first expected. While skilled, he wasn’t stout but there is never just one template in guiding a fighter to the top. There is also no one better at this than Top Rank, which, in the past, guided Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Miguel Cotto and Vasiliy Lomachenko from their Olympic cycles to professional riches.
It’s not clear if Stevenson will ever be in that class of boxer but he certainly came in with the requisite amateur background and pedigree. But unlike fellow Top Rank stablemate Teofimo Lopez, he didn’t pop right away and this fight against Simion, on which he and his handlers insisted after original opponent Duarn Vue had to pull out, was a litmus test of sorts.
Simion came into this past weekend with a record of 21-2 (9) and the two blemishes on his ledger came against Scott Quigg and Lee Selby, two fighters who had won versions of featherweight belts in the past. Stevenson told UCNLive.com a couple of days before this fight, “This is most definitely my toughest challenge up to date.”
In many ways, this would reveal just where Stevenson, 9-0 (5), stood and just how fast Top Rank could push him in the near future. And he admitted to this reporter that he would be judging his effort versus that of Quigg and Selby, “Every part of me wants to judge my performance off that. I’m not got going to lie.”
After scoring early stoppages against Patrick Riley and Aelio Mesquita earlier this year, Stevenson’s most recent bout was a rather nondescript eight-round decision over Carlos Ruiz, in which Stevenson, more or less, simply circled the ring for much of the bout and was content to box his way to victory. However while it was another win, it was also rather uninspiring and, in this game, yes, the manner in which you win absolutely matters.
Well, that certainly wasn’t an issue on Saturday night, as Stevenson didn’t just defeat Simion – he obliterated him, thrashed him in a manner that nobody imagined coming in. First, a right hook halfway through the first stunned and floored the usually sturdy Simion. Then with just a minute to go in the round, another combination of punches sent Simion down. Finally near the end of the opening stanza, another well-placed right hook floored Simion and gave referee Curtis Thrasher no choice but to wave the fight off.
Crawford was expected to handle Benavidez (which he did, stopping him in the 12th) but Stevenson-Simion was supposed to be a true test and, on this day in class, Stevenson gets an A+. In the immediate aftermath of the fight, he reititerated what he told this reporter that in 2019, he would like a world title shot. Whether he’s ready for the Gary Russells, Josh Warringtons, Oscar Valdezes and Leo Santa Cruzes of the world remains to be seen, however.
But for the first time, Stevenson became a guy to really watch.
Another featherweight hopeful who fought this past weekend was Ruben Villa – who actually defeated Stevenson as an amateur – who headlined once again in his hometown of Salinas, at the Storm House, on a card staged by Thompson Boxing Promotions. Villa was impressive in moving to 14-0 (5) in riddling Miguel Carrizoza over eight frames.
Villa has some real boxing skills and a high boxing IQ. The only thing he really lacks is substantial punching power but he does some Lomachenko-esque things in that ring.
Here’s the broadcast of his most recent fight (with Beto Duran and me on the call):
So who does Crawford fight next and who is realistically available for him?…Lewis Ritson was upset at home by Francesco Patera on Saturday…It’s time for Mark Richt to hire a real offensive coordinator…The only thing that can stop Alabama is an injury to their quarterback…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.