SHAKUR STEVENSON is meant to be America’s next star. It’s why promotional powerhouse Top Rank chose him to headline their first show back after the coronavirus shutdown. It’s a role that he is eager to embrace, even as he entered the quarantine zone in Las Vegas and stepped into a near empty studio to box without a crowd of spectators in promoter Bob Arum’s first show from ‘The Bubble’.
“I love pressure,” Stevenson tells Boxing News. “I love it. I love every moment of it. I mean it just made me want to perform.”
“I think I’m a different type of person. I’m rare. I’m not like the rest of these fighters. Pressure makes me perform even better. When they put pressure on me it makes me want to oblige towards the pressure. I want to be closer towards the pressure, I want to go towards the pressure and face it head up. I think pressure is one of the best things that happened to me. I love pressure because it makes me perform a lot better. It makes me want to do more. While I’m in the ring I’m thinking, ‘I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that.’ I’ve got to outdo this person. I’ve got to be better. I’ve got to be better than everybody.’ I’m in there, I’m trying to look for the right shots, hitting him everywhere I can, running through combinations, looking for stuff,” he continued. “The pressure that came, it kind of made me want to be a star. I’m going in the ring thinking everybody’s watching on TV, I’ve got to be a star.”
Stevenson delivered as required, knocking out the overmatched Felix Caraballo inside six rounds. “I’m good at blocking stuff out and focusing on what I’m supposed to be focusing on. So I think I coped with everything well and I think it showed,” Stevenson said. “It didn’t matter, nobody being able to come, none of that stuff mattered. I was just focused on my fight. So it wasn’t as bad as people would think.
“It was actually cool. It was a little weird, the fact that I got him with solid, solid punches and I’d be looking for like a reaction from the crowd (because I usually get that after like a solid shot). But I didn’t get no reaction… I kind of just stepped into my zone and said, forget it. I focused more on that people were watching me on TV.”
He rates the knockout itself as a highlight. “Just because of the set up. I looked left first, caught him with a left body shot and then I look right, touch that side and finally [punched] through. I caught him in between his punch. That was one of my favourites, just the set up, and showing my inside work, and showing there’s more to my game that I’m not just a defensive fighter. I’ve got offence too. That was my main thing going in there. To show people I can throw these hands too,” Stevenson said.
He had something to prove. That he wasn’t just a defensive maestro but that he “can also fight. I’m a fighter also”.
An Olympic silver medallist when he was only a teenager, those who have trained with Stevenson or shared a ring with him have high praise for him. Shakur has only just turned 23 too. He is young. His power will continue to develop, he will continue to improve. He won his first world title, the WBO featherweight belt last year although his most recent contest was up at super-feather. He has plans already to begin a move up through the weight classes. “I felt strong. I think 130lbs is kind of my weight. I caught him with a hook early on and I could feel the body shots I’m sitting down on,” Shakur said. “I felt real good at 130.
“I don’t want no defence of the title unless it’s a big fight. I’ve got to talk with my team and see how they feel also but I don’t know if I’ll fight again at 126 unless it’s like [Josh] Warrington. If it’s not Warrington then I don’t really see the point of fighting at 126lbs. I think ’30 is more my weight now.”
The thought of travelling to Leeds to take on Warrington in a WBO and IBF unification in front of a hostile crowd appeals to Stevenson. “I would rather fight him with the crowd. I wouldn’t even want to fight him without his crowd. I think it’ll help him to his advantage and I’m the type of person who’d rather fight you at your best, when you’re feeling good. Just so after you can understand. I don’t want hear no excuses, I want to hear ‘Shakur is that good’. That’s all I want to hear after the fight,” the American said. “That would be like a setting that I would love. I think that would be the type of setting to turn me into a superstar and the kind of star that I would want to be. But I don’t know which way Warrington will go. Warrington seems like he’ll go the Can Xu way. If we don’t fight now, later we’ll end up fighting. There’s not too much left at 126 anyway, so if I move up I’m pretty sure he’ll be right after me going up to ’30.
“Don’t get me wrong, Warrington’s a good fighter. I think he’s a smaller fighter. I think that he’s coming straight forward. He’s saying he’s going to do it smartly if we fight but I don’t think that will help him. I think it will end up being a Floyd Mayweather-Ricky Hatton type of fight. You’ve seen what happened with Floyd and Ricky and how it ended. It’ll have its own different tune to it but similar styles.”
There are richly appealing targets for him in the super-featherweight division. He wants to go straight into fights with Leo Santa Cruz, Miguel Berchelt or Oscar Valdez, in that order of preference. “I think I need to. I think I’m ready. I think that [Caraballo] fight there showed I need somebody on my level to be in the ring with me. You can’t have people that’s not on my level in the ring with me because it’s going to end really bad. So I think it kind of showed. I need that competition. I don’t mind it. I love competition,” he said. “Those type of [lower level] guys, they can’t do nothing with me, they’re just tuning me up and getting me more ready. So I think that Santa Cruz will be a fight that will be a big fight for me and I will enjoy that.
“I think he’s got the biggest name at 130lbs. I think he’s got the biggest name and biggest fan base. He can sell an arena and stuff like that so, I think that he’s the perfect person for me to make my mark at 130.”
Bob Arum, Stevenson’s promoter, told Boxing News previously that, in this new post-pandemic world, business rivals in boxing will need to cooperate. He specifically referred to working with Al Haymon, the influential advisor of Leo Santa Cruz among others. That’s something Stevenson himself is pushing for. “Bob and Al can come together and we can make something happen,” he says. “I think we need to start looking at Santa Cruz and Berchelt, Valdez and all these guys. I think it’s that time.”
Stevenson adds, “I think I would go for Santa Cruz first and if I can’t get Santa Cruz, I see a lot of people saying Berchelt, Berchelt, Berchelt and they don’t know if I’m ready for Berchelt. I’d tell them the same thing I say. I love people telling me don’t fight this guy. I think Berchelt would be the next person I’d go after. I definitely don’t want to wait around. I’m not going to get too much out of waiting around.”
He has an ambitious vision for his future. He wants to take over the sport and is giving himself about five years to do it. He explained his forecast: “Five years’ time I want to be number one on the pound-for-pound list. I have won several titles in several different weight classes… I just want to be the alpha dog of the sport. I want to be the superstar, the top guy, the last man standing and they can’t get me out of there. They can’t find a way to beat me. I want to be that guy.”
His goals are clear, and he has the talent. But making it to that exalted level is a long, hard path and he would have to stick to the course. “I think for a lot of other athletes I’ve came across and seen, I think it’s real hard for them. They get this fame and this money on the course to stardom they let off the gas. They start focusing on the wrong stuff and the stuff that don’t matter. I think with me, like I told you, I’m different. I love the sport of boxing so all I think about is the sport of boxing. I want to be somebody and [know] what I want to be in life so I think that that helps me stay focused on what I’m supposed to do. It helps me not follow the distractions that you’re talking about and not go the other route when I know I got something ahead in my future,” he said. “I think that I just need to stay focused and fight the best competition available and I think I’ll become that superstar, that top fighter I want to be.”
A superstar though would need a super-fight. In five years’ time he can see himself meeting Vasiliy Lomachenko, the leading fighter in the sport today, up at lightweight. “Depending on how Lomachenko keep doing, we don’t know if he’s going to start slowing down because of his age. But if he’s still the same Lomachenko, doing the same things that he’s been doing, I can see me and him being like that Pacquiao-Mayweather type of fight and the whole world begging for that fight and wanting to see that fight and me and him making it happen for the right type of money. Me and him have already been in the ring before so we’ve got a little history,” Stevenson said.
They sparred one another ahead of Lomachenko’s fight with Guillermo Rigondeaux in 2017. “I ain’t going to speak on sparring but the only thing I will say is Lomachenko is extremely competitive. He’s real competitive and that’s one thing I enjoy about Lomachenko,” Shakur said. “I think Lomachenko’s the type that does not take no for an answer. A lot of people will take no for an answer… But he’s the type of person that will not take no for an answer. He will not give up control so I like how competitive he is. He is really competitive in a boxing ring.”
That competitive drive is something Stevenson shares with him. It might just carry the young American all the way to the top.