By Thomas Gerbasi
To any other 19-year-old, the Instagram post could have been just another picture. For Shakur Stevenson, his post 22 weeks ago was a mission statement.
“It was just a regular picture of me,” he explains. “I didn’t have on any chains or watches and I feel like a lot of boxers are taking the wrong stuff and I want to be somebody that’s great in my sport. So I posted a long caption about that and that’s where chasing greatness came from.”
“Chasing greatness.” It’s a phrase not heard too often these days from the young guns in this or any other sport. “Chasing paychecks” might be a more apt phrase, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting the nice things in life and trying to take the best opportunities possible to feed a family and provide for them. But to go after more than that, to test the boundaries of what’s possible and cement a legacy as one of the best, that’s some mature stuff from a teenager.
So it’s no wonder that Andre Ward stepped in as a manager of the Newark native and Top Rank came on board to promote him. Stevenson appears to have the right stuff, and now it’s just a waiting game to see if he delivers.
The next step is a Saturday night bout at Madison Square Garden against Carlos Gaston Suarez. It’s Stevenson’s second walk to the pro ring, coming less than a month after his pro debut against Edgar Brito in Carson, California. That one got ugly at time, with Brito going into his bag of tricks to foul Stevenson and try to rattle him. It didn’t work, and Stevenson owes that to the amateur background that took him to the 2016 Olympics and earned him a silver medal.
“I was blessed to get the experience that I have, and there were guys who started getting beat up in the fights so they started headbutting me and doing a lot of dirty stuff,” he said. “So I was already prepared for that. I just feel like the world got to see a little bit more of me.”
This Saturday and beyond will likely produce more of the same from fighters eager to make a name for themselves at Stevenson’s expense, and when they can’t match him skill for skill, they’ll decide to use whatever means necessary to slow the hot prospect down. But Stevenson is unbothered by being someone with a target on his back from here on out.
“I’m very comfortable with that,” he said. “I feel like in the amateurs, also, I was the top guy in the U.S. for a long time, so there were a lot of people after me and a lot of people that wanted to beat me and who wanted to try me out and test me out. And it barely worked for anybody, so I’m comfortable with that target, and Saturday night, I can’t wait to put on another show.”
You can hear the excitement in his voice when he talks about getting back in the ring, even after a long day of interviews that come with being boxing’s next big thing. It’s between the ropes where he can do his thing and get on with that chasing greatness business, and even though he was crushed by his loss in the Olympics to Cuba’s Robeisy Ramirez, it wasn’t about to keep him from pursuing his pro dreams.
“I knew I was gonna turn professional,” he said. “I knew that all the greats that went to the Olympics like Roy (Jones Jr.) and Evander (Holyfield), they all went pro. So I knew it was my time.”
Both Jones and Holyfield went on to epic careers despite leaving the Olympics without gold, and Stevenson expects to do the same after taking a much needed break after Rio.
“I think I needed that break,” he said. “I was really hurt after the Olympics, I was sad about losing and my mind wasn’t all the way there. So that break definitely was needed, but everything happened the way it was supposed to happen and everything was perfect timing.”
Now it’s on to Saturday night, or as he posted 22 weeks ago:
I'm not like normal people my age... I don't really care for the lifestyle that everyone is chasing! I just wanna do what I love to do which is box and feed my family and keep us in a reasonable situation for the rest of our lives! Forget the lifestyle it's not about that! That doesn't last forever... I want my future grandchildren to know their grandfather was a legend. #ForgetAChain #ForgetAWatch #ChasingGreatness