Shakur Stevenson’s debut at 130 pounds played out as expected Tuesday night.
The unbeaten WBO featherweight champion mostly toyed with Felix Caraballo before stopping his overmatched opponent with a body shot in the sixth round of their non-title fight at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. The 22-year-old Stevenson essentially took target practice on the courageous Caraballo until his left to Caraballo’s body ended their scheduled 10-rounder.
With Caraballo on his gloves and knees, writhing in pain, referee Tony Weeks stopped their ESPN main event at 1:31 of the sixth round.
Stevenson, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist from Newark, New Jersey, improved to 14-0 and produced his eighth knockout. Stevenson, who was consistently listed as at least a 100-1 favorite, made his debut at the junior lightweight limit of 130 pounds.
Caraballo (13-2-2, 9 KOs), of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, lost by knockout for the first time in six years as a pro.
“I came here to get him out of there,” Stevenson said. “My mindset was focused on getting him out of there. I hit him with everything I could early. I wobbled him a bunch of times. He took a lot of punishment, and I started realizing that the head shots wasn’t gonna get him out of there. So, I started going to the body more. … He opened up wide, and I caught him with a clean punch, caught him right in the middle of the shot.”
Stevenson won each of the first five rounds on all three scorecards (50-44, 50-44, 50-43). He knocked down Caraballo twice, once apiece in the first and sixth rounds.
“What a magnificent performance by Shakur Stevenson,” Bob Arum, Stevenson’s promoter, said. “He keeps getting better and, rest assured, he is a future pound-for-pound superstar.”
Stevenson’s victory came in boxing’s first televised main event in the United States since March 13, when Showtime aired fights from Hinckley, Minnesota. Countless cards, including a show Stevenson was scheduled to headline, have been canceled or postponed since then due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 33-year-old Caraballo took this steep step up in competition on less than four weeks’ notice. He had won five consecutive fights entering this bout, but against fighters far inferior to Stevenson.
He took two weeks off from his full-time job at a supermarket warehouse to wrap up training camp and to travel to Las Vegas for fight week.
Caraballo gave it everything he could for five-plus rounds, but Stevenson overwhelmed him in the sixth round.
Weeks called for a break with 1:59 to go in the sixth round after Stevenson landed a low right hand to Caraballo’s groin. About 20 seconds later, Stevenson delivered the precise punch that ended their fight.
Stevenson snapped back Caraballo’s head with a right-uppercut, straight-left combination toward the end of the fifth round. At one point in the fifth round, Stevenson shook his left hand after landing it on Caraballo’s head.
Caraballo continued to take head and body shots in a one-sided fourth round. Caraballo came forward again in the third round, but the faster, accurate Stevenson picked him apart throughout those three minutes.
After flooring Caraballo in the first round, Stevenson spent most of the second round blasting Caraballo with straight lefts and right hooks. Caraballo pressed forward, but he couldn’t land flush punches on Stevenson.
Caraballo tried to smother Stevenson as soon as their fight started. Stevenson quickly established some distance and unloaded head and body shots on Caraballo for much of the remainder of the first round.
Caraballo went down to one knee with 50 seconds to go in the opening round. Caraballo claimed he was tripped, but his own legs got tangled after Stevenson hit him with a right hand to his body.
Stevenson fought for the first time since he soundly defeated Joet Gonzalez to capture the then-unclaimed WBO featherweight title October 26 at Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nevada. Stevenson, then the WBO’s number one contender, beat the second-ranked Gonzalez (23-1, 14 KOs) by unanimous decision in a 12-round fight for the crown Oscar Valdez vacated to move up to the junior lightweight division.
Stevenson still hasn’t defended that title. His first defense against Colombia’s Miguel Marriaga (29-3, 25 KOs), scheduled for March 14 at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater in New York, was canceled the night of March 12 once the coronavirus crisis intensified.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.