LAS VEGAS – Shakur Stevenson handled Oscar Valdez just as easily Saturday night as the confident southpaw always predicted he would.
Stevenson’s superior skill and speed enabled the emerging two-division champion mostly to pick apart the previously undefeated Valdez during their 130-pound title unification fight before an announced crowd of 10,102 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. A consistently sharp Stevenson, who closed as an 8-1 favorite at MGM Grand’s sportsbook, recorded a knockdown during the sixth round and overwhelmingly won a unanimous decision in a main event ESPN televised.
Judges Tim Cheatham (117-110), Dave Moretti (118-109) and David Sutherland (118-109) scored Stevenson a convincing winner. CompuBox’s unofficial statistics also reflected a relatively easy victory for Stevenson, whom CompuBox credited for landing 79 more punches than Valdez (189-of-580 to 110-of-508).
Stevenson (18-0, 9 KOs) became a unified 130-pound champion in just his 18th professional fight. He defended the WBO junior lightweight title he won when he stopped Jamel Herring in the 10th round of his previous fight and captured the WBC super featherweight title from Mexico’s Valdez (30-1, 23 KOs).
“Oscar Valdez is a tough champion,” Stevenson told ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna in the ring. “I don’t take nothing away from him. He’s got good power. He’s rough, rugged, and he’ll be a champion after this.”
Stevenson proposed to his girlfriend, who accepted his proposal between questions from Osuna.
The 24-year-old Stevenson, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist from Newark, New Jersey, also became the first fighter to defeat the 31-year-old Valdez since the Nogales native was eliminated at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
“I mean, he has great boxing skills,” Valdez said. “That’s just it. He was just the better fighter this night. That’s just it. … Like I said, he’s a great fighter. Speed’s there, his power’s there. He was just a better fighter tonight, like I said. You know, he, overall, a great, great fighter.”
By the time the 12th round began, Valdez obviously needed a knockout to win. He was aggressive at times in those final three minutes, yet Stevenson continued to out-box Valdez during the 12th round.
Stevenson drew boos from the crowd when, once he heard the 10-second warning, he ran around the ring and flexed his muscles, whereas a dejected Valdez just waited for the final few seconds of their fight to tick away.
Stevenson opened up in combination on Valdez with just over 30 seconds remaining in the 11th round.
Valdez landed multiple punches on the inside when they fought near Stevenson’s corner early in the 10th round. Stevenson hit Valdez with several left hands to the body that slowed down the former champion in the second half of the 10th round.
Valdez went after Stevenson’s body early in the ninth round, but Stevenson countered with a left hand to Valdez’s head that stopped him from punching. Stevenson started to pick apart Valdez with various punches just after the halfway point of the ninth round.
A little less than a minute into the eighth round, Stevenson landed a hard left to the body that Valdez claimed was low. Valdez struggled again during the eighth round to mount much offense on the elusive Stevenson.
Valdez was more aggressive in the seventh round than he had been in previous rounds. He landed two right hands in the final minute of that round that made Stevenson move away from him.
Stevenson scored what Bayless called a knockdown approximately 30 seconds into the sixth round. Valdez complained that it shouldn’t have counted as a knockdown once he reached his feet, but Stevenson seemed to hit him with a short right after Valdez lunged and missed Stevenson with a left hand that sent him into the ropes and left him in a vulnerable position.
Stevenson sensed that a vulnerable Valdez was ready to go and attacked once the action resumed. Valdez’s trademark toughness got him through that troublesome moment and enabled him to reach the seventh round.
Valdez landed two right hands when Stevenson backed into a neutral corner barely a minute into the fifth round. Stevenson held Valdez to halt that momentum and brought their fight back to the center of the ring.
A right hand by Valdez connected with about 30 seconds to go in the fifth round. Stevenson responded by landing two flush left hands in the final 10 seconds of that fifth round.
Stevenson caught Valdez with a right hook a little less than a minute into the fourth round. Stevenson complained to Bayless about a clash of heads at the midway mark of the fourth round, at which point Valdez attacked him.
As soon as the fourth round ended, Stevenson protested again to Bayless because he said Valdez used the laces of his glove.
Stevenson landed a left to Valdez’s body early in the third round. Valdez connected with back-to-back right hands later in the opening minute of the third round.
With just over 1:10 to go in the third round, Stevenson caught Valdez with a straight left as Valdez tried to work his way inside.
A right hook by Stevenson made Valdez reset his feet barely 20 seconds into the second round. With just under two minutes to go in the second round, Stevenson drilled Valdez with a counter left that got Valdez’s attention.
Valdez pressured Stevenson in the final minute of the second round, but Stevenson’s hand speed made it difficult for him to get into any kind of rhythm.
With the crowd chanting his first name at times, Valdez tried to work his way inside of Stevenson’s jab during the first round. He had little success as Stevenson fought effectively off his back foot.
A straight left by Stevenson knocked Valdez off balance with just over 20 seconds on the clock in the opening round.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.