RENO, Nevada – Joet Gonzalez surely said some things that bothered Shakur Stevenson during the unusual buildup toward their featherweight title fight.
Gonzalez couldn’t hurt Stevenson with any of his punches Saturday night, though. The skillful southpaw easily out-boxed the slower, limited Gonzalez in a grudge match complicated by Stevenson’s romantic relationship with Gonzalez’s younger sister, Jajaira Gonzalez.
All three judges scored their 12-round, 126-pound championship match for the unbeaten Stevenson, who won a unanimous decision and the WBO featherweight title in the main event of an ESPN+ stream from Reno-Sparks Convention Center. Eric Cheek, Glenn Feldman and Dave Moretti each scored 11 of the 12 rounds for Stevenson and had the Newark, New Jersey, native in front, 119-109, when it ended.
“I came here to Reno, closer to his hometown, and wiped him out,” said Stevenson (13-0, 7 KOs), who went 12 rounds for the first time. “So, it’s an amazing feeling, being that I grinded for this my whole life.”
Gonzalez (23-1, 14 KOs), of Glendora, California, rarely hit the elusive Stevenson with flush punches and spent much of the 12 rounds lunging forward, winging inaccurate punches at a moving target. When he did connect, Stevenson seemed to take those shots well.
“Oh, Joet a tough mother*cker,” Stevenson told ESPN’s Mark Kriegel in the ring. “I ain’t gonna lie to you, Joet tough as hell. But it’s nothing but respect for Joet. I don’t got nothing but respect for Joet. I don’t got nothing to be mad about with him. If he wanna be cool, I’ll be cool to him. All that was business. Like it was personal to him, but it was business to me.”
The 22-year-old Stevenson, who entered this fight as a 5-1 favorite, won the WBO featherweight title Oscar Valdez gave up nearly three months ago. Mexico’s Valdez (26-0, 20 KOs) moved up to the junior lightweight limit of 130 pounds, rather than making a mandatory defense versus Stevenson, the WBO’s No. 1 contender before winning its featherweight crown.
Gonzalez is ranked No. 2 in the WBO’s 126-pound ratings, which meant Stevenson had to fight him for the vacant title, despite that Stevenson is the boyfriend of Gonzalez’s sister. Jajaira Gonzalez is estranged from her family, including Joet Gonzalez and their father, Jose, who trains his son.
Stevenson still went over to commend Joet Gonzalez on his effort after their fight. Joet Gonzalez wasn’t receptive to talking to Stevenson in the ring.
“I told him that he a hell of a fighter,” Stevenson said. “He didn’t really wanna talk to me, but it is what it is. I ain’t trippin’.”
Stevenson, an Olympic silver medalist three years ago, won a world title in just his 13th professional fight. He feels his championship win Saturday night also atoned for his close loss to Cuba’s Robeisy Ramirez in the bantamweight gold medal match at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
By the 11th round, it was obvious Stevenson only would need to keep boxing and moving to cruise to winning his first world title. Gonzalez chased him around the ring again during those three minutes, but other than a left hook to the head late in the round couldn’t catch up with Stevenson.
Gonzalez followed Stevenson around the ring for much of the 10th round. He couldn’t catch Stevenson with the type of shot he needed, however, to change the course of their fight.
Stevenson landed to Gonzalez’s body about 20 seconds into the ninth round. Stevenson landed a right hook to the body and added a straight left downstairs in the same sequence later in the ninth.
Gonzalez had some success in the seventh round, but he couldn’t capitalize on that momentum in the eighth. Stevenson worked off his jab in that round and moved to keep Gonzalez from landing any significant shots.
Gonzalez finally landed a flush left hook and then a straight hand that backed Stevenson into a neutral corner halfway through the seventh round. Gonzalez gained confidence from that sequence and aggressively went after Stevenson for the remainder of that round.
A quick right hook by Stevenson knocked Gonzalez off balance with 1:40 to go in the sixth round. Nothing Gonzalez did during the first half of their fight seemed to work, as Stevenson was in complete command entering the scheduled second half of it.
A straight left by Stevenson landed to Gonzalez’s head right before the midway mark of the fifth round. Stevenson landed a hard jab, then eluded Gonzalez’s shots to his head and body.
Stevenson caught Gonzalez with a short right hook as Gonzalez pressed forward just before the halfway point of the fourth round. Gonzalez backed Stevenson into his own corner near the end of the fourth round, but Stevenson slipped a left hand, two right hands and spun out of that vulnerable position.
Stevenson landed a straight left up top as Gonzalez leaned forward in the first minute of the third round. The southpaw’s movement continued to trouble the slower Gonzalez for the remainder of the third round, which Stevenson completely controlled.
Referee Vic Drakulich warned both boxers to keep their punches up at the midway mark of the second round. Drakulich warned Gonzalez again for a low blow about 30 seconds later.
Stevenson landed a hard left to Gonzalez’s body shortly after Drakulich’s second warning.
Gonzalez crouched down and tried to get inside Stevenson’s jab with lunging rights throughout the first round, without any success. Stevenson snuck a right hook around Gonzalez’s guard late in the first round, and landed to the side of his head.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.