By Thomas Gerbasi
Lincoln, Nebraska is a long way from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but Shakur Stevenson doesn’t mind.
A year ago, he was chasing a gold medal in the 2016 Olympics. Today, he’s chasing gold of a different sort in the pro boxing ring.
“It flew by fast,” the Silver medalist says of the last 12 months. “It feels like it was a couple months ago. I didn’t expect it to go by this fast.”
In that time, everything didn’t change, but almost everything could be an apt description. The 20-year-old from Newark, New Jersey signed a deal with Top Rank, won his first two fights, and now he’s in Nebraska getting ready for bout number three on Saturday against David Michel Paz.
He’s a pro now, the hype of his first two fights has died down, and he’s settling into a career many believe will result in at least one world championship.
“I feel like I’m starting to get better and better,” Stevenson said. “My first fight, I went six, my last fight didn’t even go to the second round and I feel like I’m going to have an amazing performance for this fight. I feel like I’m settling in good.”
What has also changed from the amateurs is his training, though he likes to maintain a team setting in the gym.
“The training changed a lot and it got a lot better for me because I do a lot of rounds of sparring,” he said. “We do that and we run a lot more miles now. It gets a lot harder, but I actually like it a lot. We’ve got some young amateurs in our gym and the focus is on all of us and we’re all helping each other and making each other better. I like it that way, honestly. I’m not a selfish person. I can be a team player too.”
For evidence of that, just ask Stevenson about his Team USA squad mate Claressa Shields, the two-time Olympic gold medalist who won her first world title as a pro with a fifth-round stoppage of Nikki Adler earlier this month. It’s the kind of win by a friend that can give a young prizefighter that itch to get his own championship hardware.
“Of course I’ve gotta be patient, but every time I watch Claressa fight, I get motivated and it makes me want to do more than I’m already doing,” Stevenson said. “I watched her fight and she looked amazing, and after watching that, it makes me want to go out there and put on an amazing performance too, so it definitely gave me that itch.”
But could Stevenson with just two pro fights, do what Shields did in four? Is talent and an extensive amateur career enough?
“I’m gonna let my managers and Top Rank handle that part of it, but my honest opinion, I feel like I can get in there with a lot of people, especially at 126,” he said. “I can get in there, go 12 rounds and check some of these names that are out there already.”
It’s an honest assessment from a young man who will have plenty of time to get where he’s going. And he’s in no rush. In fact, he’s been enjoying the ride.
“It’s been an amazing year and God has truly blessed me,” Stevenson said. “I’m glad I am who I am and I’m glad I went through what I went through in Brazil. This last year has been amazing as far as me helping out my family and putting myself in a better position.”
It has been some year. So what do the next few look like?
“The next few years, people are gonna start knowing my name a lot more,” he said. “I plan on taking over the sport of boxing. I’m a competitor, so there’s a lot of names in boxing out there already like Tank (Gervonta Davis), Errol Spence and Terence Crawford and my goal is to compete to be better than them. The next few years are gonna be big.”