By Cliff Rold
This Saturday night, 22-year old featherweight prospect and 2016 Olympic silver medalist Shakur Stevenson (11-0, 6 KO) goes home to Newark for the first time. The 22-year old might just be finding what could be a profitable home base. The Prudential Center has solid history as a boxing venue in the decade and change since it opened its doors, starting with several Tomas Adamek battles.
Top Rank, Stevenson’s promoter, in recent years has effectively burnished the drawing power of Terence Crawford and Jose Ramirez in Nebraska and Central California. Stevenson, in an east coast city not far from the Big Apple, could duplicate that success and more.
Stevenson may be able to do even more.
Saturday night, he will have the main event spotlight on a nationally televised ESPN card (10:30 PM EST), facing Mexico’s 28-year old Alberto Guevara (27-4, 12 KO). Guevara is coming off a decision loss to Hugo Ruiz in January but is a reliably sturdy test. His lone stoppage came at the hands of one of the better bantamweights of the last twenty years, Shinsuke Yamanaka, in 2013.
The loss to Yamanaka Was Guevara’s second failed title shot after losing a wide decision to Leo Santa Cruz in 2012. Guevara’s only other defeat was a ten-round disappointment to future bantamweight titlist Emmanuel Rodriguez. He hasn’t lost below the world-class level yet.
Add it all together and Guevara, who is a late replacement, provides Stevenson potential value by way of comparison-shopping. No matter how many examples inform fight followers not to look at one result and compare it to another, it’s inevitable. Should Stevenson stop him in early, dominant fashion, it will be a nice early feather in his cap. Guevara only loses to very good fighters so a win would make it easy to assume Stevenson in that company.
It’s already pretty easy to assume that.
Stevenson is a talented young man.
An increasing number of fans, pundits, trainers, and fighters are vocalizing that they think Stevenson might be on the cusp of big things. BoxingScene contributor Stephen Edwards tweeted he thinks Stevenson has the most potential in the sport.
The sanctioning body ratings speak to more than potential. Ready or not, Stevenson is in position to challenge for almost every belt at 126 lbs. sooner than later. Only the WBC has Stevenson outside of the top 15. He’s the leading, if not yet mandatory, contender in the WBA, IBF, and WBO ratings.
The ‘super’ WBA belt, their primary world title and the only one that should get any oxygen, is around the waist of Leo Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is still with the PBC so he’s not likely to be facing Stevenson soon. Stevenson has called for a shot at IBF titlist Josh Warrington; WBO titlist Oscar Valdez is, like Stevenson, promoted by Top Rank so they could be viable foes though it may be more realistic at a point when both are at 130 lbs.
Make the safe assumption featherweight won’t be the final destination for Stevenson if he keeps winning. Tall for the weight class, Stevenson has a frame that could easily take him to lightweight by his mid-20s. How much higher he can go beyond lightweight is hard to envision. While he’s listed at 5’8, there still aren’t a ton of guys who were featherweight in their 20s who effectively grew much beyond the lightweight class. It’s true even in the day before weigh-in era.
He could always surprise and stay near featherweight for several years.
So what might we be on the cusp of with the career of Stevenson? Some legal troubles related to a street fight in a garage raised eyebrows have resolved; if trouble stays at bay, the in-ring questions will get their answers. Still only eleven fights into his career, Stevenson has plenty to prove before the projections and conjecture get carried away.
But some talents make it hard not to wonder where the journey of their career is headed. Is this a kid whose talent will ultimately be greater than his accomplishment? Is he a future multi-division titlist? Will his size put a ceiling on how big a star he can become even if he does tremendous things in the ring?
We don’t know yet. All we know for now is he’s made it from Olympian to main event on a major cable outlet and he’s on the cusp of something more. Finding out how much more is part of the fun.
There are so many shows on this weekend between television and various streaming platforms it could be almost overwhelming for a genuine fight fanatic. The Picks of the Week will be back before the weekend to help sort it out…The G-1 show last weekend was a blast. Wrestling fans certainly have more to pick from near the mainstream than they have in years…For anyone who missed it, do yourself a favor and check out Tom Gerbasi’s excellent column yesterday, “The Worst Summer Ever – Ten Years Later.” It’s one of the best reads of 2019…The build for Thurman-Pacquiao hasn’t been particularly organic or memorable, but the fight still looks damn good on paper and that’s good enough.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org