RENO, Nevada – Shakur Stevenson senses that their fight Saturday night is much more personal for Joet Gonzalez than it is for him.
That’s understandable, of course, considering Stevenson has been dating Gonzalez’s younger sister for the past three years. Gonzalez told BoxingScene.com last month that Stevenson isn’t “good enough” for Jajaira Gonzalez, an aspiring Olympic boxer, and made his dislike for his next opponent perfectly clear.
Stevenson won’t even acknowledge that this surreal storyline exists. The 2016 Olympic silver medalist made it known as soon as this fight was announced that the topic of his relationship with Jajaira Gonzalez and her family is off limits.
Their 12-round fight for the vacant WBO featherweight title is very personal for Stevenson for another reason, though. Three years later, this championship chance also represents the undefeated southpaw’s opportunity to right what went wrong in Rio de Janeiro.
It’s the enormous moment Stevenson has sought since Cuba’s Robeisy Ramirez defeated him, 2-1, in the bantamweight final at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“Winning a world title definitely will mean a lot and it’s definitely gonna happen,” Stevenson told BoxingScene.com prior to a press conference Thursday. “This is the moment I’ve been waiting for my whole life. Even after the Olympics, after I failed in the Olympics, I told myself that once this moment came, I wasn’t gonna fail.
“I feel like my first [social media] post after I lost, it was what I said. ‘I failed at this one, but I promise you once I get a chance to fight for a world title, I’m not gonna fail.’ So, I’ve been constantly thinking about that moment now that this moment’s here. I think it’s gonna help me out a lot.”
As much as Stevenson laments losing to Ramirez, as well as the well-documented emotional moment during his televised post-fight interview, the 22-year-old contender doesn’t believe he was robbed.
“I can’t really say I won the fight,” Stevenson said. “I feel it was a close fight that could’ve went either way. If you leave it in the judges’ hands, that’s what’ll happen. But I feel like this Saturday, I’m definitely not gonna leave it in the judges’ hands. I’m glad that everything happened the way it happened at that time, because now that I’m here, I kind of think that moment’s gonna be playing in my head and it’s gonna motivate me.”
His Olympic loss already has motivated him throughout the journey toward the biggest night of professional life.
“Being that I trained my whole life for one thing, and being that I lost, it kind of hurt me a lot,” Stevenson said. “I hurt a lot after that. So, now that I’m fighting for a world title, I feel like I’m getting a second chance. I’ve got another opportunity to do something really big. I’m about to do what I always do, shine in big moments, so I won’t ever let that happen to me again. This time, it’s about to be a big difference.”
In his most recent “big moment,” Stevenson decisively defeated Puerto Rico’s Christopher Diaz (24-2, 16 KOs) by unanimous decision in a 10-rounder that represented a step up in competition April 20 at Madison Square Garden. That victory took place on the undercard of WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford’s sixth-round, technical-knockout win against Amir Khan.
Stevenson credits Crawford for mentoring him and helping him learn various aspects of the pro game over the past 2½ years. When they’re in camp at the same time, they typically train together in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“He’s learned a lot,” Crawford said. “And he’s getting stronger and stronger, and he’s getting better and better. Each time that I see him in camp, I say, ‘Oh, you’re filling out into a professional now.’ At first, he didn’t wanna stay in the pocket, and just little things that he used to do were still amateurish, and now he doesn’t do that. He’s sitting down on his shots more. He’s basically getting comfortable in the ring, being a professional.”
Crawford will watch intently from ringside Saturday night at Reno-Sparks Convention Center, the venue from which ESPN+ will stream Stevenson-Gonzalez at approximately 11 p.m. EDT/8 p.m. PDT.
“I really don’t know too much about [Gonzalez],” Crawford said. “But given that everybody that I ask what they think about him, the people who’ve seen him fight, they say he’s a good fighter. This is gonna be Shakur’s toughest opponent to date. With that being said, you can’t do nothing but respect the fighter he’s going up against. But I’m 100-percent sure that Shakur is gonna walk away with the victory. He’s so talented and ready for the moment.”
Odds-makers have installed Stevenson (12-0, 7 KOs), who’s ranked No. 1 by the WBO, as a 5-1 favorite to defeat the second-ranked Gonzalez (23-0, 14 KOs). The 26-year-old Gonzalez, of Glendora, California, is much more mindful of his experience edge and the circuitous route he took toward his first world title shot than the odds.
“I most definitely had the harder road,” Gonzalez said Thursday during their final press conference. “He was an Olympic silver medalist. He got the fast track. He got [a title shot] in two years. It took me seven years. I’ve been pro since 2012, so I’ve had the longer road. I have more experience. I’m older, more mature, and I think that is gonna help me out Saturday night. … His biggest test, as a pro or an amateur, is obviously for a world title. He’s gonna have to do some crazy thing to beat me, because I’m not leaving Saturday without that belt.”
Stevenson still hasn’t forgotten leaving Brazil without a gold medal three years ago. He remembers how much that setback stung, and he promises he’s not about to let it happen again.
“It definitely sticks with me,” Stevenson said. “But I kind of got over it. Right after the Olympics, I was hurt for a long, long time. But now I’m kinda over it. I’m past that. I think I’m on a whole different level now. I’m focused on becoming a world champion and taking over the sport of boxing.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.