Shakur Stevenson is rapidly approaching the midway point of the WBC rankings in search of his next opponent.
The unbeaten former two-division titlist is now on his fourth targeted opponent for a WBC lightweight final elimination bout eyed for the first quarter of 2023. Efforts to secure a fight with top-rated lightweight Isaac Cruz (24-2-1, 17KOs), unbeaten contender William Zepeda (27-0, 23KOs) and former lineal and unified champion George Kambosos Jr. each ended in declined offers for a variety of reasons.
Per WBC rules, Stevenson is required to face the highest ranked available contender. The search will now lead to Japan’s Shuichiro Yoshino (16-0, 12KOs), the number-six contender in the current WBC lightweight rankings. Number-seven ranked Jamaine Ortiz—a Domini-Rican based out of Worcester, Massachusetts—is on stand-by in the event that Yoshino also passes on the opportunity.
BoxingScene.com has learned that interest has been expressed by both boxers in taking the fight. What their teams ultimately decide is what matters most, a lesson learned when the previously willing Zepeda was removed from the mix once Top Rank (Stevenson) and Golden Boy Promotions (Zepeda) were instructed to discuss such a fight.
“[Third] person turned me down and I haven’t even fought one fight at 135,” Stevenson stated through social media. “No Kambosos fight either… let’s see who’s next.”
The eventual final eliminator will determine the WBC mandatory challenger to undisputed lightweight champion Devon Haney (29-0, 15KOs), who is in talks for a springtime clash with former three-division titlist Vasiliy Lomachenko.
Mexico City’s Cruz was the highest ranked challenger at the time of the WBC order for a title eliminator. Lomachenko holds the number-one spot, with Cruz and Stevenson next in line and instructed to enter talks during the annual WBC convention this past November in Acapulco, Mexico.
However, Cruz's team immediately opted to instead go the IBF route. It is theorized that Haney will eventually move up to the 140-pound junior welterweight division. Once that happens, Cruz will likely face IBF mandatory challenger Gustavo Lemos for the vacant belt. Another scenario would be to fight for an approved interim IBF title while waiting out Haney’s next move.
The search then led to Zepeda, who was fresh off a dominant twelve-round win over former IBF 130-pound titlist Joseph ‘JoJo’ Diaz on October 29 in San Diego. The unbeaten Mexican insisted through social media that he was eager to face Stevenson, going as far as to demand that the former two-division champ send a contract to sign.
Stevenson’s team immediately called the bluff, after which point it was learned that Golden Boy has other—though undisclosed—immediate plans for its rising lightweight contender.
Sydney’s Kambosos was next on the list, though a longshot to take such a fight after back-to-back defeats to Haney. The first loss in June ended the Aussie’s lineal/WBA/IBF/WBO lightweight championship reign, while also coming up well short in their October rematch.
Kambosos won the belts in a twelve-round decision victory over Teofimo Lopez last November, a fight that literally took all year to become a reality. Between the ordeal in making that fight, coupled with back-to-back grueling training camps, he understandably declined the invitation to enter talks for a straightaway fight with Stevenson.
The possibility of meeting at some point down the road, however, is very much on the table.
“I done a hell of a lot at 135, especially in a year,” Kambosos stated in a reply to Stevenson’s declaration of a third lightweight fight falling through during the negotiation period. “I’m on well deserved holidays with my kids, anticipating my return mid next year.
“No one can question a damn thing after the year I had & the blood I gave to boxing. Full respect Shakur, I feel an end of year WAR coming in 2023.”
It is now onto Yoshino, who has fully transitioned from prospect to contender.
The 31-year-old from Tokyo began 2022 with a technical decision win over countryman and former WBO junior lightweight titlist Masayuki Ito on April 9 at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. The same venue housed Yoshino’s latest win on November 1, a sixth-round stoppage of countryman and divisional gatekeeper Masayoshi Nakatani.
A fight with Stevenson would represent a massive step up in class along with a likely road trip to the United States. Yoshino has fought exclusively in Japan through seven years as a pro.
Should the search extend past Yoshino, there is a willing challenger in Ortiz (16-1-1, 8KOs), The 26-year-old New England native is coming off a “good” loss, pushing Lomachenko to the limit in a twelve-round, unanimous decision defeat on October 29 at Madison Square Garden Hulu Theater in New York City. The ESPN+ headliner was preceded by his best win to date, a ten-round decision over former WBO 130-pound titlist Jamel Herring on May 21 in Las Vegas.
Stevenson (19-0, 9KOs)—an Olympic Silver medalist for the U.S. during 2016 Rio —officially moved up to lightweight immediately after his twelve-round points win over Robson Conceicao.
The September 23 bout was intended as a lineal/WBC/WBO junior lightweight championship title defense. However, Stevenson missed weight and was forced to vacate just one fight after soundly outclassing WBC 130-pound titlist Oscar Valdez in their April 30 unification bout between unbeaten titlists at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox
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