It’s been a long time since heavyweight prospect Stephan Shaw first put on a pair of boxing gloves, but he’s never forgotten them.
“I used to love just how gloves smelled,” laughs the unbeaten 27-year-old. “When I first started coming around boxing, my first pair of gloves were a pair of blue and white amateur competition TUF-Wear boxing gloves, and that was like my toy I took everywhere with me. Every time I went home, I had them on. There was something about boxing that stood out to me and I feel like there's no question why I'm doing what I'm doing.”
It could be that boxing is in his blood as the grandson of renowned St. Louis trainer Buddy Shaw, and it was in the gym with his grandfather that Shaw got the love of the game.
“I played everything,” he said. “I played baseball, basketball, football. And I was good at other things, but boxing was just something I gravitated to differently. Since three years old, I've been in the gym, looking at guys that my grandfather trained throughout the years, and a lot of that motivated me to box.”
And in the gym or out, Shaw couldn’t put those gloves down, even bringing them outside for some impromptu matches with his friends. Those didn’t last long.
“Once they boxed me, it was over with,” he laughs. “They said, ‘I'm not playing around with Stephan and those gloves. We're gonna play basketball or catch or something.’”
Shaw stuck with boxing, putting together a solid amateur career before turning pro in 2013. Since then, he’s had a good run, beating the usual suspects fed to young prospects, a few journeymen and a couple fellow prospects en route to a 13-0, 1 NC record.
It’s good, but not as good as Shaw wants it to be.
“I'm definitely itching now,” he said. “I've been pro for a little over six years now, but I haven't had the in-ring experience for a six-year guy. On average, six years in you'll think a guy will be 20-0, 21-0. I've only had 13 fights.”
Nine of those fights took place in his first three and a half years as a pro. That’s the bad news. The good news is that since signing with DiBella Entertainment in early 2018, he’s fought five times and was already tentatively scheduled for fights in April and June of this year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and put the world on pause.
That means while he’s staying in shape at home, the more important order of business is home schooling his seven-year-old son with his wife while their three-year-old tries to keep up with big bro.
“Anything his big brother does, he's right behind him, trying to do it,” laughs Shaw, who hopes to ultimately get back to the gym in California and his training with head coach Basheer Abdullah. But in the meantime, we’re all in the same lockdown.
“It's been tough,” he said. “I have a growing family now and it's been tough, but I'm staying positive.”
He should be, because when boxing does return to some sort of normalcy, Shaw has big plans for his career.
“I see myself slowly making my way out of being a top prospect and making my way into a contender,” he said. “I just gotta stay busy. Within these next few fights, I should be a legitimate contender and that's something I'm looking forward to. I'm looking towards all the big names in 2021 and I just want to end 2020 how I ended 2019, with nothing but impressive victories, and keep doing what I'm supposed to do.”
For Shaw, 2019 ended with a third-round stoppage of 15-2 Gregory Corbin in New York City in December. It was an impressive win, yet one that won’t necessarily propel him into the fights he wants this year because he’s too good for a tune-up fight and he doesn’t have the name to bring in the cash for a name opponent.
“I'm a low reward, high risk type of fighter for these top guys,” Shaw said. “I feel like I don't have my name up to the prestige of another guy that they would want to fight because fighting me won't bring them enough dollars for the high risk.”
That’s a dilemma facing many talented fighters on the cusp of something big but unable to pull in the name they need to get to the next level. Luckily for Shaw, he’s still young for a heavyweight, he’s still getting better, and he’s getting more than enough experience over the last few years training with a pair of heavyweight champions in Deontay Wilder and Andy Ruiz Jr.
“I sparred Andy Ruiz for the second Anthony Joshua fight, and it's been great sparring Deontay for the last three years,” said Shaw. “When we're in the ring, I feel like we're on the same level. I don't bow down to him, it's mutual respect and it's all love outside that ring. But when me and him work, we're not taking it easy on each other.”
It almost brings to mind the formative pro years of Larry Holmes, when he honed his craft in the gym with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Earnie Shavers. That’s an education you can’t buy, and in Shaw’s case, it gives him the confidence that he may just be laying the groundwork for real fights with guys like Wilder or Ruiz, just like Holmes eventually met up with Ali and Shavers.
“Absolutely, I feel the same way,” he said. “I’m sparring these guys and feeling one day down the line I could possibly fight these guys and be in position to beat these guys.”
All he wants is a chance, and he feels like he’s paid his dues. So is he ready? Well, he’s got power and when he lets his hands go, he throws combinations that you don’t see too often from guys who are 6-4, 250 pounds.
“We throw punches in bunches and everything is about a rhythm and fighting smart,” Shaw said. “We box a little bit and we fight a little bit. And when I say fight a little bit, that's why you're letting your hands go, but you're still being smart. And then you go back to your boxing. You settle it back down, get back to your stick, sizing him back up, see what you see and then when you see an opening, you run your combinations off.”
Those were old school lessons taught by his grandfather.
“I've always been a big guy, but I always tried to be competitive with the little guys,” he said. “When I was in the gym at eight, nine years old, all the other kids that age were smaller than me, so they were real fast. I would shadowbox with weights in my hands to get real fast and that just created the muscle memory to adapt as a grown man to have fast hands and throw accurate combinations.”
Family man. Boxer. Fighter. Prospect. All apply to Stephan Shaw, who wants the world to see just what he can do in the ring.
“I'm a young, hungry lion,” he said. “Just ready to keep the train going.”