ESPN will televise Shakur Stevenson’s biggest fight to date Saturday night.
The unbeaten WBO junior lightweight champion hopes, however, that another impressive performance – this time against his most imposing opponent in 18 professional fights – will enhance his popularity among hardcore and casual boxing fans. During a conference call conducted through Zoom on Monday, Stevenson stated that he “most definitely” anticipates ascending to the pay-per-view level soon enough.
“I feel like this is a big fight,” Stevenson said. “I’m taking a big risk fighting somebody who’s 30-0, who’s also a champion. And I feel like, you know, depending on how I perform, I feel like the world gonna love me and I definitely can become a pay-per-view superstar. And I will become a pay-per-view superstar.”
Stevenson, a 24-year-old southpaw from Newark, New Jersey, dominated former WBO 130-pound champ Jamel Herring in his last fight. That 10th-round, technical-knockout victory was watched by an average audience of 1,233,000 and drew a peak audience of 1,264,000, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Valdez-Stevenson should draw higher viewership because it is considered a more competitive bout between unbeaten champions. ESPN’s three-fight telecast is scheduled to start at 10 p.m. ET from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
If Stevenson wins and a victory over the 31-year-old Valdez attracts viewership notably higher than his defeat of Herring, it could be an indicator of Stevenson’s readiness for pay-per-view. Stevenson is one of the best defensive, technically sound boxers in the sport, but he’d need an opponent considered capable of truly testing him to warrant a pay-per-view debut.
While Stevenson obviously aspires to perform on pay-per-view, a platform that typically leads to higher earnings for boxers, promoter Bob Arum emphasized the importance of ESPN airing a fight as noteworthy as Valdez-Stevenson live on the network.
“Well, when we signed Oscar, we knew he would be a premier fighter in the sport,” Arum said on the same conference call. “And when we signed Shakur, we knew that he would be a superstar in the sport. And it was always in the back of our mind that if the weights coincided, they would fight each other. I mean, they’re two great young men, two great fighters and it’s what the public wants to see. And I am so happy that, thanks to ESPN, we can do this fight without asking the public to pay additional money on pay-per-view. So, this is wonderful for the sport.”
Most sportsbooks list Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs) as at least a 5-1 favorite to defeat Mexico’s Valdez (30-0, 23 KOs), who owns the WBC super featherweight title.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.