The next goal for Shakur Stevenson is to become a two-division titlist.
A big step has been taken on the path to bringing that vision to life, as the 23-year old southpaw from Newark, New Jersey has officially abandoned his featherweight title reign in favor of a run at junior lightweight. The move was acknowledged by the World Boxing Organization (WBO), whose 126-pound crown Stevenson (14-0, 8KOs)has held since a 12-round whitewash of Joet Gonzalez last October.
With the move came a formal request to be positioned to challenge for the WBO 130-pound title at his leisure.
“On July 7, Shakur wrote to the WBO to notify this sanctioning body that he was having serious difficulties making the division’s 126-pound limit,” confirmed the sanctioning body in an official statement. “Because of this, he decided to move up in weight requested to be ranked in the Junior Lightweight (130 pound) division, where Jamel Herring is the current WBO ruler.”
Francisco “Paco” Valcárcel, longtime president of the WBO confirmed that the unbeaten rising young star will be installed as the number-one contender in the junior lightweight division.
Stevenson ends his eight-plus month title reign without having made a title defense.
One was planned on March 14, where a scheduled voluntary defense versus Colombia’s Miguel Marriaga was to serve as the final fight at featherweight. The bout–to have headlined a Top Ran Boxing on ESPN show live from Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater in New York City—never saw the light of day, as the event was among the first to have been shut down due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Stevenson—who captured a Silver medal for the 2016 U.S. Olympic boxing team which competed in Rio—returned to the ring this past June, headlining the first show to be televised from stateside. It came in the form of his debut at junior lightweight, scoring a 6th round knockout of Puerto Rico’s Felix Caraballo on a June 9 show which aired live on ESPN from a crowdless MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.
Despite growing speculation that he was moving up for good, Stevenson entered the bout as the recognized WBO featherweight titlist. His next ring appearance will mark the first without a title around his waist since a homecoming showcase last July in Newark, though with the intention of moving quickly toward a second divisional title.
“I look forward in the very near future to fighting for another World Championship within the WBO,” declared Stevenson.
Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete (32-1, 28KO)—who recently vacated his WBO junior featherweight title—will be first in line to compete for the now-available WBO featherweight strap. The current next highest-rated challenger is Belfast’s Michael Conlan (13-0, 7KOs), a two-time Olympian and 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist.
Following the unbeaten Conlan are Salinas, California’s Ruben Villa (18-0, 5KOs), England’s Ryan Walsh (26-2-2, 12KOs) and Las Vegas’ Jessie Magdaleno (28-1, 18KOs), a former 122-pound titlist.
A major shakeup could come as the WBO ratings have not been updated since mid-March. The Puerto Rico-based sanctioning body closed its shop due to the ongoing global health crisis, re-opening its San Juan office in mid-June.
Of the five aforementioned featherweight contenders, Navarrete and Magdaleno are the only two boxers to have fought over that stretch.
Navarette stopped overmatched countryman Uriel Lopez in the 6th round of a June 20 non-title fight in Mexico City, marking his official arrival at featherweight. The bout came nine days after Magdaleno picked up his third straight win at featherweight, when Yenifel Vicente was disqualified in the 10th and final round of their June 11 ESPN headliner in Las Vegas.
Growing speculation has called for a potential vacant title fight between Navarrete and Magdaleno.
Meanwhile, Stevenson will be among the interested observers for Tuesday’s ESPN telecast in Las Vegas. Headlining the show, Herring (21-2, 10KOs) attempts the second defense of the WBO 130-pound crown as the 34-year old southpaw from Coram, New York faces Jonathan Oquendo (31-6, 19KOs), a former title challenger from Vega Alta, Puerto Rico.
Stevenson and Herring have frequently trained together, but it has become abundantly clear that any friendship can be put on hold when it comes to business.
“I don’t care who’s at 130,” Stevenson declared. “This is my weight class now.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox