Shakur Stevenson envisioned facing Josh Warrington this summer in what would’ve been the biggest fight of Stevenson’s career.
The unbeaten WBO featherweight champion even was willing to face Warrington in the popular British boxer’s hometown of Leeds, England. Stevenson viewed that title unification not only as an opportunity to add another featherweight championship to his resume, but as a chance to broaden his fan base in the United Kingdom, where boxing is very popular.
The 22-year-old Stevenson was caught off guard when Warrington and promoter Eddie Hearn revealed last month that Warrington would face China’s Can Xu next. Even if the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t put all of their careers on hold, Stevenson considered Warrington’s plan to face Xu evidence that Warrington wasn’t really willing to fight him.
“It definitely caught me by surprise because I feel like the fight that made the most sense was definitely me and Warrington, being that I’m an undefeated fighter, with a real title, no interim title,” Stevenson told BoxingScene.com. “And I’ve been calling Josh Warrington’s name since I was like 8-0. In my brain, I’m thinking me and him is the main fight [at featherweight].
“We’re the big fight, so for him to say he wanted to fight Can Xu, it kind of caught me off guard. It got me wondering about Josh, because I thought he had a lot of heart. I thought he had heart and I thought he was a fighter that wanted to fight the best and only the best. So, he kind of threw me off with that one.”
Stevenson (13-0, 7 KOs) was scheduled to make the first defense of his WBO 126-pound crown against Colombia’s Miguel Marriaga (29-3, 25 KOs) on March 14 at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater in New York. If that card hadn’t been scrapped due to the coronavirus crisis, Stevenson wanted Warrington this summer, assuming he overcame Marriaga.
Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs), the IBF featherweight champion, reiterated on an episode of the Matchroom Boxing podcast released Tuesday that he will fight Xu (18-2, 3 KOs) in his next outing.
Stevenson doesn’t even consider Warrington-Xu a legitimate title unification bout because Xu is the WBA’s secondary featherweight champion. Leo Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KOs) is the WBA’s “super” featherweight champion, but Santa Cruz has moved up to the 130-pound division.
Stevenson, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist from Newark, New Jersey, expects his next fight to mark his 130-pound debut as well.
“If there’s a way that Josh Warrington is still willing to fight at 126, I’ll wait on that,” said Stevenson, who thus will hold off on vacating his WBO featherweight title. “But it’s gotta be next. Other than that, I’m moving up.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.