By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Shakur Stevenson seemed completely relaxed, unusually loose for someone with so much riding, professionally and personally, on the events of these next couple months.
Stevenson sat on a bar inside a lounge at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, well-prepared for the types of questions that had to be asked of him.
The video of a nine-month-old brawl involving Stevenson was released two weeks ago by a Miami-based television reporter. The footage showed Stevenson in an undeniably negative light.
The unbeaten Stevenson faces a misdemeanor battery charge stemming from that July 1 incident in Miami Beach, in which he and another boxer, David Grayton, fought with a man and two women in a parking garage. Grayton is seen in the video repeatedly punching a woman, while Stevenson is seen hitting a man, first when the man was standing, then when the man was on the ground.
A trial hearing in Stevenson’s case is scheduled for June 10. On this April afternoon, Stevenson demonstrated professionalism while fielding questions about his case and how this predicament might’ve impacted him during a recently completed training camp for his fight against Christopher Diaz on Saturday night.
The 2016 Olympic silver medalist from Newark, New Jersey, didn’t ban reporters from his hometown newspaper, The Star Ledger, for writing about his legal entanglement. The 21-year-old featherweight contender didn’t blame professionals from other outlets for simply reporting his arrest and its aftermath, either.
Instead, Stevenson accepted responsibility at least for the reality that these questions wouldn’t have to be asked if he hadn’t put himself in this situation last summer. Then Stevenson said all his legal team would allow at that moment.
“I can’t really talk about that right now,” Stevenson politely told BoxingScene.com. “You could talk to my lawyer, Josh Dubin. He’s right here.”
Dubin, Stevenson’s attorney, stood beside Stevenson. He also serves as one of Stevenson’s three managers, along with Andre Ward and James Prince.
“On behalf of Shakur, the matter is still pending,” Dubin said. “We’ve instructed him not to talk about it. It’s something that he very much wants to clear the air on. But until it’s resolved, he can’t. Once it is resolved, he can talk about it. But one thing that I wanna say is that James Prince, Andre Ward and I, as his managers, we stand by him as a fighter, as a professional, but most importantly as a human being. We believe in him and we know that this was just a one-time event that I don’t think the public knows all the details, really. There’s one video that is out there that doesn’t tell the whole story. In time, we’ll be able to tell the whole story. But hopefully, we can just resolve this and move on, and that’ll be that.”
Stevenson’s interview with BoxingScene.com then moved on to what, at least on paper, appears to be by far the most difficult fight of his two-year pro career.
Promoter Bob Arum admitted to BoxingScene.com last month that he didn’t want Stevenson to fight Diaz on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Arum acknowledged that his company’s matchmakers, Bruce Trampler and Brad Goodman, told him they think this fight is too much, too soon for Stevenson.
The 21-year-old Stevenson (10-0, 6 KOs) told Arum before a press conference Wednesday that the 87-year-old promoter is “trippin’ ” about this steep step up in competition. Stevenson senses Diaz (24-1, 16 KOs) doesn’t think he is ready for this type of fight just yet, either.
“He’s saying that I look at him a certain way, but I understand how he look at me,” Stevenson said of Diaz. “He look at me like I’m a young person, on the come-up, and I’m taking a step up way too early and I’m in over my head. But I’m definitely not. I’m ready.”
Stevenson derives confidence from all the time he has spent training alongside Terence Crawford, the three-division champion who’ll defend his WBO welterweight title against Amir Khan in the main event Saturday night. Crawford has taught Stevenson how to prepare and to fight like a professional.
The 31-year-old Crawford’s influence has been especially evident in Stevenson’s past two performances – knockouts of Romania’s Viorel Simon (21-3, 9 KOs) and the Philippines’ Jessie Cris Rosales (22-2-1, 10 KOs).
Stevenson realizes, of course, that Diaz is appreciably better than those two opponents. The southpaw still thinks his improvement in recent fights will be more than enough to help him overcome the Puerto Rican contender in a 10-rounder that’ll be part of an ESPN Pay-Per-View undercard (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT; $69.95 in HD).
“I’m a lot more developed than what I was when I first turned pro,” Stevenson said. “Before, I used to kind of fight like an amateur. Now I’m kind of settled in. I kind of showed a lot to my game. I can box, I can stand there and fight on the inside. I can do it all, to be honest with you. Now I’m kind of ready for a fight like this. I’m ready now. This is the perfect time.”
Crawford showed Stevenson how to sit down on his punches, something Stevenson needed to learn after scoring knockouts in only two of his first five professional fights. If he is able to knock down Diaz, Stevenson understands Diaz likely will get up and continue to fight.
That’s what Diaz did when Masayuki Ito dropped him in the fourth round of their fight for the vacant WBO super featherweight title last July 28 in Kissimmee, Florida. Diaz suffered his lone defeat that night, a 12-round unanimous decision, against Japan’s Ito (25-1-1, 13 KOs).
The 24-year-old Diaz has since moved back down in weight, from 130 pounds to 126. He also switched trainers, from Raul Rivas to Freddie Roach, who is confident Diaz will be too much for Stevenson.
“I don’t view him as an easy opponent,” Stevenson said. “I see a lot of stuff that he does good. He’s actually really tough. I understand he said something in an interview like I’ve gotta bring my cojones, something like that. But I just feel like I’m made for this. This is something I’ve been waiting for my whole life, so I’m not gonna allow him to take that from me. I lost on the big stage in the Olympics and I promised myself I would never lose again. So, I can’t let that happen.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.