The world of boxing springs up a vast array of interesting stories and journeys that provide fans with today’s most exciting future World champions. In the case of 2016 Olympic silver medallist Shakur Stevenson’s case, his path towards greatness was set in motion at just five years old…
“When I was younger, my Grandad, he played regular league baseball and he was a boxing coach also.” said Stevenson (10-0, 6 KO’s) in an exclusive interview with Boxing Social.
“I guess it all started when I went to one of his baseball games. I was around five years old and he bought along some of his fighters – I got to meet them and I found out they were boxers. The next day I asked if I could go to their gym as I felt it was cool they were boxers. When he took me to gym and I fell in love [with boxing].”
In our conversation it was clear there was no specific influence for the American southpaw star-of-the-future. It would take just a mere brush of an introduction that would immerse the infant Stevenson in the world of boxing.
“I don’t think it was the personalities of those boxers that drew me to boxing, it was just cool to me hearing they were boxers. I just felt that I wanted to say that I was a boxer too.
“I had never watched any boxing before that. Obviously my Grandad used to watch boxing, but I had never really paid any attention before I went to the gym. After my first trip to the gym, I started paying attention!”
Now fully devoted to a sport he “felt drawn to”, Stevenson became a keen admirer of former two-weight World champion Andre Ward. Life can be peculiar at times, as Stevenson would go on to be managed by his former idol.
“The main boxer that I first started to really look up to was my (now) manager, Andre Ward.” laughed Stevenson.
“At the time he was the last person to win an Olympic gold medal – and I wanted to be the next person to win it!”
En route to attempting to emulate Ward in achieving Olympic glory, Stevenson claimed gold in the Youth World Championships and the Youth Olympic Games in 2014, placing himself as one of the medal favourites heading into the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
Representing the United States as a bantamweight, Sadly for the then-19-year-old Stevenson, he would fall agonisingly short of gold, losing to the decorated Cuban number one seed Robeisy Ramirez in the final.
“It was amazing!” glowed Stevenson when asked of his Olympic exploits.
“I was going for the Gold medal – and at the time I didn’t really appreciate that I got a silver medal until years later.
“But now I am a little more appreciative of my medal. I didn’t like that experience of losing and failing because I went there for one reason: to win a gold medal. When I failed, it broke my heart.
“I told myself after that I was going to have to win a World title and become great! I wasn’t going to allow myself to fail again. I don’t plan on that ever happening again.”
Despite falling short of his golden goal, Stevenson emerged from the games with a significant buzz around his future plans.
Dubbed “the next Floyd Mayweather”, the man himself flew out to Rio to take a first hand look at a fighter he made no secret of wanting to sign to his promotional company. However, Stevenson would take a different path, signing a promotional deal with ‘Hall of Fame’ promoter Bob Arum’s Top Rank and inking managerial terms with the aforementioned Ward.
“I was actually cool with Andre [Ward] before the Olympics.
“I would go down to Oakland and see him spar. He was always the same person to me on and off TV. I guess it all just played out right and it kinda worked because me and him already had a relationship. I knew he wanted the best for me in and outside of the ring.
“I had a bunch of offers, but Top Rank was the best decision for me. It was the best move for me to get my career right. I signed with Andre [Ward] first and then we went to Top Rank”
Making the transition from amateur to professional can prove difficult for many fighters – particularly those with prolonged success in the unpaid ranks, the type of which Stevenson enjoyed.
However, the Newark-born slickster appears to have taken to the professional game almost seamlessly. In just under two years since his debut, his record stands at a pristine 10-0 with 6 KO’s, and he sits comfortably within in the top ten of all four governing bodies.
“It was a big difference fighting pro!”
“It took me a couple of fights to transition. It’s a whole new level, and I guess I am adjusting to it well. I guess on Saturday we really see if I have adjusted with good opposition in front of me.”
This Saturday provides Stevenson with his toughest test to date, taking on former World title challenger Christopher Diaz (24-1, 16 KO’s) on the undercard of Terence Crawford’s WBO World welterweight title defence against Amir Khan at Madison Square Garden.
When considering he will face vastly more experienced opponent in Diaz, the confidence oozing out of the young featherweight was abundant to say the least as he declared himself already ready for a World title bout.
“I feel I can win a World title in my next fight!” Stevenson beamed.
“Top Rank got Christopher Diaz a World title shot at 130. If they can get Diaz a shot, when they see what I’m going to do to him on Saturday, they should get me a shot also!”
History tells us that every great fighter needs a dance partner.
In Stevenson’s case, it is apparent he sees WBA ‘Super’ World super featherweight champion Gervonta Davis as the man to elevate him to greatness. Following a very public social media spat between the two in 2018, Stevenson admits he has one eye on the Baltimore power-hitter.
“We are in different weight classes, but sooner or later I’m going to grow out of 126 pounds.
“I definitely want Gervonta Davis – and I’m after him. Sooner or later we are going to have to fight. I definitely want his spot. Once I win my title at 126 and as soon as I get to 130, that is who I want!”
Like many of the sport’s most richly-desired bouts, promotional politics often tend to prove to be a tricky obstacle to overcome.
However, Stevenson was optimistic that a bout with Davis – who fights on rival network Showtime and under the Mayweather Promotions banner – can one day happen.
“It doesn’t really concern me.” said Stevenson.
“I was actually on the phone to his promoter [Floyd Mayweather Jr.] three or four days ago. I don’t think the politics is going to be a problem. I think that fight is going to happen when it is supposed to happen.
“That is the spot I’m coming after! Everybody respects him [Davis] and they have every right to respect him. He’s doing what he has to do, but sooner or later he’s going to have to face me.
“I want that fight because he’s a great champion and I think he’s the top dog at 130 pounds. I’m not going to be able to make 126 for too long so once I get to 130 – I want the top dog. I want to take on the best!”
In an age where many fighters strategically plot the easiest route to a World title, Stevenson’s philosophy towards competition was refreshing; with his willingness to test himself and take risks early in his career resonating throughout the interview.
“I feel that a lot of these up and coming guys say that they are contenders and they are great: but I’m the one who is actually stepping up to great fights such as Christopher Diaz.
“Taking real step up fights and fighting real competition. I’m daring to be great! The world’s going to see!”
Before any potential blockbuster grudge match with Davis is to take place, Stevenson has plenty of work to do before being taken as a serious adversary for the Floyd Mayweather prodigy.
Winning a World title at featherweight would go some way in achieving such a high-profile bout – a goal that Stevenson feels is very much within touching distance.
“There are two guys who I feel and hope I could get in my next fight.
“Oscar Valdez has got a title and he’s signed with Top Rank, so it should be an easy fight to make. You also have Josh Warrington and he’s signed with Frank Warren. Bob Arum and Frank Warren are bros, so they could also make that fight easy. Both guys have belts, either-or, I’m cool with both. Just give me one of them and I can do what I got to do.”
Should a bout against ‘Leeds Warrior’ Warrington present itself, Stevenson declared himself ready and willing to travel to the U.K. – where Warrington enjoys tremendous support – in order to achieve his dream of fighting for a World title.
“I would love to come to the U.K. and fight for my World title! I feel like that would be the perfect place [to win a title].
“I’ve got quite a few UK fans and feel it would make a lot of sense.”
This Saturday affords Stevenson the opportunity to leap into the top three of the WBO rankings towards, steadily manoeuvring himself into a shot at champion Valdez.
A win over Diaz – whose sole career defeat came in challenging for the IBF super featherweight title against Masayuki Ito in July 2018 – would also likely enhance Stevenson’s ranking with the IBF; bringing him within touching distance of IBF beltholder Josh Warrington.
But for now it’s clear that Stevenson is not looking past this weekend, and sees Diaz as the perfect opportunity to send out a statement to the rest of the 126lbs division…
“Tune in April 20th and see what I do to this guy!”
Article by: Adam Noble-Forcey
Follow Adam on Twitter at: @Adam4cSports