Shakur Stevenson and Oscar Valdez do battle on Saturday night in Las Vegas for super-featherweight supremacy in a unified world title showdown that seems sure to quicken pulses. Luke G. Williams previews the action…
The super-featherweight division isn’t over-burdened with talent, but Saturday night’s MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas clash between WBO title holder Shakur Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs) and WBC champion Oscar Valdez (30-0, 23 KOs) is by far the most meaningful contest the 130lbs division could possibly muster.
It’s about time super-featherweight offered up a fight of significance. There hasn’t been a unified champ in the division since 2005 – when Marco Antonio Barrera briefly held the IBF crown in addition to his WBC championship – and the last time a Ring magazine belt was contested at 130lbs was when Manny Pacquiao defeated Juan Manuel Marquez in the duo’s second fight in 2008.
The 24-year-old Stevenson – a silver medallist at the 2016 Olympics – enters the fight rated as the number two super-featherweight in the world by Boxing Social, but is a short-priced favourite in the region of 3/14 with some bookmakers, while Boxing Social’s number one 130lb-er Valdez is available at as wide a price as 6-1.
In many respects, this is understandable, for Stevenson has long been touted as one of boxing’s next big things. Last October – in what seemed like a significant breakout performance – Stevenson impressively dominated and then stopped Jamel Herring in ten rounds to seize Semper Fi’s WBO world title.
Quite simply, Stevenson seems to be the full package, possessing star quality, charisma and talent in abundance. The Newark born southpaw has lightning speed, and is precociously brilliant in both defence and the art of the counter-attack.
Having fought in the Olympics at bantamweight and having previously held – albeit briefly – the WBO featherweight title, he also appears to be growing ever stronger as he matures and develops, although genuinely concussive one-punch power seems to be perhaps the sole pugilistic virtue he lacks.
In his pre-fight rhetoric Stevenson has oozed typical confidence, bordering on arrogance. “This fight is three years in the making,” he said. “Everyone knows that I’ve wanted to fight Oscar Valdez since 2019 when he vacated his belt at 126 [featherweight] instead of fighting me. He avoided me for as long as he could, but now is the perfect time for this fight and the fans are in for a show when we finally step into the ring.
“I am the best 130lbs fighter in the world, and I will prove it when I beat Oscar Valdez and become unified champion. I won’t stop there, though. I want to become an undisputed champion at 130, and beating Oscar Valdez is the next step. The world hasn’t seen everything that Shakur Stevenson can do in a boxing ring yet. I am boxing’s next superstar, and my performance on April 30 is going to prove it.”
Valdez will be no pushover, however. He is unbeaten as a professional and has fine amateur pedigree himself; he was Mexico’s first ever world amateur championship medal winner (snaffling a bronze in 2009 in Milan) was was also a two-time Olympian, fighting in the 2008 Olympics as a 17-year-old and also representing his country at the London games in 2012.
Valdez also has prior form for entering a big fight as the underdog. In February last year, few gave him much of a chance of beating his compatriot Miguel Berchelt, but Valdez upset the odds to win via a brutal tenth-round stoppage.
Might he spring another upset against Stevenson? Perhaps. Key to the outcome of the fight will be whether the Mexican han exert enough pressure on Stevenson to make him uncomfortable, and whether he can hit him enough times to head and body to either force a stoppage or accumulate enough points to edge a decision.
True to his warrior credentials, Valdez is talking a good fight. “Even though I had a very tough challenge against Miguel Berchelt, this is the toughest and biggest fight of my career because Shakur has been talking for quite some time,” he said.
“Here we go again. The odds are against me, and everyone thinks that he will walk all over me, but just like against Berchelt, I will use that as motivation. I know I have a tough fight in front of me, but this is not something that I haven’t done before. I have worked very hard in the gym, and as always, I’m going to give it my best and leave it all in the ring. Like we say in Mexico, I’m willing to die on the line just to win. That’s all that matters to me.
“He [Stevenson] is the type of fighter that talks a lot and is always running his mouth on social media, but I’m not like that. I let my fists do the talking. He is the type of fighter that is not willing to go to war. I’m the type of fighter that always wants to give the fans what they want. Since he is not willing to give the fans what they want, this will be more of a chess match. It will be a more technical fight. The smartest fighter inside the ring will win. For this kind of challenge, I prepared myself very well physically, but more importantly mentally.
“When I win this fight, I will be one step closer to being on the pound-for-pound list, and more importantly, I will be a step closer to accomplishing my dream of being considered one of the best fighters in Mexican boxing history. I want my name to be among all these great Mexican fighters, like Morales, Barrera, Marquez, and Chavez. For that to happen, I need to win this fight.”
Stevenson showed some susceptibility to pressure tactics when losing the final of the 2016 Olympics to Cuba’s Robeisy Ramirez, but that was an extremely close fight and was nearly six years ago now.
The American has matured and evolved massively as a fighter since and is also on an extremely dominant run of form at present, having barely lost a round since turning over in 2017.
Valdez is by far the most accomplished opponent Stevenson has faced to date, but judging from his victory against Herring he American is the real deal and he is the confident pick here to win, probably via a clear points decision.