Shakur Stevenson returns to his native Newark, New Jersey, right on the brink of pound for pound, if not stardom. At the age of 25, Stevenson has an Olympic silver medal along with titles in two weight classes.
Until Thursday, when he failed to put on weight, Stevenson was the 130-pound unified champion. He was stripped of those titles after weighing in at 131.6 pounds. Sources said the fight would continue – Conceicao is eligible to win the WBC and WBO belts – after Stevenson and Conceau reached a fine agreement.
Stephenson and Conceicao, the Olympic gold medalist, will meet Friday in the main event (10 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN+) in what Shakur insists will be his last fight before his 135-pound campaign, a weight division that should go on long, Prove how amazing Stevenson is.
“I gave him everything I had,” Stevenson, the 9-pound-for-pound boxer, tweeted at ESPN. “I’ve been a pro all my career and gained weight, but my body can’t make 130 anymore. My health has to come first. I’ll go up to 135 in my next fight.”
Really, losing Stevenson’s titles wouldn’t negatively affect him, although if it happens again at 135 pounds, that’s another story. For now, Stevenson’s inability to tip the scales at his 130lb limit will simply hasten his entry into the truly meaningful fights that will test him like never before.
At 126 and 130 pounds, Stevenson fed opponents well below his level. Both weight classes lacked depth and elite boxers while Stevenson competed in the divisions. At 135 pounds, he would have to deal not only with larger opponents, but with more skilled boxers as well.
Stevenson is a 30-1 favorite to defeat Conceicao and remains undefeated, according to Caesars Sportsbook. Stephenson’s intrigue lies in the lightweight, with Devin Haney as the undisputed champion, and campaign star boxers Vasily Lomachenko, Gerfonta Davis and (occasionally) Ryan Garcia.
Stevenson has a chance to become the world’s most talented boxer—between his superior defense, shooting position and ability to judge distance—but he won’t be able to truly prove it until he climbs five pounds to lightweight and takes on the best fighters in that division.
“I think three years from now, as I continue to be in control and continue to do what I plan to do, I end up ranking on that list,” Stevenson told ESPN on Wednesday. “I know Terence [Crawford] And Canelo [Alvarez] at the end of their career. So, I see myself as the one coming right behind them and taking first place.”
How about Shakur testing his defensive prowess against Davis’ southern “tank” punches? Or a fight with Garcia, the ultra-fast fighter with giant social media followers, that could propel him to stardom? And while these bouts may be difficult to end due to the increasingly fractured nature of the sport, Stevenson must push for it to happen.
Fights with Hani and Lomachenko should be much easier. Stevenson, like them, was promoted by Top Rank.
“I think they are all big fights,” Stephenson said. “I think they are all good [fighters], but you should give credit to Devin Haney. … gotta respect the real belts. …I am a fighter. If I’m going into any weight class, I’m not trying to be the Intercontinental Champion or [reign in] Which of them are organizations? [where] They’ve got the smaller belts and everyone is claiming to be champions.
“I try to be the undisputed champion, how Devin is. I try to be a real champion. So you have to respect Devin Haney when it comes to that. So I say it is.” the guy.“
Haney defends the undisputed championship against George Camposos Jr. in a rematch on October 15th on ESPN. Assuming he wins a second time, as expected, Haney could be headed into a high-stakes fight with Lomachenko in the spring. And while that might leave Stevenson waiting in the wings, it might also be a good opportunity for him to rest at 135 pounds with an easier fight in his lightweight debut in the first half of the year.
For now, Stevenson will be looking to build his profile in what was set to be his battle to come home as a champ. After running a short title at 126 pounds, Stevenson scored a TKO in the 10th round for Jamel Herring in October 2021 to take the 130-pound welterweight title and added a second belt in April with Oscar Valdez winning in an impressive performance.
Stevenson was unable to finish Valdes from within the distance, but he brought down the Mexican in the sixth round and only lost two rounds on two scorecards.
“Valdez has given me a lot of opportunities to showcase my skills,” Stephenson said. “I think with this guy [Conceicao], will try to sit and square. …but I will show the world my dog.”
In fact, Conceicao, whose only defeat was a controversial decision against Valdes, prefers counter strikes while Valdes likes to apply pressure and fight from within. It just means that Stevenson will have to get himself ahead and take the fight if he is to maintain his momentum towards the top of the pound-for-pound list.
Conceicao has plans of his own, of course, and for the second time in so many title fights, he’ll be at a competitive disadvantage. His title challenge in the September 2021 match against Valdes was allowed to proceed despite a prohibited substance in the title holder’s system.
“I am very excited. I have trained all my life for this moment,” Conceicao said during a press conference on Wednesday. “The world could see that I was better than Oscar Valdez. I should have won… I’m a champion without a crown, and I’m ready for Friday night.”
Certainly, Stevenson has the skills, with his precise punches, excellent footwork, and circular wit, simply to beat Conceicao, the 33-year-old Brazilian. But if Stevenson wants to make the kind of statements that will get fans moving ahead of the numbers that will be pivotal for 2023, he should entertain too.
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