Shakur Stevenson is the future, and he may just be the present too.
The fountain of youth has gifted this current era of boxing with a plethora of young talent and potential stars, especially at 135 and 140 pounds. Names like Teofimo Lopez, Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia, and Devin Haney often get anointed as the top candidates to sit amongst boxing's mountain top and are the future stars of the squared circle. But the name that seems to get lost in the shuffle of that discussion is former Olympic silver medalist and WBO featherweight champion Shakur Stevenson.
"Sugar" is coming off another impressive win, defeating Toka Khan Clary via a dominant decision and moving his record to 15-0 in the headlining bout of ESPN Boxing on December 12. CompuBox tweeted out that Khan Clary landed only nine percent of the 528 punches he threw at Stevenson, once again showcasing the Newark native's defensive prowess.
Final Punch Stats for #StevensonKahnClary:— CompuBox (@CompuBox) December 13, 2020
• Stevenson landed more body shots (64) than Clary landed total punches (48)
• Stevenson limited Clary to just 9% of his total connects
• Through 15 pro fights, Stevenson has out landed his opponents, 1,249-351 pic.twitter.com/Qosrv45bzm
In an era and generation obsessed with viral videos, Stevenson who has seven of his 15 career wins by decision often gets overshadowed for the likes of Jake Paul knocking out Nate Robinson. But to the keen eye or anyone with a true understanding of the sweet science, Stevenson's talent jumps off the screen as he dissects opponents like a middle schooler with a frog in science class. At only 23-years-old and with the potential to win titles in multiple weight classes, for my money Stevenson is boxing's Simba just awaiting the chances to take his rightful place atop of the throne.
Stevenson took up boxing at the age of five when his grandfather and trainer Wali Moses introduced him to the sport. The son of Shahid Guyton and Malikah Stevenson, Shakur is the oldest of nine children who had a natural talent according to Moses who said as much during a piece for HBO Boxing back in 2017.
"At the early age of three and four," said Moses. "I knew he had special talents in reference to his timing, coordination and his eyes, you know, making adjustments and I knew he would really be able to do something with his life, 'cause he was gifted."
Growing up in Newark, New Jersey a city that ranks as one of the top 30 murder capitals of America according to a report published by Dr. Andrew Schiller of NeighborhoodScout.com back on January 2, 2020. Stevenson, with his grandfather's guidance, utilized boxing as a way to stay out of trouble and never really was someone who took to the streets growing up. In that same 2017 piece with HBO Boxing, he talked about what it was like in Newark as a youth.
"It's a ghetto city. You gotta be tough to be there, but I was never really, like, a street kid." Stevenson said. "I was mainly in the gym most of the time, 'cause my grandfather, he had me in the gym."
After losing a razor-thin decision in the gold medal match at the 2016 Summer Olympic games to Cuba's Robeisy Ramirez, Stevenson hasn't looked back. He won the WBO featherweight title in just his 13th career fight, and now as his body is filling out more has his sights set on becoming a world champion in multiple weight classes. He's drawn comparisons to greats of the past, most notably the potential pound-for-pound greatest boxer of all-time.
Since his departure from fighting elite competition in 2015, boxing has been searching for the next Floyd Mayweather Jr. With Floyd relegated to circus fights and finding his most recent clown in YouTuber Logan Paul to hustle the public for more money, real boxing is searching for a new face to be the leading man of their lighter weight classes. Many have been compared to "Money" but the latest name to bestow this label is Stevenson; however, I'm not sure the comparison is all that accurate or one that Stevenson himself agrees with completely. Speaking with Dan Rafael this past June, Shakur elaborated on his feelings of the comparison with Mayweather Jr.
“It make me feel good, being compared to Floyd because Floyd is like somebody I came up looking after a lot as a kid and as an amateur,” Stevenson said (h/t BoxingScene). “I looked up [to him] as one of my favorite fighters. So, it make me feel good. But at the end of the day, I’m still me, so I’ve gotta create my own path and my own destiny. So, I appreciate all the comparisons. But I’m really the first Shakur Stevenson. And I think that I’m gonna take over and surpass Floyd and be better than what Floyd was. And I’m trying to make as much money as or [even] more money as Floyd did, and all that type of stuff. So, my vision is like I’m looking past that stuff.”
I don't doubt that Stevenson is every bit as talented as Mayweather Jr. and see the similarities. Both are former Olympic medalists, won their first world titles in their early 20's and are defensive savants. But I think the comparison to "Pretty Boy" is a bit of a lazy and simplistic one. Stevenson reminds me much more of a modern-day version of the late, 1984 Olympic gold medalist and four-weight champion "Sweet Pea" Pernell Whittaker. The similarities between the two run much deeper than the similarities Stevenson shares with Mayweather Jr. Both have that connection as Olympic medalists but share the same physical profiles with Whittaker holding a one-inch reach advantage while Stevenson is two inches taller.
But their skills are nearly identical as well, both being southpaws that utilize their defense to create offense. They've got fantastic jabs, can fight in multiple directions effortlessly, and use their footwork to guide opponents into counter shots. Stevenson does a great job of using his jab as Whittaker did to control the range, lighting up opponents the same way his smile lights up rooms. Both fighters are often praised mainly for their defensive acumen, but both are equally as gifted offensively. Stevenson might lack true one-punch KO power but he's an exhaustive combination puncher who changes levels during his combos and follows them up with blistering body shots. Showcasing an ability to fight inside much like Pernell could to compliment his intelligent defensive arsenal.
Stevenson's defense is an onion of sorts, having multiple layers that an opposing fighter has to peel back if they want any chance of defeating him. Everything starts with his eyes, Shakur's vision is some of the best I've ever seen. He seemingly seeing shots in slo-mo to give himself time to go through the myriad of options he has to not get hit. He can slip shots, sway out of the way of them, roll in the pocket to avoid shots in close, and exit exchanges at just the precise time to avoid being clipped. The backbone of his defense that makes it so complete, is Stevenson's ability to make opponents pay for those missed shots with his counter punching. His step-back left hand is a thing of beauty and while he might not put most fighters away with one shot, he'll make you pay the piper every single time you make a mistake.
So what's next for Shakur? Well as he continues to put on strength and size, the plan seems for him to continue to progress up the food chain starting in the super featherweight and junior lightweight divisions making it pretty clear what and who he wants next. He detailed his road map when speaking with ESPN's Bernardo Osuna in his post-fight interview after the win over Clary. A fight for the WBO super featherweight title against the winner of an eventual Jamel Herring and Carl Frampton fight followed by a matchup with WBC junior lightweight champion Miguel Berchelt is on Stevenson's Christmas list.
Yes, Ryan Garcia and Devin Haney might have more Instagram followers, Gervonta Davis might have the power with the highlight reel knockout's and Teofimo Lopez has the belts, but I'd argue Stevenson is a rarer breed than all of them. What he may lack in punching power and clout, Stevenson makes up for in fight IQ, confidence, and versatility. He just now needs the opportunities to showcase that and fights with the names mentioned above to prove he's the rightful heir to the throne as the new king of boxing's lighter weight classes. Stevenson's ascension to super stardom truly begins to me in 2021 and if you haven't jumped on the bandwagon yet, it's never too late to add another resolution to your New Year's list.