Shakur Stevenson’s goals: Unify titles, be the top P4P fighter and become a superstar

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Mar 13, 2020

    Dan RafaelESPN Senior Writer

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    • 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism
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    • ESPN.com boxing writer since 2005
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    • Five years at USA Today

The youthful exuberance of featherweight world titlist Shakur Stevenson is palpable. He is young and talented — and he knows it. It’s hard not to look at the 22-year-old in the ring and envision a long, glorious career ahead.

That he has found professional success so quickly is not a surprise. Stardom was predicted for him by anyone with remote knowledge of his amateur career. He entered the pro ranks with fanfare in April 2017 following his silver-medal-winning performance for Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics. He’s just 13 fights into his pro career — 65 rounds in all — and coming off a one-sided rout of Joet Gonzalez to win a vacant 126-pound belt on Oct. 26 in Reno, Nevada.

Stevenson has so many goals and aspirations that he can hardly contain himself when he talks about them.

“Next year or two, that’s where I’m trying to be at — No. 1 pound-for-pound,” he said. “It’s kind of pushing it within a year, but two years? Yeah, I can do that.”

“He’s the second coming of Floyd Mayweather.” Bob Arum on Shakur Stevenson

Stevenson had planned to go home — or at least awfully close to his Newark, New Jersey, roots — for his first defense against battle-tested three-time world title challenger Miguel Marriaga in the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card on Saturday at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York.

But even though the show was called off on Thursday due to the coronavirus pandemic, it has not changed Stevenson’s long-range goals.

The fight with Marriaga was merely a steppingstone fight in Stevenson’s eyes. He approached the bout as though there was no doubt about the outcome. Stevenson (13-0, 7 KOs) thought it was only a matter of how spectacular he would look before moving on to bigger fights and eventually up the scale to challenge for world titles in a variety of divisions.

“I want to be a superstar in the sport, and to be a superstar you have to put on superstar performances, so I plan on this being a superstar performance and putting on a hell of a show for the fans,” Stevenson said before the fight with Marriaga (29-3, 25 KOs), 33, of Colombia, was canceled.

Top Rank promoter Bob Arum has seen it all and came off very believable when he handed Stevenson the ultimate compliment as it related to his potential.

“He’s the second coming of Floyd Mayweather,” Arum said, comparing Stevenson to the all-time great he promoted for most of his career. “Shakur is tremendously confident in his abilities, just like Floyd. He is a superb defensive fighter, just like Floyd, and he is like a genius in the ring, just the way Floyd was.

“Look, we knew he was a talented kid when we signed him, but we’ve seen talented guys go bust and we’ve seen talented kids bloom, and he has bloomed.”

The plan for Stevenson following the Marriaga bout — and now even without it taking place — is for a summer trip to Leeds, England, to face Josh Warrington in his hometown to unify world titles.

“They haven’t announced anything on Warrington yet, so I think they’re waiting on me,” Stevenson said. “I think that’s the only fight that will keep me at 126 [pounds] for another fight. If not, I’ll move up to 130 and be ready to fight champions there. … We will try our hardest to get Warrington in the ring next.”

Stevenson said he wants Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs), 29, because he believes Warrington has the best résumé in the division — counting wins against Lee Selby to win the title, former titlist Carl Frampton and Kid Galahad, each since mid-2018 — and because he is viewed by most as the No. 1 featherweight. And Stevenson said he has no problem facing Warrington in his hometown, where he is a major draw.

“I actually think it would be better for me going to his hometown. I feel like if I go into his hometown and beat him, that’s an amazing feeling for me,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson looks up to fighters such as welterweight world titleholders Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford. Both won world titles on the road in the United Kingdom.

“That’s going to get me closer to that pound-for-pound list,” Stevenson said of potentially defeating Warrington. “And in a few years, I’ll be pound-for-pound No. 1.”

Arum said he was “very confident” that he and Warrington promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing would be able to lock down the fight soon. Arum said he loves Stevenson’s desire to fight Warrington on the road.

“Muhammad Ali had that attitude,” said Arum, who promoted Ali for many years. “The really great ones want to go and perform in other countries and other cultures. Crawford was like that. As long [as] the ring is square and it’s 20-by-20, Shakur will fight anywhere.”

Whether the Warrington fight happens or not, Stevenson said he plans to move up to junior lightweight later this year as he looks to also conquer that division.

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“My body is ready for 130. I can’t keep making 126 anymore,” Stevenson said. “The only thing that will keep me here is a big-money fight with Warrington. If not, I’m ready to move up.”

Once Stevenson gets to 130 pounds, Top Rank has several top opponents to match him with, including Miguel Berchelt and Jamel Herring, both of whom hold world titles, as well as former world titleholders Oscar Valdez, Frampton and Andrew Cancio. Stevenson said he also would love to fight junior lightweight world titleholders Joseph Diaz Jr. and Leo Santa Cruz.

“I want all those guys,” Stevenson said.

Winning a world title against Gonzalez was a “dream come true” for Stevenson but, as he said, “it was just the beginning. I also want 130, ’35, ’40 and then ’47.”

In the history of boxing, only two fighters have won world titles at both featherweight and welterweight. Asked if he knew who they were, Stevenson immediately got one of them: the legendary Manny Pacquiao, who has won world titles in a record eight weight classes. The other name did not come to Stevenson.

It is Henry Armstrong, the all-time great who once held titles simultaneously in three divisions in the 1930s, when there were only eight total weight classes.

“I wasn’t going to get him. I knew Pacquiao, though,” Stevenson said. “But I still want to win titles in all those divisions. That’s the plan, that’s the goal.”

How’s that for youthful exuberance?