In victory over Artem Harutyunyan, Shakur Stevenson again showed how good he really is. He might not have been exciting, but he’ll beat the exciting fighters he’s matched with, which ultimately is the bottom line.

Sports are about competition. While we’d ideally be entertained, they’re about competition before they’re about entertainment, and Stevenson’s competing in the most effective way he knows.

Some of those considered more entertaining fighters – Gervonta “Tank” Davis among them – haven’t appeared in a hurry to fight him. Stevenson was also criticised for his performance in victory in November over Edwin de los Santos, but De Los Santos made it particularly difficult for him to be more “entertaining” than he was – and where Frank Martin was on course to be his next opponent, we instead saw Martin agree to fight Davis. 

The energy channeled into criticising Stevenson should instead be used to encourage better opponents to fight him. He’s been better than his 22 opponents to date, and because he’s in his prime I expect him to continue to be better than everyone else he fights, too. Similar could be written about Davis, but three fights ago he was involved in a main event, on pay-per-view, against Hector Luis Garcia – a lower level of competition.

I don’t expect Stevenson to evolve into a fighter who provides a classic “wow” factor, but what he is capable of doing is beating Davis. I write that as someone who enjoys watching tacticians; I’ve watched him succeed in finding the path to victory in every fight, which is both what makes him so good and also what intrigues me about him. He can consistently make it look so effortless. 

He didn’t fight Harutyunyan with a sense of caution. He held his ground a lot – he’s just not the kind of fighter who’s at his very best when he does so, which means that when he does it almost looks a little awkward. Against Harutyunyan, when he was holding his ground and throwing certain punches, he started smothering some of his output because he was trying not to move away from where the action was unfolding. Because fighting like that doesn’t come naturally to him there were times he found himself caught between two styles, but he’s so good that he made it work for him anyway. Without producing his sharpest performance he also showed a clear effort to entertain, but, as someone who isn’t a big puncher, doing so didn’t – and often won’t – lead to a knockout. 

Saturday’s fight was Stevenson’s last under contract to Top Rank. He’s become a big enough deal that a television network can work with him while giving him a sense of freedom – similarly to Devin Haney. But whether he chooses to work independently, or to enter into an agreement with a major promoter, the most important thing for his reputation, career, and the sport is securing the best possible fights.

In some respects he’s not easy to promote. We should never overlook that boxing is a business, but so are other sports, and in other sports we get to see the best against the best. Whether or not he’s exciting, it’s the promoter’s job to figure out how to maximise his marketability. Stevenson’s winning – he’s doing his job. Whoever his promoter is will have to do theirs.

In recent months we’ve watched Stevenson-Harutyunyan, Davis-Martin, and Vasiliy Lomachenko-George Kambosos Jr, and watched Stevenson, Davis and Lomachenko all win. If Stevenson and Davis are considered the world’s two best lightweights, then Lomachenko’s the third – and at 36 years old his performance was the most impressive of the three. 

Having accomplished as much as he has, Lomachenko would make an appealing opponent for both Stevenson and Davis, but having seen him take as many risks as he has it instead feels time for Davis to do so. Lomachenko has been spoken about as an opponent for both Davis and Stevenson, but a fight between Stevenson and Davis is the biggest in the division – let them fight, and then let Lomachenko, if he wants to keep fighting, fight the winner.

William Zepeda showed again that he deserves to be considered a rival to all three when he stopped Giovanni Cabrera in three rounds. His speed, and his intuitive pressure, could potentially wear the ageing Lomachenko down. Those same traits could also test Davis, but Davis’ boxing IQ means I would give him the edge. It’s Stevenson who might be the one who’s capable of shutting him out.

One of the division’s big names has to be Zepeda’s target. He’s an exciting fighter, and stopping Cabrera was impressive, because Cabrera’s not easy to even look good against – let alone stop, and stop that quickly. Zepeda’s previous opponent Maxi Hughes, like Cabrera, also had an awkward style, and Zepeda mauled through him in a similar way. 

Golden Boy Promotions have recently seen Jaime Munguia lose for the first time, and then Ryan Garcia get banned. Zepeda’s not only exciting – he knows how to win, and is a threat to those at the top, which at an important time means he’s become particularly valuable to them.