Shakur Stevenson was masterful defensively Saturday night and dropped a supposedly superior puncher.
The undefeated southpaw went the distance for the third time in his past four fights, though, and was reluctant to engage in a mostly unremarkable bout with Jeremiah Nakathila. Stevenson still thoroughly out-classed the unknown Namibian boxer throughout their 12-round, 130-pound title fight in Las Vegas.
The skillful Stevenson, who floored Nakathila late in the fourth round, impressed the judges enough to win all 12 rounds on the cards of Max De Luca, Lisa Giampa and Dave Moretti – each of whom scored the Newark, New Jersey, native a 120-107 winner.
Stevenson was wary of Nakathila’s right hand all night, but his opponent’s bad balance and lack of skill made it impossible for him to prevent Stevenson from easily stockpiling points. His wide win aside, Stevenson was displeased with how he fought.
“To be honest, I didn’t really like my performance,” Stevenson said. “I felt I could’ve performed a lot better, but it was an awkward fighter. You had an awkward fighter throwing hard punches, and he knows how to grab and get away. He was a real awkward fighter. That’s all.”
ESPN analyst Timothy Bradley criticized Stevenson for not fighting in an entertaining manner during the network’s main event of a doubleheader from The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. Bradley, a former junior welterweight and welterweight champion, went as far as to say he had difficulty staying awake during a fight that lacked action.
“I tried to [knock out Nakathila] a little bit, but I started getting hit with some solid shots,” Stevenson said. “I ain’t really like it, but next time I’m gonna work on moving my head a little bit more and step it up a little more.”
Stevenson (16-0, 8 KOs), the WBO’s number one contender at 130 pounds, won that sanctioning organization’s interim junior lightweight title. The former WBO featherweight champ expects to fight WBO junior lightweight champ Jamel Herring next – in September or October, according to what Stevenson told BoxingScene.com before he beat Nakathila.
The 23-year-old Stevenson also ended Nakathila’s 10-fight winning streak. Prior to losing to Stevenson, Nakathila (21-2, 17 KOs) had knocked out 10 straight opponents after suffering a 12-round, majority-decision defeat to Evgeny Chuprakov (then 16-0) in November 2016 in Ekaterinburg, Russia, Chuprakov’s hometown.
Nakathila hadn’t fought an opponent nearly as skilled or accomplished as Stevenson in any of his first 22 professional fights.
The outcome was obvious as Stevenson and Nakathila mercifully made it to the final bell Saturday night.
Nakathila went down again 40 seconds into the 12th round, but referee Celestino Ruiz ruled that it was the result of a slip. Stevenson seemed to land a right hook just before Nakathila hit the canvas.
That marked the second time in their fight that Stevenson was denied credit for a knockdown he appeared to score. Nakathila landed a left and missed with a right as Stevenson retreated just before the final bell rang.
Nakathila made a rare connection with his right hand a little less than 30 seconds into the 11th round.
Stevenson landed a left hand as Nakathila leaned in and missed a right hand with 1:05 to go in the 10th round. Another left by Stevenson made Nakathila reset his feet with 13 seconds on the clock in the 10th round.
Nakathila fell to the canvas 25 seconds into the ninth round as he tried to hold Stevenson. Neither fighter landed significant shots in those three minutes.
Ruiz sternly warned both boxers to stay off each other’s feet with 1:35 to go in the eighth round. Stevenson continued to make Nakathila miss with his power shots in the eighth round and landed enough of his own shots to build on an already large lead.
Stevenson caught Nakathila with a left hand with about 55 seconds to go in the seventh round. Another left by Stevenson seemed to wobble Nakathila with just under 30 seconds remaining in the seventh round.
Stevenson’s defense enabled him to slip two of Nakathila’s wild swings with about 1:50 to go in the sixth round. A right hand by Nakathila landed with 24 seconds left on the clock in the sixth round and made Stevenson stay away from him until the bell sounded.
Stevenson’s straight left connected with just under 1:20 to go in the fifth round. Nakathila, meanwhile, continued to struggle to land flush punches on the defensively effective Stevenson.
A left hand by Stevenson backed up Nakathila about 1:05 into the fourth round. Stevenson connected with another left hand with 1:10 to go in the fourth round.
Yet another left by Stevenson backed up Nakathila with just over 30 seconds on the clock in the fourth round. Just before the fourth round ended, Stevenson sent Nakathila to one knee briefly with a right hook.
Nakathila got to his feet quickly and smiled as he headed back to his corner. That was the first knockdown, however, of Nakathila’s seven-year, 23-fight pro career.
Nakathila and Stevenson mostly missed with their punches in the third round. Stevenson eventually knocked Nakathila off balance with a right hook when there was just under 40 seconds left in that third round.
Ruiz warned Stevenson for stepping on Nakathila’s foot 30 seconds into the second round. Nakathila went down to his gloves and one knee just before the midway mark of the second round, but Ruiz ruled it a slip.
Stevenson landed a short, right hook as Nakathila swung wildly with a left hand and fell to the canvas.
Stevenson landed a jab with just over 10 seconds to go in a second round that lacked action.
Stevenson landed a left hand that got Nakathila’s attention with about 1:20 to go in the first round. Nakathila missed wildly with a right hand with just under 50 seconds to go in that opening round, when he couldn’t catch Stevenson with a flush punch.
Ruiz warned Nakathila to stop stepping on Stevenson’s right foot with approximately 20 seconds remaining in the first round.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.