ATLANTA – This was at least as easy as Shakur Stevenson assured some it would be, maybe even easier.
The undefeated Stevenson delivered a dominant performance against Jamel Herring to win a world title in a second weight class Saturday night. The smart, skillful southpaw picked apart a legitimate 130-pound champion who was the most accomplished opponent he had encountered in 17 professional fights and won by 10th-round technical knockout in the main event of a nine-fight card at State Farm Arena.
With Herring taking a beating and bleeding from cuts around both eyes, referee Mark Nelson stepped between them and stopped the inevitable at 1:30 of the 10th round.
It was just the type of performance that the 24-year-old Stevenson needed following an easy but boring 12-round, unanimous-decision defeat of unknown Namibian contender Jeremiah Nakathila on June 12 in Las Vegas. Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs) won the WBO junior lightweight title from Herring, who hugged Stevenson in a show of respect following his lopsided loss.
Stevenson, who went off as a 15-1 favorite according to BetMGM’s online sportsbook, picked apart Herring (23-3, 11 KOs) throughout their bout in a way that indicated the surprisingly wide odds were too close. Herring’s training team of Brian McIntyre and Jacqui “Red” Spikes, Terence Crawford’s trainers, gave Herring a perceived advantage, but Herring had tremendous difficulty dealing with Stevenson’s superior skill and speed and never really was competitive versus Stevenson.
Stevenson became a world champion in a second division, but this time he dethroned a champion and beat the most accomplished opponent he has faced since he turned in April 2017. The Newark, New Jersey, native won a vacant WBO featherweight title when he completely out-classed then-unbeaten Joet Gonzalez in their 12-rounder nearly two years ago in Reno, Nevada.
Herring had successfully defended his WBO 130-pound crown three times before the 2016 Olympic silver medalist took it from him. His loss Saturday night could lead Herring, who will turn 36 on October 30, to contemplate retirement.
Twenty-five seconds into the 10th round, after Herring absorbed yet another straight left from Stevenson, Nelson requested that a ringside physician examine Herring’s cuts over his left and right eyes. Stevenson resumed battering Herring with flush punches soon after the action resumed.
Nelson stepped in a few seconds later to spare Herring from taking more punishment.
Stevenson’s right uppercut rocked Herring about 50 seconds into the ninth round. Stevenson then landed a left, a right and two more lefts in succession just after the midway mark of the ninth round.
Herring, already cut over his left eye, returned to his corner after the ninth round with a nick above his right eye as well.
Nelson warned Stevenson for hitting Herring with a low right hand during the middle minute of the eighth round. Herring temporarily slowed down Stevenson in the seventh round by hitting him with a blatantly low right hand, which he followed with a left hand to Stevenson’s head.
In the final minute of the sixth round, Stevenson drilled Herring with right hooks up top and body shots that the tough former champion withstood.
Stevenson opened a cut over Herring’s left eye during the fifth round, when Stevenson’s four-punch combination – a left, a right and two more lefts – backed Herring into the ropes.
Herring hit Stevenson with a straight left with just over a minute to go in the fifth round. Stevenson smiled several seconds later and avoided clean punches on the inside for the rest of that round.
After losing the first three rounds badly, Herring became more aggressive at the start of the fourth round. He at least tried to be physical with Stevenson, but Stevenson still created separation at times and landed straight left hands that backed up Herring.
Stevenson unloaded a barrage of power punches on Herring during the first half of a completely one-sided third round. He appeared to buzz with a left hand just before the midway mark of the third round.
A short, right hook by Stevenson landed approximately 1:15 into the second round. A looping left by Stevenson caught Herring flush with just over a minute remaining in the second round.
Stevenson continued landing left hands and jabs as Herring backed up for the remainder of the second round. Stevenson’s confidence was obvious as he walked back to his corner following a one-sided second round.
Herring didn’t pressure Stevenson during the opening round, as many anticipated. He instead stood in front of the faster, sharper puncher and allowed the challenger to out-land him throughout the first three minutes of their fight.
Stevenson landed a hard right to Herring’s body about 1:10 into the first round. A stiff left up top by Stevenson connected with just over 1:15 left in the first round.
Stevenson’s jarring jab backed up Herring with just under 40 seconds on the clock in the opening round.
It seemed even by then that an older, slower Herring realized he was in for a long night.
“He’s sharp and slick,” Herring said. “His hand-eye coordination is very good. No excuses. He was just the better man tonight.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.