NEWARK, New Jersey – Shakur Stevenson stepped out of the ring six years ago in Brazil unimpressed by Robson Conceicao.
Stevenson and Conceicao sparred a few rounds in advance of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. They competed one weight class apart, but they boxed each other while preparing to make deep runs in different divisions.
Brazil’s Conceicao won gold at lightweight in his home country. Stevenson settled for silver because he lost a close decision to Cuba’s Robeisy Ramirez in the bantamweight final.
“He kinda a surprised me because I had sparred him leading up to the Olympics,” Stevenson told BoxingScene.com. “I had sparred him in Brazil, and I didn’t think he was that good. He surprised me by winning the Olympic gold medal.”
Conceicao and Stevenson never sparred again. The stakes will be much higher when they finally share a ring again Friday night, as the 12-round main event ESPN will air from Prudential Center in Stevenson’s hometown of Newark.
The WBC, WBO 130-pound championships will only be at stake for Conceicao after Stevenson failed to make weight on Thursday - which forced him to vacate both titles.
“Shakur has been saying it like that sparring was something where he took a huge advantage, but it wasn’t,” Conceicao told BoxingScene.com through a translator. “It was just a normal sparring session, light sparring. Every sparring I take as an opportunity for me to learn and grow. This Friday, I’m just determined to show him how much better I am.”
Though Conceicao was a gold medalist in 2016, he and Stevenson have taken disparate paths as professionals.
Stevenson (18-0, 9 KOs) was just 24 when he became a two-weight world champion and is commonly considered one of the top 10 boxers, pound-for-pound, in the sport. The 33-year-old Conceicao (17-1, 8 KOs) narrowly lost a unanimous decision to Oscar Valdez in his only world title fight, a 12-rounder last September 10 at Casino Del Sol in Tucson, Arizona.
The left-handed Stevenson decisively defeated Valdez (30-1, 23 KOs) in his last fight to add the WBC super featherweight title to his WBO junior lightweight crown.
Nevertheless, Conceicao considers Stevenson envious of his ultimate amateur achievement.
“It could be a little bit of jealousy,” Conceicao said. “I won gold and he didn’t. So, now he thinks he’s the best. I sense a little jealousy.”
Conceicao claims he will surprise Stevenson again Friday night by winning two world titles in a fight Stevenson will enter as a 30-1 favorite, according to Caesars Sportsbook.
“It just goes to show that training is one thing,” Conceicao said of surprising Stevenson by winning a gold medal. “To me, that was normal training. It’s one thing for me to just be training, and another thing for me to actually be fighting. And that’s what’s gonna happen to him. He’s not expecting it and that’s why I’m gonna be the champ Friday night.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.