From an early age, Shakur Stevenson craved competition. As the story goes, from the time he was a toddler he and his grandfather Wali Moses watched fight tapes together every morning right after breakfast. As a boxing coach, Wali would critique the fighters on the screen, and Shakur would imitate what he saw, shadowboxing throughout the house.
As Shakur became a fighter like the ones he watched on TV, he wasn’t satisfied just fighting the local or even national opponents, so Wali and co-trainer Kay Koroma, consistently sought out optional international tournaments—Stevenson wanted to face the Russians, the Ukrainians, the Cubans.
In the finals of the 2016 Olympics, he met the very best Cuban in his weight class, Robeisy Ramirez. Though the two fought on even terms, it was Ramirez who was awarded the 2-1 decision and a second gold medal.
It’s that moment that shaped Stevenson as a professional athlete, and only further intensified his hunger for both competition and validation. His amateur career ended with the feeling and the public billing that he was second best, something he can’t go back and erase.
“When I lost in that Olympics, it kind of turned me into an animal,” Stevenson said in the Top Rank Certified interview series released by the promotional outlet on Monday. “From that point on, I knew I was going to never feel that feeling again. I think that it’s very early for me still. I want the world to know that I was one of the best boxers ever to do it, so I gotta keep training, keep getting better.”
This Saturday, Stevenson faces Namibia’s Jeremiah Nakathila with the interim version of the WBO’s super featherweight title on the line. Both the opponent and the title at stake are less than what Stevenson desires.
Stevenson is a -5000 favorite on some sportsbooks, and even in promotional appearances to help bring attention to the event, there has been nary the suggestion that he is in a significant degree of danger. On April 28, Stevenson was a guest on Hotboxin’ With Mike Tyson, a plum booking reserved for the sport’s biggest and most interesting stars, and perhaps the one boxing-oriented talk show that can honestly claim to reach an audience outside of pure boxing hardcores.
As Tyson watched film of Nakathila with Stevenson, he offered a bold assessment.
“Hey listen, if this guy lays a glove on you, you should retire,” said Tyson. “That guy couldn’t hit you if you were blindfolded.”
“Yeah, you’re right about that,” Stevenson said laughing.
Stevenson is generally regarded as one of the most talented fighters in the sport, and in particular, one of its slickest defensive operators. However, while he is rich in acclaim from critics, he has found himself lagging behind some of his contemporaries in terms of accomplishments and attention, through no fault of his own.
In his last bout, Stevenson dominated Toka Kahn Clary in a bout announced a month before it happened. Prior to that, Stevenson was one of the first fighters of note to compete during the pandemic, stopping Felix Caraballo. When other fighters were rightfully hesitant about fighting with unknown variables and a then-unfamiliar situation in the Top Rank Bubble, Stevenson stepped up and beat the opponent made available to him.
All the while, he’s been asking for more. As far back as early 2019, Stevenson has been calling for a bout with now-WBO super featherweight champ Oscar Valdez, who left the 126-pound division before it could materialize. Now that they are again in the same weight class at 130, Stevenson has been calling for it again, in addition to a fight with WBO super featherweight titleholder Jamel Herring. A video recently went viral on boxing Twitter of Stevenson in a restaurant shouting at Herring and being restrained while the latter sat with a lobster bib around his neck awaiting his dinner.
Herring in particular insists the confrontation, and a subsequent one in the gym, was in jest, and there does indeed seem to be a playfulness to their rivalry. However, Stevenson feels compelled to put a show like that on for a reason. While the video was amusing in a vacuum, it was still emblematic of the boiling impatience Stevenson has within him when it comes to landing a big fight—one where his implied win probability according to the betting odds isn’t 98%.
Stevenson’s promoter Top Rank can’t be accused of either mishandling him or coddling him—rather, this is a situation in which a 15-0 fighter is particularly talented and dominant, and simply feels they are already too advanced for what would be a reasonable rate of progression for any other fighter.
Unfortunately, the boxing public tends to lump Stevenson in with other young fighters in his weight neighborhood like Gervonta Davis, Teofimo Lopez, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia, all of whom have more fights than him and have also benefitted from recognizable opposition. What they also benefit from is the noise they have created amongst one another, constantly calling one another out and creating interest in fights between them, even if they’ve yet to materialize.
It would appear that Stevenson has taken note, and has begun making more noise himself. In addition to calling for bouts with Valdez and Herring, he’s also thrown another name onto his wish list: Vasyl Lomachenko.
"I would love to fight him," said Stevenson. “I think he’s too small for 135. I think he should come down to 130. I think he would beat everyone at 130 except me and (Gervonta Davis).”
The amateur from Newark who would go anywhere to find the best fight hasn’t changed in that respect, and sooner or later, if he keeps looking, he’s going to find it.