Full Circle: From the Trials, to the Olympics, to the Title
By: Kirk Jackson
Roughly four years ago, Shakur Stevenson (13-0, 7 KO’s) was fighting for a spot on the 2016 United States Olympic team roster, facing off against and defeating the talented Ruben Villa to earn his position on the team.
The U.S. Olympic Boxing Trials, held at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, was the first glimpse of greatness, audiences were able to witness on national level, for New Jersey native.
After snatching a silver medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics, fast-forward to present day with his quick ascension to world champion, the path has come full circle.
Returning to Reno, Nev., this past weekend, Stevenson realized his dream, capturing the WBO featherweight title, defeating Joet Gonzalez (23-1, 14 KO’s) over the course of 12 rounds.
“I came here to Reno, closer to his hometown, and wiped him out,” said Stevenson who went 12 rounds for the first time. “So, it’s an amazing feeling, being that I grinded for this my whole life.”
What makes his performance even more impressive, is the emotional build up leading up to the fight. There was an ongoing clash between the two camps – much pertaining to Stevenson dating the younger sister of Gonzalez.
Along with the drama comparable to Romeo and Juliet, Stevenson’s father recently passed away. To stay locked in and focused, in spite of all of the possible overwhelming emotions, says a lot about the character, resolve and concentration of Stevenson.
During this one-sided affair, Stevenson displayed technical, defensive mastery, similar to previous pound-for-pound greats that dominated (and still dominate) boxing. Greats like the late Pernell Whitaker, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Andre Ward and Terence Crawford.
Perhaps this performance isn’t surprising; as noted previously, the talent and potential was always there. The application of hard work and willingness to learn helps harvest the product we see today.
And as mentioned in previous interviews, Stevenson revealed he studies other boxers and patterns himself after Whitaker, Mayweather and Crawford.
“I watch real defensive boxers who know how to get out of the way of punches and come back,” Stevenson said.
When you have great Skills like @ShakurStevenson does & has great Hall of Fame Quality supporters to follow they footsteps as in @andreward & @terencecrawford .. As long as he focused he will be very hard to beat! Beyond skies the limit!!!
— Eddie Chambers (@champfasteddie) October 27, 2019
Stevenson’s promoter Bob Arum, the CEO of Top Rank Boxing was impressed by the performance, comparing it to that of a fighter who used to fight under his banner.
“I thought it was a really magnificent performance,” Arum told reporters post-fight. “In a lot of ways, it reminded me of a left-handed Floyd Mayweather.”
Heralded as a young prodigy, under the tutelage of his grandfather Wali Moses, Stevenson is meeting benchmark after benchmark and the immediate question after this display of wizardry is what lies ahead progressing forward?
Arum alluded to Stevenson moving up in weight in the near future, as the appears to be the natural progression for guys considered to be top pound-for-pound fighters. “I want him to fight a couple more fights before he moves up,” Arum said.
But before Stevenson moves up in weight, hopefully the current trend of world title unifications continue and Stevenson can compete in unification bouts against the likes of IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington (30-0, 7 KO’s), WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. 30-1, 18 KO’s), WBA (Super) featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz (36-1-1, 19 KO’s) or against WBA (Regular) featherweight champion Xu Can (17-2, 3 KO’s).
Standing firm as one of the youngest world champions in boxing, along with recently crowned WBC lightweight champion Devin Haney (23-0, 15 KO’s), 20-years-old, two-time WBC super-middleweight champion David Benavidez (22-0, 19 KO’s) 22-years-old, and 24-year-old Gervonta Davis (22-0, 21 KO’s), these fighters stand tall as pillars ushering in the new, great generation of talent moving forward.
However, one distinction Stevenson has over the aforementioned fighters, is at age 22-years-old, he is the first male fighter from the 2016 Rio Olympics to win a world title.
The first fighter from the 2016 Rio Olympics to win a world title is Claressa Shields (9-0, 2 KO’s). The current unified (WBA, WBC, WBO, IBF, The Ring champion) and undisputed female middleweight champion was in attendance to support her boxing family.
Also featured on the card, Olympic teammate and fellow Top Rank stablemate Mikaela Mayer (12-0, 5 KO’s), stopped Alejandra Soledad Zamora (7-4, 1 KO) in six rounds to retain her NABF title.
“I am ready for the next challenge. I want a world title,” Mayer said post-fight. “I think for the past two years I have shown that I am ready for a world title. I have shown it by easily dispatching all the fighters that have been put in front of me.”
Another fighter coming “Full circle” of sorts, also featured on the card this past weekend, is JJ Mariano.
Around the time Stevenson was fighting at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Reno, Nev., Mariano was competing and winning two national titles for the University of Nevada Reno, boxing team.
The Sparks-Reno native Mariano, won his second pro fight, defeating Sean Cerveny by unanimous decision in their welterweight bout and improving to (2-0, 1 KO).
Led by former super lightweight world title contender, and longtime trainer Pat “Paddy” Jefferson, along with fellow national champion Jarred Santos, Mariano aims to win world titles and blaze his own path in the boxing world. Much like Shakur Stevenson.