Shakur Stevenson put forth a one-sided boxing clinic Saturday in Reno, Nevada, capturing the WBO featherweight title by mastering the hard-trying, but limited Joet Gonzalez, who simply had no answers for the riddle that was Stevenson.
He served notice that he didn’t just arrive on the world-class scene, but that he’s here to stay — for a long while.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the Atlantic, Josh Taylor unified two junior welterweight world titles with a tight victory over Regis Prograis.
Let’s take a deeper look at a busy day in the boxing world, with Steve Kim reporting from Reno and Nick Parkinson in London.
Is Stevenson as good as he showed in this fight?
Kim: Yes. Stevenson has a deep amateur background, having won the silver medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics, and he has quickly developed his man-strength in the two-and-a-half years since he turned pro. He doesn’t have devastating punching power, but he has more than enough pop on his punches to earn anyone’s respect when he strikes.
Often, those are quick laser-like shots. There was a reason why the normally aggressive Gonzalez was reluctant to just come inside recklessly — he knew there was a price to pay to get to that prime real estate.
To cap it off, he’s a southpaw, and he has a certain understanding of angles that makes him very difficult to hit. Bob Arum said that his effort Saturday night was reminiscent of a ”left-handed Floyd Mayweather.” That’s high praise.
What’s next for Stevenson and Gonzalez?
Kim: There will be better days for Gonzalez, of whom Stevenson said, “Man, Joet’s a great fighter, I’m just a helluva fighter, though.” In other words, there are levels to this game. It wouldn’t be out of line to think that one day Gonzalez will fight again for a world title, and perhaps pick up a belt. But Stevenson was all wrong for him. The reality is that Stevenson is all wrong for a lot of guys out there.
Stevenson wants to go big-game hunting, and for good reason. Word is that he might not be long for this division, but during his days as a world titleholder at featherweight, he wants to add to his belt collection as soon as possible.
“I want to go straight to Josh Warrington,” Stevenson said of the IBF titleholder. “I’d like that to be my very next fight.”
And Arum is on board with that plan, telling reporters ringside that he will be calling Frank Warren on Monday, “and hopefully he’ll get a date at the O2 Arena. We’re happy to go over there, and fight [Warrington] in England.”
Can Stevenson beat the other champions in the featherweight division?
Kim: This version of Stevenson can absolutely compete with anyone at 126. He’s a smart boxer, who understands spacing at a distance, and for all of his quickness, he also has enough physical strength to make his style work. Though Gonzalez had to be the aggressor to try to slow down the slick southpaw with a body attack, it was the sharp-shooting Stevenson who was first all night in initiating his attack — and he kept Gonzalez from ever building enough momentum to be consistently effective enough in his aggression.
Based on track record and longevity, Gary Russell Jr., the WBC belt holder, could be a tough opponent for Stevenson. But even at 22, Stevenson is a handful for anyone right now. With fighters like Oscar Valdez, who vacated the belt Stevenson won Saturday, and Leo Santa Cruz moving up to 130, there’s a new generation of featherweights, and they are led by this pugilist prodigy from Newark, New Jersey.
Andre Ward checks in on his star pupil
Kim: Given that Ward co-manages Stevenson, he was not part of the ESPN broadcast crew. But he was there ringside to watch the fight, and throughout the night he could be heard giving very direct instructions to Stevenson, alongside current WBO welterweight titlist Terence Crawford, who sat next to Ward for much of the fight.
“Show him that speed! Show him that speed!” Ward shouted at the beginning of the fight, as he instructed Stevenson to establish his fast jab.
“Make him pay inside!” he later added, as the bout was in the middle rounds. Gonzalez chased a lot but didn’t move his hands, Ward said more than once. “He’s pump-faking, he don’t want to throw punches.”
Was Ward satisfied by Stevenson’s performance?
“I’m a hard grader, man,” Ward said with a chuckle. “He pitched a shutout, he may have lost one or two rounds. I see so much growth.” Ward later added, “I see a lot of room for growth. I don’t know what his grade would be, but he put on a great performance.”
Ward also said that around the eighth or ninth round that he wished that Stevenson would start to sit inside the pocket more and attack the body and ”work over” Gonzalez, believing Stevenson had done enough to soften up Gonzalez for a late-round attack. But he noted, that like himself, it will take time for Stevenson to evolve into a more complete fighter who is as comfortable from in close as he is on the perimeter of the ring.
Who else made a statement on the Stevenson-Gonzalez undercard?
Kim: Xander Zayas, the heavily hyped boxer from Davie, Florida, began his professional career on this card and stopped Genesis Wynn in the first round. He sent Wynn twice to the canvas before referee Jay Nady waved off the action.
Zayas, who turned pro early this year, is the youngest boxer to sign with Top Rank at age 16 — and after celebrating his 17th birthday in September, he became eligible to fight in certain locales, including Nevada and Texas.
“We went inside the ring just trying to stay patient, throw your jab, find the distance, and once I hit him with the first punch, I saw that he really didn’t like it. So I just listened to my corner, my coach said go to the body,” Zayas said just minutes after his first professional victory.
When asked if he felt any nerves, Zayas admitted, “That walk to that ring was long, I was a little nervous. But overall, I was calm, I was breathing, and I felt great.”
With his first win in the bag, where does Zayas go next?
There’s a chance Zayas might appear on the Nov. 30 Top Rank card at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.
What’s next for Taylor, after unifying these two titles?
Parkinson: What the fans want is a clash to decide the undisputed junior welterweight champion against Jose Ramirez, the WBC-WBO king from California. But Ramirez is being lined up to face Ukraine’s Viktor Postol in a mandatory defense on an ESPN card in February, so a unification fight will have to wait.
After such an absorbing, close encounter, there will also be an appetite to see a rematch with Prograis. But Taylor (16-0, 12 KOs), who unified the IBF and WBA junior welterweight world titles, is more likely to have an interim fight while he waits for the chance of a bigger clash with Ramirez.
Unfortunately, the fighters at the top of the rankings will not attract much interest. Apinan Khongsong (16-0, 13 KOs) is No. 1 on the IBF side, but he has not fought outside of his native Thailand or Japan. Mario Barrios (25-0, 16 KOs), from San Antonio, holds a WBA’s secondary title, and Alberto Puello (17-0, 9 KOs), of the Dominican Republic, is at No. 1 spot in the WBA rankings.
Rances Barthelemy, the Las Vegas-based Cuban who has won world titles at lightweight and junior lightweight, is No. 2 in the WBA rankings and would be more appealing than the aforementioned options.
What’s next for Prograis, after a tough loss?
Parkinson: Losing a world title in a first defense is a disappointment but not a major setback for Prograis, who played his part in a high-quality, technical battle. At 23, he still has a lot of big nights ahead of him. Prograis (24-1, 20 KOs) was hit more than ever before, but a boxer as talented as Prograis is unlikely to go without a title for long.
Is Dereck Chisora ready for the big boys in the division?
Parkinson: Yes — but you never really know what you are going to get with Chisora. He has disappointed us and surprised us over the course of his roller-coaster career, and this win showed he still has plenty of appetite and punching power left.
Chisora’s victory — his third consecutive win — will improve his ranking with the governing bodies, but other sizable obstacles lie in his way before we can consider him a world title contender again. His only shot came seven years ago, and his best hope of another crack at a title is if one or some of the belts held by Andy Ruiz Jr. are relinquished after Ruiz’s Dec. 7 clash with Anthony Joshua.
Who should Chisora face next, and can he get a title fight with one of the titleholders?
Parkinson: Joseph Parker, the former WBO world titleholder from New Zealand, is Chisora’s No. 1 target, and it is a good fight for him. Parker was ruled out of facing Chisora at the start of the month after he suffered a spider bite.
Parker (26-2, 20 KOs), who lost decisions to both Joshua and Dillian Whyte in 2018, seems a likely future opponent for Chisora in the first quarter of 2020, and Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk (17-0, 13 KOs) is another prospect if Chisora gets past Parker. Usyk, a former undisputed world cruiserweight champion, made his heavyweight debut earlier this month and also works with promoter Eddie Hearn. If the winner of the Ruiz-Joshua rematch relinquishes the WBO belt after their Dec. 7 fight, Chisora could be in the mix to fight for the vacant title.