Ringside Seat: Shakur Stevenson takes another step toward the top at junior lightweight


LAS VEGAS — Shakur Stevenson nonchalantly sat on the stage rocking a gray Nike hoodie, black basketball shorts and a New York Yankees hat cocked to one side at his prefight news conference, when his opponent on Saturday — Jeremiah Nakathila — said something that made Stevenson quickly turn his head in surprise.

Nakathila, a massive underdog for Saturday’s main event (ESPN, 10 p.m. ET), said that he plans to surprise everyone by destroying Stevenson and believes he can knock out anyone in the 130-pound division.

Stevenson asked him to repeat his statement, and then he interjected.

“I’m going to beat the s— out of him.”

Some laughs filtered in from the crowd in the Virgin Hotels auditorium Friday. Nakathila, who has a job as a police officer in his home of Namibia, took the zinger in stride. But then Stevenson sent another when he heard of his opponent’s occupation outside of boxing.

“I’m damn sure not losing to a cop. I’ll never lose to 5-0,” Stevenson said, generating more laughs from the crowd.

Stevenson (15-0, 8 KOs) said he will dominate an overmatched Nakathila, but he refuses to look past him. He has seen Anthony Joshua get upset by Andy Ruiz and Josh Warrington get upset by Mauricio Lara, and he doesn’t want to be the next victim of that type of upset when he’s as close as he is to the big fights he truly desires.

He views Saturday’s fight and everything leading up to it as a showcase of what he can be, both in and out of the ring. He says he’ll trash-talk Nakathila because it can help build his brand and profile. He knows he needs to build his public persona to become the superstar he wants to be, so none of it is personal.

When it comes to the actual boxing side of it, Stevenson is locked in. He says he often looks at the landscape of future pound-for-pound best fighters and likes his chances to come out on top.

“I’m going to be the superstar of all the young fighters,” Stevenson said. “Everybody acts like I’m not there and other people are ahead of me. But they’re going to find out as time goes on.

“I’ve been in the ring with Tank to help him get ready for his fight with [Jose] Pedraza. I’ve been in there with Teofimo [Lopez] before the Olympics. I’ve been in there with Devin [Haney], sparring on YouTube. I’ve beat Ryan [Garcia] in the amateurs. I’ve been in there with all of them, and back then I wasn’t as good as I am now. I’ve gotten way better. I think a lot of them fight the same.”

Stevenson said he plans for Saturday night to be the best performance of his career because of how hard he trained. He mentioned he did eight or nine sparring rounds against WBO welterweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford during this training camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“It was the hardest sparring session I’ve ever had. But it was fun,” Stevenson said. “Bud is one of the most competitive fighters I’ve ever seen. He helps me get to that next level.”

Stevenson has been very vocal that he wants Oscar Valdez next, but with news that Top Rank has booked Valdez-Robson Conceicao, he seems resigned to face Jamel Herring this winter in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

It’s a bout he says he will win easily, and then he will be able to turn his focus to Valdez if that’s ultimately what Top Rank puts together. With a world title around his waist, Stevenson will also have a better case to make.

Each step will get Stevenson closer to the level of stardom he ultimately hopes to reach. Stevenson has it all mapped out in the long term, and he plans to fight in five different weight classes by the time all is said and done in his pro career.

“I’ll probably be at 130 [pounds] for another year or two then go to 135. I know I’ll end up at 147 even if I don’t get as big as a true 147-pounder like Pernell Whittaker.

“That’s what my career is going to go toward — but I’m going to be a bigger superstar.”

Tale of the tape

By the numbers

4: U.S. fighters, including Stevenson, who have won both an Olympic medal and a world title in the past 20 years. The others are Jermain Taylor, Andre Ward and Deontay Wilder.

4.9: Punches landed per round by Stevenson’s opponents, according to CompuBox data — significantly lower than the junior lightweight average of 16.5 punches per round.

0.9: Stevenson’s past six opponents have landed only 0.9 jabs per round (6.3% of total jabs attempted), and his 15 pro opponents overall have landed only 0.7 jabs per round (5.9% of total jabs attempted). Overall, Stevenson has out-landed his 15 pro opponents in punches 1,249-351.

The odds

Timothy Bradley Jr.’s breakdown and prediction

Stevenson is an inverted southpaw. He’s naturally right-handed, but he just feels more comfortable fighting in a southpaw stance. There was really no reason why he started to fight in that southpaw stance because, typically, a lot of trainers will train their fighter to keep their power hand behind him. But he actually has his more powerful arm in front of him with that stance. …

To read the full breakdown, as well as Bradley’s prediction for Stevenson-Nakathila, click here.

At 18 years old, Xander Zayas’ stock continues to rise

Eighteen-year-old Xander Zayas (8-0, 6 KOs) is one the most enticing prospects on the undercards. The welterweight from Puerto Rico has already shown an impressive skill set at such a young age that it makes it easy to see him becoming a contender in the years to come. Zayas said he’s been training and sparring with former welterweight champion Shawn Porter ahead of Saturday’s bout, as well as a few junior middleweight and middleweight boxers. He’s fighting Larry Fryers (11-3, 4 KOs) Sunday on the ESPN+ portion of the card, which begins at 6:30 p.m. ET.

“It’s surreal, because a couple of years ago I was watching Shakur Stevenson on TV; now being here it shows the hard work is paying off,” Zayas said. “Being Puerto Rican, representing Puerto Rico, having the people see me and show me love at this young stage of my career means a lot of to me. I can’t wait to bring glory to the island.”

Full card

  • Title fight: Shakur Stevenson (15-0, 8 KOs) vs. Jeremiah Nakathila (21-1, 17 KOs), 12 rounds, for the vacant WBO interim junior lightweight title

  • Jose Pedraza (28-3, 13 KOs) vs. Julian Rodriguez (21-0, 14 KOs), 10 rounds, junior welterweights

  • Tyler McCreary (16-1-1, 7 KOs) vs. Manuel Rey Rojas (20-5, 6 KOs), 8 rounds, junior lightweights

  • John Bauza (14-0, 5 KOs) vs. Christon Edwards (12-2, 6 KOs), 8 rounds, junior welterweights

  • Xander Zayas (8-0, 6 KOs) vs. Larry Fryers (11-3, 4 KOs), 6 rounds, welterweights

  • Bryan Lua (7-0, 3 KOs) vs. Frevian Gonzalez (4-0, 1 KO), 6 rounds, junior lightweights

  • Troy Isley (1-0, 0 KOs) vs. LaQuan Evans (4-1, 2 KOs), 4 rounds, middleweights

  • Kasir Goldston (2-0, 1 KO) vs. Maurice Anthony (3-1, 3 KOs), 4 rounds, welterweights

  • Jahi Tucker (3-0, 2 KOs) vs. Ysrael Barboza (3-1-1, 3 KOs), 4 rounds, welterweights

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