Shakur Stevenson: The next great American fighter - 'At my best, there's not a fighter on the planet that can beat me!'
What's more pressurised? Fighting an acclaimed rival champion in a world title unification, or proposing to your partner? Shakur Stevenson decided to do both on the same night.
In April in his most high-profile contest to date, Stevenson defeated Oscar Valdez to add the WBC title to the WBO super-featherweight belt he already held. Afterwards kneeling down in the ring he asked his girlfriend to marry him.
"Proposing was more pressure than fighting Oscar Valdez," he smiled.
He insisted that the fight itself panned out just as he intended. "I'm very confident in myself," he told Sky Sports. "You've got to realise, I put the work in. So once I put the work in, I know what I'm going to do come fight night."
Stevenson loses world titles after failing to make weight
Valdez had won his title with a spectacular knockout victory over Miguel Berchelt. He's a dangerous, all-action fighter, yet even then Stevenson was confident he wouldn't be proposing with any cuts or bruises on his face.
"I wasn't really thinking about that. I kind of knew boxing's a game of hit and don't get hit so I don't prepare to get hit. I prepare not to get hit," he said.
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The victory over Valdez was a showcase of his style. Stevenson has mastered the judgement of distance, stepping back just clear of the Mexican's shots but punishing his opponent with salvoes of counter-punchers. He hurt Valdez throughout the fight, and relished it each time.
"I definitely enjoy putting hands on people. That's what I do for a living," he said. "I enjoy it, I go in there and have fun. I feel like when I'm having fun, can't nobody beat me. Me having fun and me at my best, there's not a fighter on the planet that can beat me.
"I will pick you apart and beat you up mentally and physically. So I think that I'm one of the best fighters in the sport of boxing. My style is like some of the greatest where we go in there and dominate."
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The next fighter to try his hand at defeating Stevenson will be Brazil's Robson Conceicao. Stevenson lost his WBC and WBO belts on the scales, having failed to make the super-featherweight limit, but the fight goes ahead live on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Arena at 1am on Saturday morning,
Conceicao on paper is a formidable opponent. He was a three-time Olympian as an amateur, getting a result over Vasiliy Lomachenko at a World championships, before it was swiftly overturned. Ultimately he won the lightweight gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
Many also consider him unlucky to have lost a decision to Oscar Valdez in a world title fight last year. In that sense he was one of the best challenges available for Stevenson to take.
Boxing at the Prudential Center in his Newark hometown, Stevenson promises to be unfazed.
"I honestly feel like the better the competition, the better I am. A lot of people feel like he deserved it after the Oscar Valdez fight. They felt like he should have been the world champion. I disagree with them," Stevenson said. "He can believe whatever he wants, the truth is he didn't win, if you ask me, because he let his foot off the gas.
"You can't leave it in the judges hands. I feel like if you leave it in the judges, it's your fault when you lose. I'm a dominant person I'm going to keep putting in dominant performances. That's the thing, I'm going to show him he's not a world champion."
Conceicao is an Olympic champion, winning his gold medal at the same Olympics where Stevenson, when he was just a teenager, won silver in the division below.
The American would take a measure of satisfaction from beating an Olympic gold medallist.
"But honestly," Stevenson said, "I think I'm way past that. I think with the Olympics I lost but at the end of the day I was going to become a better professional anyway.
"He's an Olympic gold medallist, I'm a better professional fighter and you're going to get to see the difference in the fight."
Outgrowing super-feather, Stevenson will have to move up for his next contest. But he'll be expected to win titles there too.
In the past he's sparred Vasiliy Lomachenko, one of the best fighters, and certainly one of the best lightweights, in the world. Stevenson won't divulge any details of that spar. He did say, "When I sparred him, I was a kid.
"I'm just saying right now I'm physically stronger, I'm more like a pro. I'm a lot better than I was before. I'm just throwing that out there so he knows."
Though he added, "Ain't nobody gets the best of me in no sparring. Last time I remember someone getting the best of me was Terence Crawford a long time ago.
"I spar with everybody. I'm one of them dudes if you come in the gym and put on some gloves we can work. I spar with everybody. I've sparred with Bud [Crawford], I sparred with Boots [Jaron Ennis, another top welterweight] before, I've sparred with a lot of bigger fighters."
He's even moved around with top heavyweight prospect Jared Anderson. "Honestly I just feel like weight don't win fights, skills win fights," Stevenson said. "That's how I look at it."
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His promoter believes Stevenson can do things other fighters simply can't. Top Rank president Todd duBoef told Sky Sports, "I think Shakur can do anything. He's that brilliant of a fighter.
"In my career looking back at certain type of athletes that had that dynamic like Shakur, and you start to look at Roy Jones, you start to look at Andre Ward, Floyd Mayweather, you start to look at Shakur, who are just brilliantly athletic," he continued.
"You could probably get him to gain [10lbs] and be a 140-pounder in one week. He's got a big frame, IQ as high as anything, very smart. I think he'll fight anybody. I think he has the ability to slide that way to do it and I think he's becoming a better fighter every day."
DuBoef expects Stevenson to become a pound-for-pound star in quick time. His prediction: "Probably over the next five years, he's one, two on anybody's list."
For some he's the heir to Floyd Mayweather, and Stevenson himself expects to be America's next great fighter.
"I'm the first Shakur Stevenson but I definitely appreciate the comparison [to Mayweather]," he said. "It just lets me know that I'm a great fighter in the sport of boxing. So I don't get big headed about it but I just feel like if they're comparing me to someone as great as him that must mean I'm doing something great.
"I think I'm going to be one of the best fighters to ever do it in the sport of boxing. But I've got to keep on the same path, not let nothing stop what I've been doing."
Watch Shakur Stevenson vs Robson Conceicao live on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Arena from 1am on Saturday morning.
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3 of October 2022