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Stevenson vs Gonzalez preview: Unbeaten featherweight prospects fight for first world title

Shakur Stevenson and Joet Gonzalez are two days away from one of them becoming a first-time champ.

Top Rank Boxing Fall Schedule News Conference Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

This Saturday night from Reno, Nevada, we’ve got a featherweight world title on the line in the main event and a solid co-feature at bantamweight, plus plenty of prospects in action on the prelims.

Here’s a look at the Top Rank doubleheader coming our way.

Shakur Stevenson vs Joet Gonzalez

Stevenson (12-0, 7 KO) and Gonzalez (23-0, 14 KO) have some sort of personal beef selling this fight, something about Stevenson dating Gonzalez’s sister or whatever. I don’t know, I haven’t paid that much attention to it because during a press conference for this fight, Stevenson seemed like he had to remember to “talk shit,” rather than it coming out of him naturally, and since then I’ve written off that aspect. I mean, I’m as gullible a dumbo as anyone, I’ll buy into boxing’s 17,000th THIS TIME IT’S PERSONAL narrative for the fun of it, but not if your trash talk comes off like someone had to remind you to include it at the end.

More importantly, anyway, is that this is for the vacant WBO featherweight title and pits a pair of legit prospects. The 22-year-old Stevenson is seen as a true blue chipper, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist, promoted by Top Rank and managed by Andre Ward. The connections are there, the hype that he’s going to be a pound-for-pound guy is there, and ESPN are buying in, as this is Shakur’s second main event on their airwaves.

But I’m not personally entirely sold on his greatness. There’s no question he’s talented and that he deserves to be considered a top prospect, but I have at least some lingering doubt about how high he can really fly when the competition gets tougher. He’s passed the tests thus far, but we haven’t seen him in against a top 10 fighter yet, either.

Gonzalez, 26, is also not a top 10 fighter, at least not coming in here, but he’s a good prospect, too — not considered to be on Stevenson’s level, but he’s an entertaining pressure fighter with some decent wins over Rafael Rivera, Rodrigo Guerrero, and Manuel “Tino” Avila, which isn’t really any worse a résumé than what Stevenson’s done against the likes of Viorel Simion, Jessie Cris Rosales, Christopher Diaz, and Alberto Guevara.

This fight should really come down to styles. Stevenson is meant to be a class boxer with some pop, and the sort of timing that can make his KO ability even greater than just the pure force of the blows. Gonzalez, again, likes to pressure, seems to have a really good motor, and doesn’t back down from a scrap.

Stevenson is and should be the favorite, but this is make or break for both guys at this moment in their careers. The winner, obviously, nets the WBO belt, and the loser has to reset a little bit, which neither man wants to do, having worked their way to this spot.

Joshua Greer Jr vs Antonio Nieves

Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Chicago bantamweight Greer (21-1-1, 12 KO) is nicknamed “Don’t Blink,” and while his KO percentage might lead you to believe he got that with some powerful results early in his career before petering out a bit over time, it’s actually kind of the reverse. Of the nine wins for Greer that have gone the distance, eight of them came within his first 14 fights, where he went 12-1-1. Since then, he’s actually 7-0 (6 KO).

It’s also worth noting that the 25-year-old Greer’s lone career loss came in his fifth pro fight and was against Stephen Fulton, who is now 17-0 and an emerging contender at 122.

Top Rank believe in Greer, but the jury is certainly still out on him becoming a serious player. Last time out against Nikolai Potapov, Greer won a majority decision over 12 rounds, and the fight could easily have gone the other way, and the fight before that, he did stop Giovanni Escaner, but he had some real struggles, too. It’s not whether or not Greer can fight, because he can, he’s not a scrub. It’s about how high the ceiling is for him.

Nieves (19-2-2, 11 KO) is a 32-year-old veteran from Cleveland, 3-2-1 in his last six fights, so he’s not exactly riding a wave of momentum. He has won his last two, but they were against journeyman types in Christian Esquivel and Jose Alfredo Rodriguez.

His losses both came in 2017, dropping a 10-round split decision to the aforementioned Potapov and then getting stopped after six rounds by Naoya Inoue. The latter can be forgiven, certainly — Inoue stops just about everyone, and Nieves lasted longer than most guys do. The two draws in his career came against Stephon Young in 2015 and Alejandro Santiago in 2016, and they’re both solid fighters, too.

It seems we kind of know the level for Nieves, we may know the level for Greer, but he’s younger and with ostensibly more upside. We might be able to capably judge Greer against Nieves, who is a tough guy and not an easy out. This isn’t a top-tier matchup for Greer or even really a step up from where he’s been, but it doesn’t figure to be just an easy showcase, either.

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