What Will Make Shakur Stevenson A Star?

Not too long ago, I was on Twitter and made a comment which was quickly corrected.

The comment was in relation to Shakur Stevenson, regarding his upcoming bout with Jamel Herring being his first attempt at a world title. Now, as anyone with Google will quickly tell you, that wasn't his first shot at world gold. No, that would have come in October of 2019 against Joet Gonzalez, when the pair squared off for the vacant WBO Featherweight strap.

I'm not particularly concerned with being corrected, but it did raise an interesting question in my mind: Why had I forgotten about that?

Most concerning was that I later recalled watching that fight and specifically remembered it was Stevenson's title fight debut. So, why had I forgotten the contest?

Possibly, it had something to do with the opponent. With all due respect to Gonzalez, he isn’t a marquee attraction that would live in my mind for eternity. It was a regular television bout for a vacant championship belt that ultimately became a relatively one-sided affair.

There is the other possibility, however, that it just didn't stand as anything memorable.

Truthfully, that's not entirely fair to Stevenson -- or Gonzalez for that matter. Gonzalez did his best and showed up to fight and it certainly isn't Stevenson's fault for making the fight look rather run-of-the-mill. However, it's also not necessarily my fault for forgetting what my brain deems forgettable. Regardless of fault or what is or isn't fair, something about that fight simply didn't entertain me enough for it to leave a lasting impression.

And that's a problem when it comes to boxing.

Ultimately, in any sport, but especially in a spectator sport such as boxing, entertainment as much as results matter. Yes, athletes are results-driven by nature and that is what will allow them to rise to the top. But once at the highest level, those results will only matter to the general fan if they enjoyed watching the result transpire.

The talent of Stevenson is inescapable. However, the questions that arise surrounding the young American pertain more to his abilities to draw you in than they do to whether he is a quality operator.

While he can dominate, it's not exactly in devastating fashion. He doesn't knock you out and he isn't blowing you away. He has quick hands, but they aren't always mesmerizing. He's offensive enough to keep his opponents honest, but doesn't always keep the average fan interested. He doesn't appear to be a natural showman in the ring, he takes a more measured approach to his craft.

In fairness, this isn't something with which I personally have a problem. If he's able to do what he does best against the best, I'll give him all the praise in the world and more. I'll tune in. I'll watch. I will remember his performance against Jamel Herring this Saturday if he does to the Jr. Lightweight titlist what he did to Gonzalez. Naturally, as it's a more meaningful fight.

At that point, he won't need to convince me to tune in because I don't always watch fights for purely entertainment. Many times, I am excited for fights I know might not be aesthetically pleasing because of the significance of the fight, what's on the line or the skills involved. Most hardcore fight fans would say the same.

What strikes me as unanswered thus far is the question of whether or not the general public will equally find that sort of measured approach good enough.

During his rise as a standout prospect, there were many comparisons to Floyd Mayweather. It made sense based on the skillsets. However, any suggestion of his potential star-power being near that of Mayweather would be premature at best. Granted, most will fall short in that department. In fairness, it took Mayweather a while to draw an audience, Regardless, the point is that Stevenson has a ways to go before cultivating an audience.

Perhaps that starts with Herring this weekend. Since suffering the second of his two defeats back in August of 2017, Herring has compiled a record of 7-0 and picked up world gold in the process with a win over Masayuki Ito in May 2019. Defeating Herring soundly and capturing gold in his second division would serve him well as far as legitimacy. Still, work will be required insofar as selling Stevenson to a larger audience.

That can be confidently said when even Timothy Bradley, a commentator for ESPN which airs Stevenson's fights, feels comfortable enough stating that Shakur isn't a star or ticket seller.

While the wins will be of the utmost importance, how he wins and what he does in between those wins will also matter if Top Rank are ever to turn Stevenson into a memorable attraction.

Stevenson recently questioned what made himself and former world champion Vasyl Lomachenko so different, arguing that the treatment he receives for similar performances is questionable.

"I got 12 rounds with a fighter, 'Oh, he's so boring.' Lomachenko goes 12 rounds with somebody, ‘Oh, he's ‘The Matrix,’’" said Stevenson.

On the surface, he may seem to have a point. However, while they both may not be knockout artists, Lomachenko is willing to take risks, he will chase the stoppage win. In fights when he is miles ahead, he will look to close the show. Stevenson has too often looked to coast to victory. He does so skillfully, but not in a way that keeps viewers enthusiastic about your performance.

Whether it’s through channeling his inner-Mayweather out of the ring or getting a bit more aggressive in the ring like a Lomachenko, something will need to change for Stevenson to move the needle.

In some sense, I can’t quite put my own finger on what he must do to get the recognition and the attention his talent likely deserves. Regardless, if his buzz every matches that talent, Stevenson could be head and shoulders above the rest.

Hope you enjoyed reading and I would love to hear your take on Stevenson, especially what you think he needs to be more of that crossover star in boxing. Also, if you’re interested, you can click here to check out my prediction for Jamel Herring vs. Shakur Stevenson.

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