The most interesting thing about Shakur Stevenson’s win over Jeremiah Nakathila last Saturday wasn’t any part of the bout, which saw Shakur have no problem dominating his foe.
Yes, the 23-year-old had his way over 12 rounds, but he threw too few punches, and too few of those were delivered with bad intentions. It was so obvious that even the broadcast crew — made up of Joe Tessitore, Tim Bradley, and Andre Ward — started to critically dissect the manner in which the young gun was playing his trade.
That line of questioning heated up when analyst Mark Kriegel, who was under the weather and watching from home, messaged Tessitore during the match. Basically, he said that Stevenson needed to pick it up, or he’d risk being labeled a “boring” fighter.
Points to Kriegel for going there. It’s not like that bunch never serves up real-talk critiques of high grade talents like Stevenson, one of the top practitioners working under the Top Rank umbrella. But this discussion continued after the fight, too, in the post-fight breakdown. Bradley especially minced no words; he even told viewers that he almost fell asleep during the main event, because Shakur wasn’t bringing the fire, or signaling that he understood boxing is an entertainment business.
Shakur couldn’t have been happy when he realized the depth of criticism leveled at him during the ESPN broadcast.
Maybe you saw his post to social media that same night, apologizing for a performance that didn’t excite. I applauded it, that told me something positive about the pugilist. He admitted he didn’t show his best and instead of retreating into a defensive shell, he reached out, directly to the people, the people who will or won’t be making a date to watch his next outing.
But some time passed, and who knows, maybe he went to the DVR and played the fight back. By Wednesday, Stevenson’s Twitter account was filled with shots taken at Ward and Bradley for their criticism.
Many of you reading this remember that Ward previously managed Shakur, along with James Prince. We learned last December that Ward ended that relationship. I didn’t recall that there was a reason put out there, so I looked around. I saw that Stevenson did a chat with “Smooth Vega” and the host asked the fighter about the split. Stevenson gave him nothing, responding that the reason for the split is something that you’d have to ask Ward about.
Apart from that, I found it refreshing to hear the announce team be honest, and not pretend everything was all good, as typically happens.
I was surprised, though, that Shakur went from apologetic to endorsing shots at the ESPN dissectors, because it made it look like he was back-tracking on his apology.
Some folks will weigh in, and say how Shakur responds is his business, and he can damn well fight any way he wants. Indeed; he can do whatever he wants on social media, and I agree, he can fight in whatever manner he wishes. But I will repeat now my night-of-the-fight take on method of operations during a prize fight. Like a heavy majority of boxing fans, I am a sucker for offense. I appreciate the art of defending, but the fighters who spend most rounds employing the opposite of a “hit and don’t get hit” strategy are the ones I get most amped up to see in action.
It’s gotten more and more fashionable to brag about how much you love the “skills pay the bills” stylists who are loath to fall into a trading pattern. Some of that has to do with the rise of social media — contrarian takes are more likely to draw attention and traffic than mainstream opinions.
But it’s more complex than that, because fighters these days are more likely to employ a defense-oriented game-plan and brag about it. The effects of repeated brain trauma are so widely reported that it’s less of a badge of honor to be the guy who is the unapologetic rumbler, the type who takes two to give one. And that’s part of the reason I am less likely than I may have been 10-plus years ago to be vocal about my preference for those who embrace risk in order to have a better chance to lay thunder on a foe.
Now is the time, I think, to discuss the issue more, and maybe get some more clarity to the fore. Boxing is not for everybody. But it’s even less for those whose style reflects a desire to avoid contact, to keep from getting hit hard.
“I tried to [get him out of there] a little bit, but I started getting hit with some solid shots,” said Stevenson right after he had his hand raised. “I ain’t really like it, but next time I’m going to work on moving my head a little bit more and step it up a little more.”
That would be nice, as Shakur didn’t throw more than 35 punches in any single round. In five of the rounds, he didn’t throw more than 25 punches. And while we are at it, let’s not absolve Nakathila of his part in this sub-classic. During the week, he promised to take it to Shakur. According to CompuBox, Nakathila threw 20 or more power punches in just two of 12 rounds. The man promised to bring the big guns, and he showed up brandishing a SuperSoaker.
I don’t need every fight I watch to resemble Gatti-Ward, but the volume in the Stevenson-Nakathila was woeful. They barely broke 600 punches thrown between the two of them. If that level of performance, with such a deficiency of offense, isn’t acknowledged and discouraged by analysts, then the sport as a whole is engaging in self-destructive disingenuousness.
Plenty of boxing fans can and do appreciate the subtler artistry of evasion-centric pugilism. But the vast majority tune in to see fights, not merely marvel at the wizardry of an artist matched against a vastly inferior opponent who decides to dominate with defense.
To see 12 rounds of Shakur Stevenson play with his food isn’t a “master class,” it’s a self-indulgent and tedious exercise which contributes to the stagnancy of the sport.