Shakur Stevenson is pretty clearly a great boxing talent, and he showed that again on Saturday night, dominating Oscar Valdez — even toying with him at times — to unify the WBO and WBC junior lightweight titles in a wide decision win.
Even more than just having the talent, Stevenson (18-0, 9 KO) has the hunger to be seen as great. He wants consideration for pound-for-pound lists at age 24, and like it or not, he’s earned at least the consideration. Many will have him on those lists after last night. He has rarely lost a round as a professional, and while the criticism of the opposition may continue from some, and there is some nuance to that and all, he just keeps passing every “step up” test with flying colors.
He’s won world titles in two divisions. He’s clearly the best in the world at 130 lbs right now. So with Valdez done and dusted, what comes next?
Unfortunately for Stevenson, that hunger for a big fight may have to go unsatisfied for the time being.
The other two titlists at 130 right now are Kenichi Ogawa and Roger Gutierrez. Gutierrez is the WBA’s titleholder, and the WBA’s recent history with their 130 lb belts is a long, obnoxious discussion, but at any rate, he’s the only guy with a “world title” there now. He will have a mandatory due against Hector Garcia, but power brokers may be able to talk their way into Stevenson vs Gutierrez.
Trouble is, it’s not a big fight. It’s not really a fight anyone wants to see, period.
Ogawa would be the better option of the two. The IBF titleholder is a good fighter, can be very exciting to watch, and has a shiny enough record to hype for an ESPN main event.
Trouble still is, it’s not a big fight. It’s not really a fight anyone wants to see, period. There is no demand for Stevenson vs Ogawa. Title unification always sounds great, but it works best when the titleholders are seen as even near the same level. Stevenson is seen well beyond Ogawa and Gutierrez at this point.
Move to lightweight?
At one point, promoter Bob Arum was floating the idea of Teofimo Lopez vs Shakur Stevenson at 135 lbs by the end of 2022. But that was in 2021, before Lopez got his perfect record and maybe his confidence shattered by a determined George Kambosos Jr. Lopez is now headed to 140, whenever he does fight again.
So what else would there be? All four title belts are tied up in the June 4 bout between Kambosos and Devin Haney; the winner of that will be undisputed champion, zero questions about the WBC’s situation afterward.
If it’s Haney, then Stevenson would have to “cross the street.” If it’s Kambosos, maybe it’s doable, but Kambosos has already said he’d like to give Vasiliy Lomachenko the shot after Haney’s, after Lomachenko pulled out of negotiations to stay in Ukraine and fight. Kambosos respected Lomachenko’s decision, and respects him as a fighter and man. If he beats Haney, he’d clearly like to fight Lomachenko after.
Lomachenko himself is an interesting proposition, though.
Like Stevenson, Lomachenko is in the Top Rank stable. And Loma has been fighting heavy as a lightweight, only going up to that division because he couldn’t get anyone to fight him at 130, the same reason he moved to 130 from 126.
Stevenson is “someone” at 130. Lomachenko might still be better off at 130. Top Rank and ESPN would undoubtedly love to have that fight, and it’s one Stevenson has talked about for some time now, too, with great confidence that he’ll beat Vasiliy.
If Top Rank can put together a better money offer for Stevenson-Lomachenko than there would be for Kambosos-Lomachenko — and there’s a good chance they could — that might be even more appealing to Loma than the Kambosos fight. And it would absolutely be a high-end option for Shakur.
Robson Conceicao is also a possibility. The Brazilian lost a controversial decision to Valdez last year, then bounced back to dominate Xavier Martinez in January, a fight that flew well under the radar for many but kept Conceicao right in the mix as a contender in the division.
If nothing else, Top Rank can promote that on the Olympic pedigrees of Stevenson, a 2016 silver medalist at bantamweight, and Conceicao, a 2016 gold medalist at lightweight. It would also be much easier to make than some fights, and really no less an attraction than a Stevenson unification with Ogawa or Gutierrez.
If it’s Conceicao, listen, worse world title fights have been made. It won’t be the big fight, but as a way to keep moving forward looking for one, you can sink a lot lower.