LAS VEGAS — It wasn’t a shock when Oscar Valdez defeated Miguel Berchelt to capture the WBC super featherweight championship on Feb. 20 at the MGM Grand. After all, Valdez was 28-0 entering the fight and had been the featherweight champion before moving up in weight.
What was stunning was the vicious way that Valdez knocked Berchelt, who was perceived to be the bigger and stronger man, out cold.
That victory opened the eyes of a very interested spectator at ringside. Shakur Stevenson, a former featherweight champion himself, showed up to watch, hoping to land a bout against the winner.
He came away more than impressed.
“Very much so,” Stevenson said.
And so, in typical Stevenson fashion, he wants the guy who would pose the most threat to him. He’ll fight Jeremiah Nakathila on Saturday at the Virgin Hotel for the interim WBO super featherweight belt. If Stevenson wins, which he's a massive -5000 favorite to do at BetMGM, he’s supposed to face regular WBO champion Jermel Herring for the title.
But Stevenson would prefer to skip Herring and go directly to Valdez as the biggest possible fight he could make in his division.
“It’s a big test for me and a big test for Valdez,” Stevenson told Yahoo Sports. “That’s what makes boxing good. Fights like that will bring boxing back on the map. That’s the fight that needs to happen next.”
Stevenson is a brilliant overall talent who, even early in his development, is already one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. He’s No. 9 on the Yahoo Sports’ list of the 10 best, and he is the type of talent who could get to No. 1 and then stay there for a long time.
Arum: Stevenson has same hunger as boxing legends like Mayweather
Top Rank founder Bob Arum has been enamored with Stevenson since before the 2016 Olympics, where he won a silver medal in Rio de Janeiro.
“I spotted his talent very early on, not that it took a genius,” Arum told Yahoo Sports. “He was different than any recent fighter, even Teofimo [Lopez], as great as he’s been. Shakur just has that innate ability to control what goes on in that ring.
“He’s enormously talented and No. 2, he just has great confidence in himself. A lot of the kids have the ability, but they don’t have that belief when it’s really tough that they can rise up. This kid overflows with self-confidence and when you combine that with his talent, it’s a damn good product.”
As Arum discussed Stevenson’s development, he without even pausing lumped him in with several of the pound-for-pound greats that Top Rank has promoted in its long and glorious history.
Stevenson shares a characteristic, Arum said, with legends like Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Oscar De La Hoya that will give him the opportunity to leave a lasting mark on this sport.
Mayweather always said he would never “duck or dodge” anyone, and it’s a stance that Stevenson has adopted.
“The great ones, the really special, great top-level talent, guys like Floyd, like Oscar, like Manny, there was never an opponent who was a problem,” Arum said. “They wanted the biggest and best names. The problem with all of them, but particularly with this kid, is that you have to rein them in.
“It’s like a horse, you have to rein him in from time to time. This kid believes he can do anything and he wants to do it all now, and we have to pull back on the reins sometimes and tell him it’s a process.”
But Stevenson is in a group of elite younger fighters like Lopez, Devin Haney and others who are pushing the envelope and are trying to make the biggest fights possible.
They’re not always successful in getting them done, but the more they bang on the door, the sooner it will be before they crash through it.
“It’s definitely a necessity,” Stevenson said of the best fighters facing each other regularly. “I think that boxing is going to come back and it’s going to come back through us younger fighters like me, Teo, Devin, Tank [Davis], Ryan [Garcia]. You got Keyshawn Davis on the way. I think all of us are going to bring boxing back.
“We’ve got to fight each other. We have to make the big fights. We have to get into the ring and make big fights happen like me and Valdez, Tank versus Teo or Devin versus Teo or Ryan versus one of them guys. That’s what is going to bring boxing back now. It’s our time now. We have to take over the sport and I think this is going to be a great era.”
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