After all the bad blood and bitter feelings, Shakur Stevenson and Joet Gonzalez finally got to put their gloves up against each other on Saturday.
In the end, it was Stevenson, the highly touted rising star and 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist, who put on a masterpiece in a near-shutout decision to easily win a vacant featherweight world title in the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN+ card before 2,828 at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nevada. All three judges scored the fight 119-109 for Stevenson.
“It’s an amazing feeling. I came here to Reno, closer to his hometown, and wiped him out, so it’s an amazing feeling,” Stevenson said. “One of the best feelings of my life.”
At the crux of the ill feelings between the two is the fact that Stevenson’s girlfriend of the past three years is Gonzalez’s younger sister, Jajaira, an amateur boxer. Gonzalez has made no secret that he does not like their relationship or Stevenson. Their father and Joet’s trainer, Jose Gonzalez, has the same feelings and is estranged from his daughter.
Stevenson said he hoped that now that the fight is over, they can put the bad feelings behind them and the Gonzalez family fracture can be repaired.
“Joet is tough as hell. Nothing but respect for Joet,” Stevenson said. “I don’t got nothing to be mad about with him. If he wants to be cool, I’ll be cool with him. All that was business. It was personal for him, but it was business for me.
“They wanted to fight me, I didn’t want to fight them. But can you all please talk to your daughter? That’s all I got to say. Please talk to your daughter and your sister. That’s it.”
After the final bell, Stevenson tried to go over to Gonzalez to make peace.
“I told him he’s a helluva fighter. He didn’t really want to talk to me, but it is what it is. I ain’t trippin’,” Stevenson said.
Gonzalez was not ready to put the feud with Stevenson behind him.
“I’m down. My first world title [fight], I lost,” Gonzalez said. “Obviously, it was personal. He said a lot of bad things. But it’s fine. You live, and you learn. I don’t know how he can say there’s no hard feelings, no disrespect, but the whole time he was disrespecting my family. So now that the fight’s over, it doesn’t go away just like that. Only time will tell. He has to show us respect.”
As much as Gonzalez wanted to beat up Stevenson, he never came close to doing any damage. Round after round, Stevenson befuddled the offensive-minded Gonzalez with his speed and movement in a performance that harkened back to the brilliance of the young Floyd Mayweather and Pernell Whitaker, two defensive-minded all-time greats and Olympic medal winners whom Stevenson (or at least his potential) has been compared to.
“Brilliant performance. It was like déjà vu for me because he’s like a left-handed Floyd Mayweather. That’s how Floyd was,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, who promoted Mayweather for most of his career. “I had never seen Gonzalez fight before, but I felt by the second round that Shakur was way too fast and intelligent for him.”
A pro for only two-and-a-half years, Stevenson was on the fast track from the moment he turned pro, and he expected to win a world title quickly.
At 22, he has lived up to the billing, as he claimed the 126-pound belt recently vacated by Oscar Valdez, who elected to move up in weight rather than face Stevenson, who was his mandatory challenger.
Stevenson became the second-youngest active world titleholder behind only 20-year-old Devin Haney, who was elevated from interim lightweight titlist to full titlist a few days ago. Stevenson also won a featherweight world title in the second-fewest fights in boxing history, behind only the three bouts it took Vasiliy Lomachenko to do it.
Further, Stevenson made a bit of history by becoming the first 2016 male Olympian to claim a world title. Two others previously tried and failed. China’s Bin Lu was 1-0 when he challenged for a junior flyweight belt and suffered a 12th-round knockout loss to Carlos Canizales in July 2018. On Sept. 28, Uzbekistan’s Batyr Akhmedov, who represented Turkey in the Olympics, was 7-0 when he faced Mario Barrios for a vacant junior welterweight belt and lost a controversial decision.
Stevenson (13-0, 7 KOs), a southpaw from Newark, New Jersey, who earned $350,000 to Gonzalez’s $200,000, dominated with his jab, body shots and exceptional movement that left Gonzalez frustrated and rarely able to land anything clean. Stevenson would bounce in and out firing shots and then be gone by the time Gonzalez could get anything off. He was particularly effective with straight left hands to Gonzalez’s body.
According to CompuBox, Stevenson, who was fighting with a heavy heart following the death of his father, Alfredo Rivera, on Sept. 29, landed 121 of 510 punches (24%), and Gonzalez landed just 53 of 494 (11%). Gonzalez never landed double-digit shots in any round, maxing out by landing eight in the seventh and ninth rounds.
“It was a tough fight. I couldn’t establish my punches. That’s pretty much it,” Gonzalez said. “He kept a distance really good, which made it hard to catch up and reach him, and that’s why my punches weren’t landing.”
Gonzalez (23-1, 14 KOs), 26, of Glendora, California, pressed the action but could not corner Stevenson or get him to the ropes to land his shots. Often, Gonzalez would throw a wide punch — or several — that would miss by a mile, with Stevenson having long vacated the spot Gonzalez was aiming for.
Gonzalez, who complained to his father after the sixth round that he could not tire Stevenson out, had mild success in the seventh round, as he forced Stevenson to the ropes, tried to rough him up and landed a few shots. Stevenson looked like he might have taken the round off after exerting so much energy through the first half of the bout.
The seventh-round success was short-lived, however. After the eighth round, Jose Gonzalez told his son that he would need a knockout to win. After the ninth round, Jose Gonzalez once again was truthful with his son, telling him, “You already lost this fight. You got to stop him.”
He reiterated the need for a knockout going in the 12th round, but Joet, with bruising on his face, never came close to hitting Stevenson with a true, clean punch, much less a knockout blow.
Now it will be Stevenson who will make plans to defend the belt, and he has a target in mind: world titleholder Josh Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs), 28, of England, who retained his slice of the title by second-round knockout of Sofiane Takoucht on Oct. 12. Even before Saturday’s title win, Stevenson was calling Warrington out, and he did it again afterward.
“I want Josh Warrington,” Stevenson said. “Hey, Warrington, you don’t got no date. Me and you. You’re a champion. I’m a champion. You said you wouldn’t fight me until I got a title. I got a title now. Let’s work it. I want to be unified in 14 fights.”
The way Stevenson dazzled against Gonzalez, it would come as no surprise if he accomplishes that goal — if Warrington agrees to face him.