There are prospects and then there are the can’t-miss prospects.
From the time Shakur Stevenson turned pro after claiming a silver medal in the 2016 Olympics, the product of Newark, New Jersey, was considered can’t-miss material because of his youth, speed, spectacular defensive abilities and enough offense to keep opponents honest.
Signing with Top Rank added to Stevenson’s surefire status because the promotional company easily has the best track record of any promoter when it comes to taking a top amateur and guiding him, with proper matchmaking, from 0-0 to the promised land of a world title and stardom. When it comes specifically to Olympic prospects, fighters that Top Rank guided include Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto.
Stevenson has the look of the next great one if his performance against previously undefeated Joet Gonzalez (23-1, 14 KOs), 26, of Glendora, California, on Saturday night in Reno, Nevada, is any indication. Stevenson, who had already dazzled in most of his early fights, ran roughshod over the capable Gonzalez in a near-shutout decision — 119-109 on all the scorecards — to win a vacant featherweight world title. Stevenson (13-0, 7 KOs) became the first male 2016 Olympian to win a world title.
Stevenson, 22, counts co-manager/future Hall of Famer Andre Ward and welterweight world titlist Terence Crawford, one of boxing’s elite pound-for-pound best, as mentors. Those two minds on his team will only help take him further.
Perusing the ESPN top 10 featherweight rankings I compile, it’s hard to pick anyone that I’d favor to beat him. Gary Russell Jr., with similar speed and defensive abilities, might be the only one, but even that is debatable given Russell’s chronic inactivity.
Stevenson, with his youthful precociousness, surprised nobody after his win when he immediately called for a unification bout with England’s Josh Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs), who, with Leo Santa Cruz’s impending exit from the division, is the No. 1 fighter at 126 pounds. Stevenson not only wants that fight but said he would go to England for the opportunity. Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said he would make it a priority to try to get that fight done with Warrington promoter Frank Warren, with whom he has a strong working relationship; they co-promote Tyson Fury, for example.
“I think we can make that fight,” Arum told ESPN. “It’s a lot of money for Warrington and Frank. I’m gonna speak to Frank and we’re going to offer to go over to the O2 in London. We’d do something similar to what we did with [Matchroom Boxing promoter] Eddie Hearn when we brought [Vasiliy] Lomachenko over to the O2 [in August] for the lightweight championship fight with Luke Campbell.”
Stevenson said he wants to move up to junior lightweight if he can’t get a unification, but Arum said whatever happens, Stevenson would probably stay at featherweight for two more bouts before moving up.
But, like Mayweather — a Top Rank fighter for most of his career — Arum said Stevenson is destined for greatness way beyond featherweight and junior lightweight.
“Eventually,” Arum said, “Shakur probably will go to 147, just like Mayweather.”
Taylor and Prograis all class
I always have a few high hopes whenever there’s a big fight.
One, of course, is that it will be a good fight in which neither combatant gets hurt. I also prefer there not to be any controversy. And, in a perfect world, winner and loser will have performed at such a high level that both will come away from the bout having elevated their careers.
That is precisely what happened on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London, where southpaws Josh Taylor (16-0, 12 KOs), 28, of Scotland, and Regis Prograis (24-1, 20 KOs), 30, of Houston, put on a fantastic fight from start to finish in the first defenses of titles they won in the semifinals. They boxed at the highest level, and it was terrific and competitive all the way, even if Taylor certainly did enough to warrant a close win.
Taylor, obviously, dramatically elevated his career by winning a majority decision — 117-112, 115-113 and 114-114 — to unify two 140-pound belts and win the eight-man World Boxing Super Series (and the Muhammad Ali trophy that goes with that accomplishment). Perhaps there will be a fight for the undisputed title sometime next year against Jose Ramirez, owner of the other two belts.
But Prograis, despite the hard-fought loss and strong finish, including a 12th-round onslaught, also elevated himself with his performance and professionalism. He could have complained about the decision. He didn’t. He simply gave Taylor credit for being the better man on the night. As much as it surely hurts to have lost such a big fight, he should know there will be more big ones in his future.
As good as the fight was, their postfight conduct was also outstanding and appreciated. They exchanged some tough words leading up to the fight, but that all melted away in the aftermath.
On Sunday, they saw each other at the fight hotel and posed for photos with each other, Taylor still sporting a severely swollen and bruised right eye and Prograis’ face also showing the marks of a rough battle.
“Two great champions friends after a great fight together last night. … All the best to you in the future take care,” Taylor wrote on social media, along with posting photos of him and Prograis with their arms around each other.
Two great champions friends after a great fight together last night. Who’s the w**k**r with the sunglasses on inside now 🤷🏻♂️😂😂. All the best to you in the future take care 👊🏼 @RPrograis pic.twitter.com/pLFR2bjH15
— Josh Taylor (@JoshTaylorBoxer) October 27, 2019
Prograis also posted a photo of their meeting with a message for Taylor: “Last night we tried to beat the s— out of each other and now we all good. Congratulations to Josh Taylor. You’re one hell of a fighter. Can’t wait to see what’s next for you and maybe a rematch later down the line. This is why I love the sport of boxing!”
That’s why I love it too.
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at Reading, Pennsylvania
Junior middleweight: Erickson Lubin (22-1, 16 KOs) W10 Nathaniel Gallimore (21-4-1, 17 KOs), scores: 99-91 (three times).
In the main event of a Showtime tripleheader, Lubin, a 24-year-old southpaw from Orlando, Florida, and the 2016 ESPN prospect of the year, looked very good winning his fourth fight in a row since a shocking first-round knockout loss to Jermell Charlo in October 2017. After that loss Lubin changed trainers to Kevin Cunningham, who has long been one of the best in the business. Lubin had no problems with Gallimore, 31, a Jamaica native fighting out of Chicago, a tough out for anyone, who took the fight on short notice when Terrell Gausha dropped out with a hand injury. Lubin would like a rematch with Charlo, and it is warranted.
Junior welterweight: Robert Easter Jr. (22-1-1, 14 KOs) W10 Adrian Granados (20-8-2, 14 KOs), scores: 100-90, 98-92, 97-93.
Former lightweight titlist Easter, 28, of Toledo, Ohio, moved up to 140 pounds and won his debut in the division in entertaining fashion against the battle-tested 30-year-old Granados. Following a sleep-inducing draw with ex-titlist Rances Barthelemy in April, this Easter fight was far more interesting as Granados pressed him from the outset and they combined to throw 1,815 punches. Easter used his height and reach advantages to keep Granados at bay for long stretches and won the first four rounds on all three scorecards. Granados made it much closer in the second half and deserved more credit from judge John Poturaj.
Heavyweight: Frank Sanchez (14-0, 11 KOs) W10 Jack Mulowayi (7-2-1, 3 KOs), scores: 100-90 (three times).
When top prospect Efe Ajagba injured his back and withdrew from the bout against Mulowayi, 32, a Congo native fighting out of Belgium, Sanchez, agreed to fill in on eight days’ notice. Sanchez, 27, a Cuba native fighting out Miami, is a quality prospect and had scored early knockouts in his previous four bouts. On Saturday he was forced to go the distance by a safety-first Mulowayi, who didn’t seem too interested in fighting. Sanchez won every round easily and showed a nice body attack and stiff jab. Mulowayi landed a mere 30 of 185 punches in the fight (16 percent), according to CompuBox, while Sanchez landed a far more respectable 121-455 (27 percent).
Saturday at Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico
Strawweight: Wilfredo Mendez (15-1, 5 KOs) Technical Dec. Axel Aragon (13-3-1, 8 KOs), retains a world title, scores: 68-65, 67-66 Mendez, 67-66 Aragon.
Mendez, 22, made the first defense of the 105-pound belt he won from Vic Saludar in August by fighting in his hometown against Aragon, 19, of Mexico, in a rematch. Aragon lost a decision to Mendez in a nontitle bout in September 2018, and then won three in a row before being pressed into service for a rematch when Mendez’s original opponent, Colombia’s Gabriel Mendoza, dropped out a week before the fight due to visa issues. In the rematch, Aragon fought better than he had in the one-sided loss the first time around. He dropped Mendez in the fourth round and in the sixth round an accidental head butt opened a bad cut on Aragon’s forehead, forcing the fight to be stopped. The fight then went to the scorecards for what was a technical split decision.
Friday at Chonburi, Thailand
Strawweight: Wanheng Menayothin (54-0, 18 KOs) W12 Simpiwe Konkco (19-6, 7 KOs), retains a world title, scores: 118-109, 117-109, 116-110.
Thailand’s Menayothin, who turned 34 on Sunday, retained his 105-pound title for the 12th time and increased boxing’s longest active winning streak with a clear decision over mandatory challenger Konkco, 32, of South Africa. This was Konkco’s first fight in 10 months, his first bout outside of his home country and second world title challenge. The more aggressive Menayothin, who recently signed with Golden Boy with the plan to fight in the United States next, took control of the fight early, kept Konkco on the defensive and won handily. Late in the seventh round, Menayothin dropped Konkco, who knew after the eighth round that he was way behind because open scoring was used.