By Elliot Worsell
TO call a boxer an acquired taste is to make a judgement not only on the boxer’s ability to entertain but also to some degree the audience’s ability to understand. Which is to say, sometimes when you hear a fighter described as an acquired taste it is meant not as a slight on them, or their skills, but instead a criticism of the audience’s inability to focus, pay attention, and fully appreciate what it is they are watching.
In the case of Shakur Stevenson, 21-0 (10), the jury is still out on this front. For while it is true that on the one hand his skills are at times otherworldly and bear all the hallmarks of a future pound-for-pound number one, there is a pattern emerging here, too, which often sees Stevenson boxing to the sound of boos and not seeming to care either about this or his duty to entertain.
That, of course, is a bone of contention for some fighters; the degree to which they are responsible for the fun of fans. After all, given the stakes at play and the risks being taken every time a boxer sets foot in the ring, surely the most important thing, above even winning, is self-preservation and safety. If a fighter can guarantee this, they must, regardless of whether it comes at the expense of entertaining the fans or leaving the ring to widespread acclaim.
Stevenson, certainly, appears content for this to be his modus operandi. For instance, tonight (November 16) in Las Vegas, he had no issue sticking to the plan – safety, winning – in the presence of the unproven Edwin De Los Santos, and veered not once from said plan, not even when the boos started in round two.
“I don’t care,” Stevenson said afterwards. “I’ve seen the greats get booed. I’ve seen Andre Ward get booed; I’ve seen Floyd (Mayweather) get booed. I’ve seen Terence Crawford – go and watch his early fights in his career when he was outboxing people and they wanted him to stand there and trade – I seen him get booed. So, I don’t care.
“At the end of the day, some nights you’re gonna have these nights and then some nights they’re gonna love you, so the nights that they love me I can’t wait for.”
Stevenson is right to point out that many great fighters have had to endure fights during which they were booed on their way to acceptance. This, for some, is in fact merely a rite of passage and there is a sense during this period that it is the responsibility of the boxer to educate the fans along the way and make them realise the method behind what it is they are doing – by winning, of course. Equally, it is the responsibility of the boxer to at least acknowledge the presence of fans, even if this doesn’t mean fully satiating them by standing toe to toe and putting their health at risk.
“I apologise to my fans,” said Stevenson. “I apologise to everybody that felt I could have done more. I did too, so sorry.
“I just know I’m a better fighter than I was tonight. I ain’t got no excuses to make. Bad night; I’ll go back to the drawing board and come back. It just wasn’t me. I had a lot going on. I can’t get into details. I ain’t got no excuses to make to y’all. I’m going to go back to the drawing board and come back.”
Still much too good for De Los Santos, 16-2 (14), Stevenson ultimately secured the vacant WBC lightweight belt tonight by scores of 116-112, 116-112, and 115-113. It was far from a vintage performance, something even Stevenson would accept, but the important thing from his point of view is that he managed to win even on an off-night. To do so shows a certain type of mettle and, moreover, one suspects an experience like the one he has just had with De Los Santos will act as a reminder to not get complacent as he travels through the weight classes and picks up belts in fights that really don’t warrant being called world championship fights. Indeed, if one wants to look for signs, it is very easy to see a scenario in which Stevenson, cherry-picking opponents in this way, one day comes a cropper against a man inferior to him but whose hunger and concentration is greater than his. Perhaps, in that sense, it would benefit not only the fans to see Stevenson in tough challenges, but also the fighter himself, for it is likely then, when properly challenged, the full extent of Stevenson’s brilliance will be revealed.
That is often the case with fighters like Stevenson. As with Mayweather, Ward, and Crawford, all of whom he respects and were present tonight, the only way an acquired taste can ever be accepted and sold is for the fighter in question to be forced to use their skills in fights containing peril and meaning.
“He (Floyd Mayweather) came here to support me,” said Stevenson. “I appreciate Floyd. I apologise to him. I apologise to Andre Ward. I apologise to Terence Crawford. All my idols; I put on a bad performance; they came to see a great performance and I put on a bad one.
“Shit, I knew before I came here (I wasn’t feeling good). I told people already, but I can’t make excuses, man. It is what it is. I talk so much shit, I gotta eat whatever comes with it.
“I hold myself to very high standards. I eat, sleep, shit boxing; I work hard day in, day out; I’ve been training since April 8, since my last fight; that’s a long time trading, sparring with ‘Bud’ (Crawford); going into camp working with him; leaving. I hold myself to such high standards that I’m not accepting this performance.”
Given all that, perhaps the only boos louder than the ones heard inside the T-Mobile Arena tonight will be the ones Shakur Stevenson hears as he attempts to go to sleep; the ones he will no doubt continue to hear until he gets another chance to silence them in his next fight.