WHILE the Formula 1 roadshow will shut up shop and head for Abu Dhabi almost as quickly as they turned up, the man who will take centre stage in Las Vegas just two days before the race is here to stay in this part of the desert.
New Jersey-born Shakur Stevenson faces Edwin De Los Santos in an unusual Thursday night outing on November 16, returning to the top of the bill in Vegas but doing it for the first time at the Strip’s biggest venue, the T-Mobile Arena.
“Yeah it’s big,” he says. “Let’s do it.
At first, a Thursday night in Vegas in such a vast arena seems like a huge ask but this is old school promoting: take advantage of the sports fans in town for the F1 on Sunday, the course for which includes a large section of The Strip itself, and provide them with an alternative attraction during the week for them to consume.
“I’m the show so at the end of the day I have to put the asses on the seats,” he adds. “And I’ll do whatever I need to do to make it happen.”
At 26, Stevenson, full name Ash-Shakur Nafi-Shahid Stevenson, believes he is within 12 months of his physical peak but despite already conquering both the featherweight and super-featherweight divisions, he is still seen as something of a prodigy at 135lbs. He stopped Shuichiro Yoshino in six in his debut at the weight and is already ranked at No.3 in the world. This clash with Dominican southpaw De Los Santos is for the vacant WBC belt.
“In terms of my peak, I think I might be right there,” he adds. “I’m pushing it anyway. I think they say 27, so next year I should be in my prime but who knows. Let’s see.
“But there ain’t no finishing touches. I just need to get better, through life you’ve got to get better and better. I don’t want to put no limits on myself. I think that I can go above and beyond and I want to be one of the best fighters to ever do it at the end of my career.”
That sort of declaration can be commonplace during interviews with boxers but for Stevenson there is no sense of hyperbole. His promoter, Bob Arum, who has worked with some of history’s greatest fighters, believes Stevenson is capable of joining the list.
“He is an enormous talent,” Arum tells Boxing News, from his chair a few feet from the ring at the Top Rank Gym in Las Vegas. “He is becoming a generational talent. He was a great talent when he started and he has only gotten better. So how far can he go? That’s up to him.
“I can’t really prophesise, but I can say he has the ability to be a massive star and one of the all-time greats in the sport. You take Roberto Duran, clearly a great talent, Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, in my era, these guys underneath the heavyweights. We know who are great, great talents, and who are just terrific fighters for their time. We know that and we see it, we wait to see their body of work. Shakur has the opportunity to be one of those historic talents.”
As opposed to modern boxing, those Four Kings etched their name into the sport’s folklore due to a series of fights where they all faced each other. In many ways, their individual greatness was only defined as a result of the collective.
What will work in Stevenson’s favour, according to Arum, is that the 20-0 star has peers against whom he can define his greatness. “That’s the key I think,” the promoter says.
“[Gervonta] Tank [Davis] would be a good fight but so would Shakur and [Vasyl] Lomachenko, Shakur and [Devin] Haney, Shakur and Teofimo [Lopez]. They are all equally as big. Shakur is going to go as high as he can fighting everybody in the division he reaches. I’m delighted to be along for the ride.”
At present, Stevenson makes no secret of the fact that it is the fight with Davis that really captures his imagination. The pair had been on good terms for years, have sparred in the past and been pictured together. Tank, however, says they are no longer friends after crossed words and back and forth across countless interviews. There is no doubting it is stealthily growing into a colossus of a fight.
“I think me and Tank, we’re going to do big numbers,” Stevenson adds. “When that fight happens, just because of the hype and the world’s going to want to see it, the best versus the best, I think the stadium would be filled. I can’t tell you how big the numbers would be, but I think it’s going to be a million [buys].
“He’s the one of the biggest superstars in the sport of boxing. Once they give me that call, I’ve just got to answer it. I think me and him is the biggest and best fight, I think we have superior skills and real talent and whether he wants to admit it or not, I know that that’s the best fight.
“But I’ve got to keep doing what I’m doing. Maybe in the next year or two, I’ll turn myself into the biggest star in the sport and I’ll call shots the same way he calls shots. Once the fight presents itself, I will be ready. Honestly, if the fight was presented right now I’d be ready.
“I like being in the biggest and best fights, so me fighting someone like Tank is better than fighting undisputed right now or anything like that, just because of the fact that Tank is the biggest star and the biggest fight and he’s the best fighter as far as the eye test that I see in the weight class. So that would be me going against the best.”
There was a time when interviewing Stevenson was hard work. He was often brief, curt and saw little value engaging with journalists. He’s matured now and considers his answers carefully but the truth is, he is still no fan of the media.
“I think y’all are full of shit,” he says. No offence taken. “But I really don’t care. It never bothers me.
“The only thing that bothers me is spreading false lies. I don’t like lies that get spread by certain media people. I think that’s wrong, especially that I’m the person who goes in the ring and fights and the type of person I am, I don’t care who it is. Put them in front of me, I’m going to fight, so I hate it when someone tries to make a different logic or different narrative that’s not true.”
The topic crops up during a conversation about Stevenson’s close friend and fellow world champion Terence Crawford, another man with little time for the press. “I think he’s different behind the scenes from what y’all see,” he says. “I kind of get it because y’all spread so many lies and false narratives but certain fighters pick that up. And fighters like Bud, he gets fed up. He don’t like y’all, not personally. No disrespect.” None taken.
Stevenson and Crawford have emerged as one of boxing’s best double-acts and, in the aftermath of his career-defining victory over Erroll Spence Jr in July, the Nebraskan revealed it was a last-minute conversation with Stevenson that convinced him to ‘come out boxing’.
“Bud has definitely taken some things from me and I take stuff from Bud,” Stevenson says.
“I text him the other day because I really want to see who are the fighters he watches, who is his favourite fighter, and he text back in two seconds and said, “you”. I was like, “Damn.”
“He is amazing, I’m definitely blessed to be able to learn from him and pick up everything I can pick up. I don’t even look at accomplishments or none of that stuff. When I first came in the game, Bud took me under his wing, and I was in the gym watching, learning and then I’d go home with Bud and watch and learn even more, how complete he is, how much he believes in himself.
“I just learned a lot from Bud coming up and I appreciate he helped me a lot in his career. I don’t look at his accomplishments or none of that stuff, I just look at him like a big brother.”
Their relationship has also transferred inside the ropes over the course of multiple sparring sessions between the two, which Stevenson credits hugely for his own development.
He said: “In my first time sparring with him I learnt that the pros and the amateurs were two different things. When I first started sparring with him, I was an amateur and he had me spar four-minute rounds and I kind of shot my load.
“I’ve seen him sitting down on his punches while I’m trying to score real quick, throwing fast little shots while he was throwing those clean and effective shots.
“At that time I was going around every gym and beating up every single person I got in the ring with, until I ran into Bud. It kind of humbled me and made me more competitive and I trained even harder for the next time I saw him and I said, Okay, I’ll be a lot better. Through the years, being able to compete with him, it’s brought my level up and up and up.”
Stevenson speaks of a time when he was the pup in the gym, a 19-year-old newbie pro with a silver medal from the 2016 Olympics and a reputation as the most sought-after amateur the world over. In the seven years since, however, it seems he has already grown into one of the sport’s elder statesmen.
“For sure that’s how it feels,” he agrees. “Honestly, you’ve got to see all these kids in the gym, I be having a bunch of little kids coming to my gym and I end up sparring with them. I go 20 minutes straight sparring with them and playing around but I enjoy those moments, I enjoy giving back to those kids. They look at me like I’m somebody big in the world but I try to show them I’m human. I try to talk to them regularly.”
For now, however, he has his own career to focus on. Approaching his peak or otherwise, his style and lack of real miles on the clock mean that Stevenson could realistically still have the best part of a decade in which to build his all-time-great legacy.
“I don’t know how long I might have left,” he says. “I love the sport of boxing, and I love everything about boxing right now. As of right now I’m enjoying the moment.
“I can’t tell you when I’m going to retire, I can’t tell you none of that stuff. I love it. I’m married to boxing. At the end of the day, that’s my wife right there.”
That means De Lost Santos on a Thursday night. Gentlemen, start your engines.