THIS Saturday (June 12) at the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas resort, a capacity crowd will be allowed into the arena to witness the super-featherweight 12-rounder between highly touted American Shakur Stevenson and unheralded Namibian Jeremiah Nakathila.

Ranked at No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in the WBO ratings, Stevenson and Nakathila are fighting for the right to challenge Jamel Herring – the current holder of the WBO title. Herring could yet end up facing WBC titlist Oscar Valdez in his next bout, but either way, the winner of the Stevenson-Nakathila clash will be in prime position to contest the WBO strap at some point in the not-too-distant future.

A former WBO belt-holder at featherweight, Stevenson moved up to super-feather last year and recorded a pair of dominant victories. The unbeaten 23-year-old – soon to turn 24 – knocked out the overmatched Felix Caraballo in six rounds in June. Six months later, he flawlessly outclassed the gritty Toka Kahn Clary on a shutout unanimous decision.

On the same night that Stevenson swept aside Clary, Nakathila, 31, was busy doing likewise to the outgunned Emmanuel Amos, who was KO’d in the second round. Only a month earlier, Nakathila had recorded the same result against Immanuel Andeleki – another out-of-his-depth opponent.
While Stevenson has vanquished respected rivals like Christopher Diaz and Joet Gonzalez (via wide unanimous verdicts in 2019), Nakathila lacks any notable names on his victim list. The Walvis Bay resident has only fought outside of Africa once before. That was in Russia in November 2016, when he suffered a majority points defeat to local boxer Evgeny Chuprakov. Considering that Chuprakov has lost four of his last seven fights, this does not reflect too well on Nakathila.

A 2016 Olympic silver medallist, Stevenson, 15-0 (8), is regarded as a potential pound-for-pound star of the future. Nakathila has been a professional for three-and-a-half years longer than the Newark, New Jersey native, but he is taking a huge leap up in class this weekend, as evidenced by the fact that Stevenson is a 1/50 betting favourite.

Shakur Stevenson
Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Currently on a run of 10 straight inside-schedule wins, the 21-1 (17) Nakathila is a hard hitter who lets his hands go freely. Boasting a long reach, he possesses a decent jab but neglects it too often, as he is always looking to land a big right. Ducking low to avoid incoming shots, he is able to disrupt the rhythm of his foes with his ungainly smothering tactics. Although he packs power in his punches, his attacks can be rather crude and wild.

A supremely gifted southpaw who is based in Alexandria, Virginia, Stevenson’s startling speed is his prime attribute. He fires out sharp jabs and blistering combinations that are both accurate and spiteful. His punch selection is impressive, as is his ability to break fighters down with hurtful body blows. With his fast feet and rapid reflexes, he is an elusive and defensively adept operator.

Stevenson is aiming to become the first man to beat Nakathila inside the distance, and though it is possible that Nakathila could fiddle his way through the 12 rounds and lose widely on the scorecards, the likelier outcome is for Stevenson to render the judges redundant.

In the 10-round super-lightweight chief support, ex-IBF super-featherweight and WBO lightweight titlist Jose Pedraza (Cidra, Puerto Rico) meets the undefeated but largely untested Julian Rodriguez (Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey). The greater experience of Pedraza, 28-3 (13), could prove crucial in this one. He is favoured to prevail on points against the heavy-handed Rodriguez, 21-0 (14).

Top Rank promote and ESPN televise in the US.

The Verdict Expect Stevenson to shine once again.