BIG-TIME boxing returned for the first time in three months as Top Rank staged a behind-closed-doors event at the MGM Grand Conference Center. Headlining the sport’s first show in Las Vegas since February 28 was the reigning WBO featherweight champion, Shakur Stevenson. Heavily touted as a potential pound-for-pound king of the future, the unbeaten American had been scheduled to make the initial defence of his world title back on March 14, but the coronavirus pandemic, and subsequent sporting shutdown, put paid to those plans.

Boxing in a rust-shedding 10-rounder up at super-featherweight, Stevenson’s opponent was Felix Caraballo – an unheralded Puerto Rican who works full-time at a supermarket warehouse. Prior to this bout, the man from Mayaguez had fought exclusively in his homeland.

The underdog attempted to press Stevenson in the opener, yet he was unable to catch up with the elusive 22-year-old. Nimbly bouncing around on his toes, the speedy Shakur pumped out sharp southpaw one-twos mixed with fierce bursts of punches. With just under a minute left in the round, the Newark native struck Caraballo with a left to the waistline, followed by a right up top and a further right to the ribs. The final blow caused the visitor to spin away and sink to one knee, leading referee Tony Weeks to issue a count.

In the second session, a rasping right hook wobbled Caraballo’s legs. Despite being faced with an array of accurate, quick-fire combinations, the game 33-year-old stubbornly maintained his forward march. Finding the target with ease, Stevenson continued to sit down on his shots in the third.

After softening Caraballo up with stiff jabs and educated body work in round four, Stevenson displayed fine footwork in the fifth to make him miss. Repeatedly punishing Caraballo’s mistakes, Stevenson scored with a jarring right uppercut on the inside, before unleashing a vicious four-punch salvo, punctuated by a lashing left cross.

Following a right hand downstairs that strayed low in the sixth, Caraballo was given time to recuperate by the official. Stevenson soon found his range, however, as a perfectly placed left hook to the liver dropped Caraballo down to all fours. The contest was immediately terminated at 1-31.

In his post-fight interview, Stevenson was asked what his thoughts were on the comparisons that people have made between himself and the former P4P supremo, Floyd Mayweather.

“We’re two different fighters,” Stevenson said. “I feel like we’ve got two different styles. I’ve got my own style. I’ve stolen a couple of things from his game. I’ve stolen stuff from Pernell Whitaker, Terence Crawford, Andre Ward. I’ve stolen stuff from a lot of guys – it’s not just Floyd that I try to put in my game. I appreciate the comparison because it’s a huge compliment, but I’m still my own fighter. I’m the first Shakur Stevenson.”

In action on the undercard was the boxer who defeated Stevenson in the final of the 2016 Olympic Games – classy Cuban Robeisy Ramirez. The Gulfport, Florida-based portsider, who also grabbed a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics, made short work of 25-year-old Dominican Yeuri Andujar in a scheduled six-round featherweight clash.

Ramirez floored the outgunned Andujar with a left uppercut-left hook combo, then ended matters by sending the San Cristobal resident to the canvas again with a booming left. The finish came after just 54 seconds. Mr Weeks officiated.

Since shockingly losing on his pro debut in August last year, Ramirez has won three fights on the spin – all via the early route. After his latest win, the 26-year-old revealed that he has  “been working on the fundamentals of becoming a true professional fighter.”    

The Verdict It is good to see boxing back on our screens, albeit in unusual circumstances.

Shakur Stevenson (130lbs), 14-0 (8), w rsf 6 Felix Caraballo (130lbs), 13-2-2 (9); Robeisy Ramirez (126lbs), 3-1 (3), w rsf 1 Yeuri Andujar (125 1/2lbs), 5-4 (3); Guido Vianello (239 1/4lbs), 7-0 (7), w rsf 1 Don Haynesworth (294 1/2lbs), 16-4-1 (14); Jared Anderson (236 1/2lbs), 4-0 (4), w rsf 3 Johnnie Langston (218 1/4lbs), 8-3 (3); Quatavious Cash (160 1/2lbs), 12-2 (7), w td 6 Calvin Metcalf (158 1/4lbs), 10-4-1 (3).