Credit: Associated Press

Buncey’s BOXXER Bulletin: Shakur Stevenson – a Star in the Making?

In this week’s column, presented by RDX Sports, veteran columnist Steve Bunce looks at the journey so far of rising star Shakur Stevenson – including a podium finish at the Rio Olympics and a world title at featherweight –  as he prepares to take on Namibia’s Jeremiah Nakathila this Saturday in Las Vegas.

At the Rio Olympics in the long, hot summer of 2016 Floyd Mayweather flew in and courted Shakur Stevenson at the boxing arena.

It was shameless and it looked like a good fit.

Stevenson reached the final, courtesy of a bye, and then lost to the Cuban, Robeisy Ramirez. In the semi-final, Stevenson should have been fighting Ireland’s Michael Conlan, but Conlan lost a controversial decision to Vladimir Nikitin, the Russian slugger. 

And then Nikitin, who fought Conlan with metal staples holding a cut together on the side of his head, was pulled out of the semi-final with head and facial injuries. Conlan and Stevenson will happen one day, trust me.

Stevenson claimed silver at the Rio Olympics in 2016, having won gold at the Youth Olympics two years prior / Credit: Getty Images

After Rio and after all the bold talk of millions and zillions and the alliance with Floyd, there was a mild chuckle when Stevenson signed a promotional deal with Bob Arum.

That was just fifteen professional fights ago: Stevenson is unbeaten, now 23, a world champion at featherweight briefly and this Saturday, at the Virgin property off the Strip in Las Vegas, he fights for the interim WBO super-featherweight title against Namibia’s Jeremiah Nakathila.

Stevenson is, make no mistake, one of the best fighters in modern boxing, arguably in the top five in the under-25 category.

He is, right now, at a critical point in his career – does he go forward, win hard fights, take risks and try to become a genuine star, or does he just keep winning good trade fights and not raise his profile? A lot of top, top American boxers are happy not being the stars they could and should be.

In theory, the great five fighters at lightweight should be looking over their shoulders at Stevenson and wondering when he will gain the few pounds to join them. Equally, the best five or six super-featherweights should all be rubbing their hands together in anticipation of a great fight and a top payday. 

Sadly, this is modern boxing and there is no guarantee that Stevenson will get the chance to take the risk, or whether he really wants to fight the best at his weight. The truth is simple: the jury is out.

A clash between Stevenson and one of the top lightweights (pictured) would make for a mouthwatering showdown / Credit: DAZN Boxing

In early February of 2020 there was bold talk of a fight between Stevenson, then the WBO featherweight champion, and Josh Warrington, the IBF champion at the weight at the time. Now, that would have been a fight. It vanished in Covid confusion and too many promises.

On Saturday, Stevenson enters the unknown against Nakathila, who has lost just once in 22 fights and has held WBO regional and ‘global’ belts since 2016; Nakathila fights at home, wins at home and travelling to Las Vegas, for a boxer from one of boxing’s remote lands, is hard. 

It is nicely positioned for Stevenson to pick up a part of the WBO super-featherweight title that Jamel Herring holds. It is increasingly difficult to understand the reasoning behind an interim title fight taking place just a few weeks after a full title fight.

The little-known Nakathila (left) faces a real step-up in class against Stevenson this weekend / Credit: The Namibian

Stevenson has the talent, the age and the frame to become a cross-over star. The next year will be important – but first he has to expose Nakathila, and do it in ruthless fashion.

After the win, time will decide what Shakur Stevenson wants to become in the game – I hope he decides on greatness.

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