It may seem out of character for the typically jovial Shakur Stevenson but the unbeaten, two-division champion has swapped his trademark smile for that of a scowl entering Thursday’s vacant WBC lightweight title bout in Las Vegas.
Some of that is due to his opponent, Dominican slugger Edwin Des Los Santos (16-1), whose pre-fight comments ahead of their title bout inside T-Mobile Arena have largely been dismissive of the 2016 Olympic silver medalist. Stevenson (20-0, 10 KOs) also made sure to bring receipts with him to Tuesday’s press conference when the two faced off, telling his opponent, “You done f—ed up, I promise you. You done f—ed up … I’m going to put you to sleep.”
The real tension of late for the sublimely skilled boxer, who has finally received pound-for-pound recognition of late in the top 10, has been his own difficulty in getting big-name fighters to share the ring with him (even though they have no trouble using his name on social media).
“So many people just clout chasing me right now but that comes with the territory,” Stevenson told CBS Sports last week during a “Morning Kombat” interview. “I’m not really focused on them, though. I’m focused on the positive. I’m focused on Edwin Des Los Santos.”
Stevenson owns a handful of very good wins over the last two years, including a trio of performances that bordered on virtuoso against Jamel Herring, Oscar Valdez and former Brazilian Olympic gold medalist Robson Conceicao. But it takes great wins to truly close in on the top P4P spot in the game and Stevenson, now in his third weight class, is having noticeable trouble.
So, would it be unfair to call the 26-year-old native of Newark, New Jersey, as the most avoided boxer in the game? Probably not.
Stevenson thought he was fighting Frank Martin for the vacant title until the unbeaten PBC fighter pulled out before signing the contract. And then there’s the case of Devin Haney, the former undisputed lightweight king, who had the shot to defend his title next against Stevenson, his WBC mandatory opponent, only to exit the ring following his breakthrough May win over Vasiliy Lomachenko without hanging around for a faceoff with Stevenson.
Shortly after, Haney was given a choice by the WBC: defend his title against Stevenson or vacate and move up in weight to challenge WBC 140-pound titleholder Regis Prograis in December.
“Truth be told, it was a duck because he had a decision that the WBC gave him and yet he said he might come down again to 135 [in the future],” Stevenson said.”If you planned on coming back down to 135, why the f— would you give up your belt to me? Why would you do that? That doesn’t make sense to me.
“I don’t accept it but he let you all know off rip that he was going in a different direction. When I jumped into the ring after his fight with Lomachenko, he like ran out of the ring instead of staying right there and let’s talk about the fight we have coming up. He didn’t want to promote that fight or make it seem that we are fighting. Y’all should’ve took the clues right there.”
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A tall southpaw with a long reach, Stevenson can control large portions of fights without getting hit due to his next-level defense. But he has become more offensive in the last two years, in a manner that was on full display in his April lightweight debut against unbeaten Shuichiro Yoshino.
Throughout fight week, Shuichiro made multiple references to Stevenson’s perceived lack of power. Not only did Stevenson take offense to it, he walked Yoshino down as soon as the fight began and delivered an offensive assault until the fight was stopped in Round 6.
“I think the biggest difference [at lightweight] is that I’m more focused,” Stevenson said. “Making weight is real easy for me. I just think it’s a different focus right now. I think [my power] increased [at 135 pounds] because I don’t have to suck down anymore. Right now, I feel like I’m fighting at my natural weight class. Guys might be bigger than me but I’m fighting guys who are coming down from like 160 to fighting 135 and I don’t think that shit works like that.”
What makes the De Los Santos fight so interesting is that Stevenson appears just as motivated to prove a point offensively as he did in his last fight. The big difference is that the 24-year-old De Los Santos can really punch (he knocked out unbeaten prospects Luis Acosta and Jose Valenzuela in 2022) and brings credible foot speed and boxing skills to the table from the southpaw stance.
That hasn’t stopped oddsmakers from establishing Stevenson as an overwhelming favorite. And when asked what makes him so special, or what becoming a three-division champion might say about his growing legacy, Stevenson believes the fact that he can do it all is what makes him dangerous.
“I think that I can do anything,” Stevenson said. “I can fight inside the pocket. I think the part that they forget about is that if I need to use my movement, like fighters did back in the day with Sugar Ray Leonard in the [Roberto] Duran second fight, I could do stuff like that. I can box and I don’t think there’s nothing that I can’t do when I get inside a boxing ring.
“[If I win,] that just says that I’m a bad motherf—er. You don’t know anybody that could jump weight classes and look even better at the higher weight classes. That’s what I’m looking to prove.”
Date: Nov. 16 | Location: — Las Vegas
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET (main card)
Fight card, odds
- Shakur Stevenson -1700 vs. Edwin De Los Santos +950, vacant WBC lightweight title
- Emanuel Navarrete (c) -900 vs. Robson Conceicao +600, WBO junior lightweight title
- Brian Norman Jr. -220 vs. Quinton Randall +180, welterweights
- Floyd Diaz -205 vs. Max Ornelas +170, bantamweights
De Los Santos is better than many realize. Although his lone defeat came by split decision in early 2022 to unbeaten prospect William Foster III, in a fight televised on Showtime’s “ShoBox: The New Generation series,” he has looked like a different fighter since and rides a three-fight win streak that also includes a wide decision win over former amateur star Joseph Adorno.
Even though De Los Santos has the skills to get the job done, it all comes down to whether Stevenson makes a mistake, which he almost never does. Yes, the tensions appeared heightened a bit, as evidenced by their faceoff this week but that doesn’t mean Stevenson isn’t smart enough that he will lose control of his emotions.
If anyone deserves comparison to Floyd Mayweather in today’s game, it’s Stevenson. In fact, he’s almost a southpaw version of the earlier, “Pretty Boy” side of Mayweather before hand injuries forced him to become a potshotter.
Stevenson can potshot at will without being hit and operates incredibly well at close range for someone not known as a big puncher. But his accuracy is simply off the charts, as is his timing in landing the kind of straight, hard punches that opponents don’t see. And that’s what makes him dangerous as he starts to pick up momentum.
Expect Stevenson to take his time early and force De Los Santos to chase and overreact. But as he starts to wear his opponent down with flurries of clean punches in the middle rounds, unless De Los Santos can land something of consequence to keep him away, a surgical breakdown feels inevitable late.
Pick: Stevenson via TKO10