Newark, New Jersey’s own Shakur Stevenson successfully unified titles at 130 lbs. last night in Las Vegas with a standout performance. He won a wide unanimous decision with scores of 118-109 twice and 117-110 on another card. He had the undefeated Oscar Valdez on the canvas in round six and had total control of the fight for the vast majority of the twelve rounds competed. The twenty-four year-old Stevenson is a young professional developing his skills and composure but fought like a seasoned pro last night against a deeply experienced champion. While I expected Stevenson to prevail, I did not expect the kind of domination that played out in the ring. From the moment the fight began Valdez was stuck on the outside against the Taller and quicker Stevenson who beat him to the punch for the opening three minutes. Valdez could do nothing but cover up and lunge in completely out of range and get countered. Valdez took measured attempts to wade in and score to the body with hooks or double a straight right hand in pursuit. None of these approaches reaped any significant reward.
Stevenson turned it up in the sixth round when a counter right hook took Valdez off balance and he fell into the ropes and then to the canvas for a count. Valdez was not wobbly upon reaching his feet but was bombarded throughout the rest of the round. Stevenson began to unload on Valdez with impunity scoring damaging punches. Valdez was limited to trying to set traps for his right hand and occasionally connected but by the second half of the fight he had little power left. Cut and tiring Valdez showed plenty of heart to make it to the final bell but was completely outclassed by the younger and shaper fighter.
Stevenson made a statement with the dominant victory and showed a superb offense and defense in the process. Yes Stevenson has been impressive so far but this was versus the best opponent he had faced to date and he did it with ease. What was impressive was his poise and ability to stick to the game plan. While Valdez was largely outgunned he did attempt to ambush and rush Stevenson but to his credit Shakur never got away from the plan. Shakur also showed great variation in his offense. His left cross to the head was a potent weapon but he also landed a few left uppercuts that stopped Valdez in his tracks and swept the left hand around the guard. He also frequently threw the straight left hand to the body and targeted the midsection of a fighter known as a body puncher. His jab was not a hard or dominating weapon but a measuring stick and buffer to maintain range. He did stick it out there and leave it and was given a hard warning by referee Kenny Bayless but that was after eleven rounds and the deal had been sealed. Sometimes Stevenson gets hit with the boring tag by fans and some were bored by the lack of two way traffic or the lack of a stoppage but I think that is unfair. A: Valdez is tough and fought on with a broken jaw against Scott Quigg and has show his resilience in several fights. B: Stevenson does have a history of carefully taking pot shots at range and fighting a negative style. In this fight he stood his ground plenty of times, exchanged and opened up his offense to the head and body. I think he was exciting, he just did not have a dance partner capable of getting him to have to dig deeper.
As for Oscar Valdez it was a disappointing defeat but comes after a string of tough fights and a big knockout of Miguel Berchelt. I expected more out of Valdez here given his toughness and experience but he did not seem willing or capable to make this the brawl he needed to make to give himself the chance to win. Andre Ward put it perfectly by stating during the fight that Valdez had no chance from the outside and as getting hit, he should have taken the risk to get inside where he will still get hit but have a chance to land a big punch to change the fight. Valdez pressed in the third and won that round and won the tenth round when Stevenson basically took the round off. In the final three rounds Stevenson actually stayed inside with Valdez at a perfect range for him to land his dangerous left hook but never could. The beating he had taken over the initial nine appeared to have sapped him of any power.
Stevenson should have a world of options going forward. He can unify the weight class which seems like a foregone conclusion or he can move up to 135 and chase the big names up there. He also looks massive for the weight class and is still growing as a man so it is likely he will move up. The thought of him one day facing Devin Haney or Ryan Garcia is a boxing fan’s dream type of fight. While I praised the punch variety and poise of Stevenson I think two areas of improvement would be his right hand which is much less effective than the left hand. His jab could be snappier and more of a weapon than it is. His right hook also lacked much of a presence and could be a dangerous addition to his arsenal. He only has nine stoppages in his eighteen wins so improving the right may possibly lead to ending more fights early. The other improvement is tidying up the defense as he seemed to fall into momentary lapses with Valdez’s right hand. He walked into a few traps and kept his hands low at times. This did not cost him here but could be a bigger issue against a faster guy who isn’t so dwarfed in height and reach. I guess when your defense is as good as Shakur’s the eye is drawn to the few times he is hit than the many times he is not.