Shakur Stevenson continues to impress and exceed the lofty expectations placed on him. Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the Newark resident thoroughly dominated Oscar Valdez by unanimous decision to hand the Mexican native his first loss.
Throughout the 12 rounds, Stevenson was in command and never remotely troubled by Valdez. With such an impressive showing against his best opponent to date, Stevenson is building momentum and making his case for entrance into the top 10 pound-for-pound list. His latest victory comes after his breakout performance in October when he completely outclassed Jamel Herring to claim his first title at 130 pounds. Before beating Herring, despite Stevenson’s otherworldly talent, he had faced relatively weak opposition for someone with his ability and Olympic pedigree.
Valdez, on the other hand, was desperate to upset the heavily-favored Stevenson so that he could erase the acerbic taste in his mouth from a tumultuous end of 2021. Before his most recent bout with Robson Conceição in September, he tested positive for a Performance Enhancing Drug called phentermine. Despite the test result, the bout was allowed to proceed in Arizona, and Valdez won a highly controversial decision. Valdez was determined to put that mess behind him and show that he was the best junior lightweight in the world.
But from the opening bell, it was apparent that Stevenson’s height and reach advantages, as well as his keen control of distance, would be a major obstacle for the Eddie Reynoso-trained Valdez. Stevenson constantly varied the rhythm of his jab, sometimes pawing with it while other times snapping it out, which made it difficult for Valdez to read. That jab helped Stevenson set up his straight left to the head and body, and left uppercut as well.
Valdez did find some success with his lead right hand in the 3rd round, but Stevenson quickly got back to his rhythm in the 4th, re-establishing his preferred distance and countering Valdez’s wild rushes with pinpoint shots. Valdez didn’t help himself by trying to rush in with a high guard rather than using his jab. Jabbing to close distance is an essential tool for any shorter fighter but Valdez completely neglected this invaluable tactic to his detriment. A fighter as skilled and savvy as Stevenson was not going to allow that fundamental tactical error to go unpunished.
Stevenson continued to dominate in the second half of the bout, including a knockdown in the 6th round courtesy of a right hook. Valdez had occasional, albeit fleeting moments when he managed to touch Stevenson’s chin with his right hand, but he couldn’t keep the fight on the inside. Valdez’s only hope for victory was to force Stevenson out of his comfort zone by making the fight a messy war of attrition. But Stevenson wouldn’t allow that, and he dictated the second half of the fight just like he had the first. He did what he wanted when he wanted to, and Valdez couldn’t do anything to stop it.
After the final bell, the judges confirmed the expected wide decision victory for Stevenson. But even though he dominated virtually every round, Stevenson’s performance leaves something to be desired. Although he was outclassing Valdez, he never raised his level of intensity or pressure enough to put Valdez on the brink. Stevenson had success when he decided to throw combinations but he didn’t throw enough of them. Had he done so, I think he could have stopped Valdez and put an emphatic stamp on his performance.
It appears that Stevenson has many more gears available but he shouldn’t wait for fighters to bring them out of him. He appears to have the power, accuracy and mean streak to stop guys emphatically like Terence Crawford, but he doesn’t seem willing to consistently take it to that level. And I believe that is what he needs to reach the superstar status that he craves and that so many predict for him. It’s hard to become a star without being consistently entertaining and part of the entertainment value comes from scoring impressive knockouts.
On a night when Madison Square Garden and the boxing world were buzzing because of the thrilling display of skill, heart, and toughness exhibited by Amanda Serrano and Katie Taylor, Stevenson-Valdez was a mere footnote. And I am not saying that Stevenson needs to get into a war and take unnecessary punishment to provide that entertainment. It just means that he would be wise to take a more aggressive approach in the ring. Show the fans that you are head and shoulders above your peers by sending them home early.
In addition to entertainment value, another critical ingredient in the star-building process is the right opposition. Muhammad Ali needed Joe Frazier and Sugar Ray Leonard needed Roberto Duran. In his post-fight interview, Stevenson frustratingly stated his desire to become the undisputed champion at junior lightweight. Given that fellow junior lightweight titlists Kenichi Ogawa and Roger Gutierrez pose less of a threat than Valdez, moving up to lightweight immediately seems like the better alternative. Stevenson is ready for stalwarts like Vasiliy Lomachenko, Gervonta Davis, George Kambosos and Devin Haney. And those are the talented rivals he needs to beat to prove he is as good as he and everyone else thinks he is. Now it’s time to show it.
(Shakur Stevenson, left, Oscar Valdez, right; via)