All of the expectations surrounded Shakur Stevenson before and during his fight with Edwin de los Santos – not least because De Los Santos’ opportunity came when other fighters were ruled out.
But it takes two fighters to make a terrible fight. Everyone’s blaming Stevenson, and he’s the obvious target, but they’re both responsible.
He had a bad night. He’s had bad nights before. The Jeremia Nakathila fight in June 2021 was another he won, and handily – he also beat De Los Santos handily, and by more than the judges’ scores suggested – but it wasn’t fun to watch. So many of us have been really excited about Stevenson and, because he’s looked so good recently, expected a standout performance. But just because he didn’t deliver doesn’t change what a talent he is.
I’m struggling to recall the last time I saw such a bad fight between two fighters of that quality. I’ve seen really bad fights with fighters who simply weren’t very good, but Stevenson-De Los Santos involved almost no action; they were paying too much respect to each other, and both refusing to take the lead.
There have been suggestions that Stevenson was struggling with an injured left hand. I struggled with my hands when I was active – fighters don’t want to talk about hand injuries even after a fight’s finished – and it’s possible he was injured, and therefore that it really influenced the fight.
That he was fighting another southpaw also made his left hand even more important – his offence beyond the jab should have been coming from that left hand. He said he didn’t feel good without revealing what he was referring to, and that’s also a reality for professional boxers – they have off-nights, and get sick in training camps and still have to fight and therefore struggle once they’re in the ring. Perhaps the difference with someone like Stevenson, and the microscope he’s under, is that he needs to be like Michael Jordan was when he played with the flu and continued to dominate as though he was fit and well.
He didn’t offer a list of excuses, and he acknowledged that it was a bad performance – both of which I respect. Regis Prograis spoke similarly after he beat Danielito Zorrilla – fighters are allowed to have bad nights, and to acknowledge them. Others can be delusional with their public statements – Stevenson isn’t, and partly because he knows that this will soon be behind him and that he can continue to progress.
Myself and many others possibly got too excited, too soon, about Stevenson and his career. He’s still only 26, which means that he’s still developing physically, mentally and psychologically. He’s going to encounter dangerous opponents who can punch, and he’ll have to prove himself by biting down.
I still consider him the best talent we’ve seen since Floyd Mayweather. I really don’t like the culture that sometimes exists of getting really excited about a fighter and then, after one bad performance, dismissing them. I still fully expect him to become the fighter we’ve long believed.
I also don’t see any opponent capable of beating him. De Los Santos couldn’t – and there was a reason he didn’t take any risks. At one point it looked like Frank Martin would be fighting him. Whoever his opponent is he’ll represent a nightmare – because of his style, because he’s continuing to improve, and because he’s not yet generating the biggest paydays.
Discipline is one of the most important things a young fighter can possess – Devin Haney’s another example of that. Stevenson has the discipline to complement his boxing IQ, but of the two he’s the more safety-first and defence-minded. Haney will take risks, get hit and sometimes stay in the pocket and trade. Stevenson hasn’t yet shown whether he has that.
His discipline has been one of his greatest assets. Not just inside the ring, but outside of it too – he lives the life of a disciplined athlete, which is important, particularly given so many young fighters get caught up with the glitz and the glamour and lack his discipline and focus.
He was pictured in his pre-fight dressing room alongside Mayweather, Terence Crawford and Andre Ward. Ward was perhaps the least physically gifted of those three, and therefore had to grind and be disciplined – and not make mistakes and take the risks Crawford can and that even Mayweather could, because of his speed. We’re still learning where Stevenson will sit.
Post-fight he spoke of having a rest, but I don’t think that’s what he needs. The quicker he puts this fight behind him, the better – what he needs is to beat an opponent with a good reputation. A fighter can get stale if they spend too long in the gym, but Stevenson’s not the type of fighter to stay out of the gym – he loves the gym. Instead of another long training camp, he’d be better served having a shorter training camp and then another fight. He needs rounds in the ring, not in the gym.
After the Nakathila fight, his promoter Bob Arum grabbed me and said, “What do you think?”. “He shut the guy out – he dominated. It wasn’t a great performance but put him in with the top names – if he shuts out the big names the way that he shuts out the guys people aren’t excited about it’s going to be impressive.”
Stevenson’s spoken about wanting Vasyl Lomachenko, which is a fight I love the prospect of, but I don’t know how realistic it is. Is Lomachenko, after losing to Haney having given his all, going to fight another young, hungry opponent? A fight with Jose Zepeda or Isaac Cruz would be fun. Tough fighters – albeit below the level of Haney and Gervonta “Tank” Davis – who people know more about.