Monday, November 13
The time will likely come when Shakur Stevenson is more widely recognised as the world’s finest fighter than is Terence Crawford in 2023, but four days before he fights to win a world title in a third weight division his date with Edwin de los Santos feels at risk of being overlooked.
ProBox TV has previously been present in Las Vegas for fights involving Floyd Mayweather, Saul Alvarez, and undisputed world titles, but the Formula One grand prix taking place around 72 hours after Stevenson-De Los Santos already feels on course to be bigger than them all.
Where typically the MGM Grand Casino would host fight week activities such as public workouts and “grand arrivals” in an attempt to promote whichever fight is scheduled for one of their properties – Stevenson-De Los Santos is at the T-Mobile Arena on Thursday evening to avoid clashing with the grand prix – there doesn’t even appear to be a fight poster in sight.
There is no boxing ring in the casino's foyer. There was also no room for the public workouts, which instead unfolded in the shadow of the T-Mobile Arena, a venue with a capacity of 20,000 that seems unlikely to be more than half-full on Thursday evening, when the more intimate Mandalay Bay or MGM Grand Garden Arena would likely prove a better fit.
Instead, what can be found throughout the MGM are motorsport fans often donning F1-branded clothing, and displays – such as of cars – to help promote an occasion that doesn’t appear to require promoting (the customs official ProBox TV encountered while previously travelling to Vegas had assumed that the grand prix was the reason ProBox TV was travelling). Which ultimately means that those at the MGM not in town to get their motorsport fix are unlikely to discover that one of the world’s most talented fighters can be seen on Thursday evening. Commitments made to F1 mean that Top Rank has struggled to secure the territory it would usually rely upon, ensuring that potential ticket buyers are unlikely to see marketing material related to the fight while on foot in the casino or elsewhere on the strip.
The culture surrounding the purchase of fight tickets in the US typically means that numerous sales are made when they first become available, and that sales then largely stall until close to fight night, when what are referred to as “walk ups” – those who buy tickets on the eve of the fight – increase the numbers present. It regardless remains unclear whether F1 fans – who would have found tickets to the weekend’s grand prix significantly more difficult and expensive to acquire – are likely to be tempted by the prospect of paying to watch another sport. Top Rank will not be the only organisation attempting to learn something from their habits.
The workouts that did take place were sparsely attended – not even Bob Arum could be seen. Stevenson was among those scheduled to climb into the ring to demonstrate his admirable abilities, but, increasingly threatening to become a law unto himself, he showed up, spoke to the media, and left.
When he first arrived he was covered head to toe in clothing that suggested he was using the occasion to help him boil down to the 135lbs lightweight limit. It didn’t take closer inspection to quickly see that that clothing was so heavily branded by 1990s icon Reebok that he appeared capable of rivalling Anthony Joshua as a clothes horse, but before he left – and the fact that he didn’t do his workout meant that he gave little reason to doubt him – he revealed that his fighting at lightweight means he can continue to eat four to five times a day.
“Reebok, they definitely believe in me; I believe in them; we’ve got a great partnership” he equally importantly said, before coming dangerously close to paraphrasing words that will forever be associated with Nike, Reebok’s rivals. “Let’s keep doing it.”
That the grand prix takes in part of the Vegas strip means that the practice session scheduled for Thursday evening will force Top Rank to demand that all but their main-event fighters arrive at the T-Mobile Arena an hour ahead of schedule. Sections of the strip will be closed down on Thursday evening, making navigating the surrounding areas difficult. The traffic that has been growing for weeks as a consequence of the preparations surrounding the grand prix is expected to be even more intense.
Tuesday, November 14
“Hands down the busiest week Las Vegas has ever seen,” was how Top Rank’s Mark Shunock described Sin City in the days before the Formula One grand prix. By the weekend he may be proved true – it regardless seems unlikely – but on Tuesday of fight week, even ProBox TV has seen the strip considerably busier.
The grand prix unquestionably represents the hottest ticket in town, and if it proves more entertaining than Shakur Stevenson then (Shunock’s excluded) those tickets will justify much of the hype.
ProBox TV first spoke to Stevenson in the hours after Guillermo Rigondeaux quit against Vasyl Lomachenko at Madison Square Garden in 2017. He was in the lobby of Manhattan’s Stewart Hotel, rather innocently playing a game with some friends.
Aged 26 he has since evolved into an individual with zero desire to pretend to be anything other than who he is. There is no agenda or spin when he speaks – just, unapologetically, his truth, which with his dryness and unique lexicon often combines to comical effect.
When his opponent Edwin de los Santos, 24, was first speaking Stevenson sat wearing noise cancelling headphones but occasionally smiled at whatever he was listening to and made no attempts to hide the extent to which his attention was elsewhere. When Shunock then sought to get him to sell Thursday’s fight he responded, and clearly meant what he said, with: “I really don’t care about y’all. I ain’t paying you mind.”
If his honesty isn’t what Top Rank would have hoped for during a week in which the T-Mobile Arena may not even by half-full by the opening bell of Thursday’s fight for the vacant WBC lightweight title, it was refreshing from an individual from a culture so often built on deceit.
When a reporter questioned Stevenson about Devin Haney, his PR assistant Julie Goldsticker attempted to intervene and insisted that questions should surround only Thursday’s fight. However Stevenson, skin evidently thicker than most, then said: “No, I’ll answer all the questions. I don’t give a fuck.”
ProBox TV can only assume Shunock had decided well in advance that he would conclude Tuesday’s press conference with the words “It might be F1 week, but the real race, the real fireworks happen right here on Thursday night”, because Stevenson had promised no such thing (not that he was making Shunock’s job easy).
Shunock’s Top Rank colleague Gabriel Rivas – once of Golden Boy Promotions – arguably earlier saved the show. When Emmanuel Navarette and Robson Conceicao spoke, respectively, in Spanish and Portuguese, he translated their words into English, and translated the questions they were being asked into their native tongues so that they could respond – all with considerable speed. Unlike almost every other individual involved in boxing he also chose to remain out of view, instead of insisting on sitting on stage, where he could been the centre of attention.
Those who have worked with Rivas will know that he is far from guided by his ego. Those there on Tuesday will also remember how strange it often was to hear his loud voice speaking via a microphone without being able to see where he was.
Wednesday, November 15
After a mostly quiet and uneventful fight week, celebrated individuals from the wider boxing fraternity arrived in Las Vegas for Shakur Stevenson’s fight with Edwin de los Santos.
Stevenson, with some justification, is increasingly being spoken of as the fighter of the coming era, so it was fitting that present at Wednesday’s weigh-in were Terence Crawford, the world’s finest active fighter, and the retired Andre Ward, another all-time great.
Also at the T-Mobile Arena was Jared Anderson, who it is to be hoped will prove the heavyweight of the coming era, and who outside of Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk may even be the only remaining active heavyweight not featuring on the December 23 bill in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that was officially announced in London shortly before Stevenson and De Los Santos weighed in.
Anderson, curiously, was wearing blacked-out sunglasses in a room that already had no natural sunlight. He was also wearing a lengthy, baby blue Versace gown, not unlike those Fury and Frank Warren wore for a live television appearance in the days before Fury fought in Vegas for the first time, when in 2019 he stopped Tom Schwarz.
Perhaps most striking was Crawford, who while wearing a Team Stevenson tracksuit moved with an air of confidence and contentment to a degree not seen before July’s stoppage of Errol Spence. ProBox TV last encountered him before his fight in 2019 with Amir Khan, when he still spoke with a chip on his shoulder. Approaching five years later – in 2019 he was vying with Vasyl Lomachenko to be considered the world’s finest fighter, and had already become the undisputed champion at 140lbs – in also becoming the undisputed champion at 147lbs and moving ahead of Naoya Inoue and Usyk in the most accurate pound-for-pound rankings he seems sufficiently secure and satisfied that retirement may even come relatively soon.
When discussing Stevenson’s great future, Crawford spoke of himself as at the “tail end” of his career. When engaged in a good-humoured debate with Evan Korn, an influential figure at Top Rank, about the fighter of the year, he insisted that his victory over Spence meant that he deserved that recognition, cheerfully dismissed Korn’s suggestions that it might be Inoue by saying “[Inoue’s opponent Nonito] Donaire’s older than me – y’all be biased sometimes”, and then instead that, after he, Stevenson is the finest fighter in the world. Even more certain is that the growing Crawford looks on the cusp of outgrowing his present weight division.
Rumour has it that sales to see, potentially, the second finest fighter in the world have been sufficiently underwhelming that 1,800 tickets are being gifted to military veterans. A reminder of why existed around the corner from the T-Mobile Arena shortly after the weigh-in concluded; a lengthy line existed at the meet and greet with Williams Racing driver Luke Sargent, the only American driver in the coming weekend’s Formula One grand prix.
“We were requested by [broadcaster] ESPN, which is televising the Formula One [grand prix in Vegas] to do a fight in Formula One week,” the promoter of Stevenson-De Los Santos, Bob Arum, told ProBox TV. “‘Cause they’ll have all of their advertisers here and so forth. On the Thursday.
“I believe we’re going similarly when they do the Super Bowl here, which is on a Sunday – we’re going to do a fight show on the Thursday before it, which is the beginning of February.
“I don’t know if we’d have avoided this week but we certainly wouldn’t do the Thursday night [without ESPN making that request]. It’s very hard on the gate.”
Thursday, November 16
If there remained a single person in Las Vegas unaware of the fact that it was preparing to host a Formula One grand prix then they’d have been left in no doubt by the time of the conclusion of Shakur Stevenson’s fight – of sorts – with Edwin de los Santos.
Late on Thursday morning there was a knock on ProBox TV’s hotel room, and then a request from two security staff to investigate. The search conducted was little more convincing than the WBC’s stance on performance enhancing drugs, but concluded with an explanation that because of the grand prix, hotel rooms were being checked to minimise the risk of a repeat of what had unfolded in October 2017 at the Mandalay Bay, when a gunman killed 58 people and injured around 500 more.
ProBox TV then got charged more for the same meal eaten at the same restaurant 24 hours earlier, and told that the prices had been changed to reflect the fact that Formula One was in town.
Much of the low-key build-up to Stevenson-De Los Santos had surrounded the belief that he is on the cusp of true greatness, and yet at the 20,000-capacity T-Mobile Arena, which by the main event was hosting an estimated 6,000, there seemed to be greater interest in the presence of the Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc. At a time when Saudi Arabia’s sports-washing efforts are bringing some of the world’s finest fighters to Riyadh, there was something sobering about the fact that even a fighter of the calibre of Stevenson – ESPN had requested that the Top Rank bill take place on Thursday, to complement the sponsorship network that existed around the grand prix – was being used as a pawn in the wider picture of Formula One.
Similarly sobering, given the justified excitement surrounding Stevenson, was what then unfolded in the ring. Little more need be written about how uneventful a fight took place on the evening Stevenson won a world title in a third weight division, but De Los Santos’ contribution appears to have been largely overlooked.
Not only was Stevenson doing enough to win most rounds, De Los Santos would have known that his status as an opponent demanded he impose himself if he was to have any chance of earning a decision. He consistently showed little desire to do so, and instead seemed to be prioritising making Stevenson appear entirely to blame.
The fifth round, when he mocked running away from Stevenson, was another in which he landed the fewest punches. CompuBox later revealed that his total of 44 punches landed was the lowest of any fighter over 12 rounds in CompuBox’s 38 years.
Post-fight, however, he was back to blaming Stevenson – who was often booed from the second until the 12th round and yet then asked by many of those fans to pose for a photo on his way back to the dressing room from the ring.
The lasting image of the evening may regardless prove that taken in Stevenson’s pre-fight dressing room, when he stood with Terence Crawford, Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward. Perhaps even Riyadh is yet to succeed in having that much greatness in one room at the same time – for everything that remains wrong with Vegas, it continues to be a considerably better destination for a fighter’s legacy to be built.