Shakur Stevenson retains title with breezy win over Artem Harutyunyan

In a fight that showcased his skills and also perhaps highlighted why Top Rank isn’t fighting too hard to prevent his free agency, Shakur Stevenson defended his WBC lightweight title via a technically proficient but ultimately underwhelming performance against Artem Hartunyan, winning a unanimous decision but rarely threatening to finish the contest early Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Harutyunyan has a natural herky-jerky style that can be tricky to time, and Stevenson seemed to take a couple of rounds to figure him out as Harutyunyan bobbed, weaved and twitched, circling around Stevenson, firing off quick flurries and digging to the body early.

Newark's Stevenson (22-0, 10 KOs) began to find his range in the third and fourth, and in the fifth started cranking up the pressure, landing a two-punch combination to the head before switching downstairs.

Harutyunyan (12-2, 7 KOs) was in theory doing many of the things he needed to do. He didn’t stand still in front of Stevenson, didn’t make himself an easy target for the American’s lightning-fast punches. He circled Stevenson constantly, fired out punches to keep his opponent occupied, tried to make himself as elusive as he could. But Stevenson’s defensive acumen and precision punching are otherworldly, and once he was locked in, he worked his way through the gears and turned up the pressure, picking Harutyunyan apart with straight punches to the head and hurting him badly with a body shot in the sixth.

The physical contrast was fascinating: Harutyunyan wide-eyed, all nervous movement, never still for a second; Stevenson supremely relaxed, a study in the economy of motion, wasting no energy and making every punch count. While O’Shaquie Foster, robbed in the co-main event, was presumably punished by the judges for constantly retreating and punching on the counter, Stevenson stood in the pocket, forcing Harutyunyan to stay on the move as the local man controlled the center of the ring.

By Round 8, Stevenson was walking his opponent down, moving him backward. Harutyunyan was by now happy to circle at more of a distance, Stevenson's body punches having apparently sapped his desire to engage too forcefully, and a couple more body punches in the ninth had the German moving away with greater urgency. To his credit, Harutyunyan then made the decision that the best defense was a stepped-up offense, and he tried to open up to keep Stevenson off him as the ninth round closed.

He continued his relative offensive output in the 10th, and although Stevenson was completely unconcerned and in no danger of losing, Harutyunyan’s activity was helping keep Stevenson's offense at bay and highlighted the fact that, while Stevenson is a singular talent, he sometimes lacks the ability or willingness to find a way fully to break down his opposition even when in clear control.

While Stevenson continued to look for opportunities to land meaningful blows down the stretch, he didn’t display the application or guile to force those openings to appear and ultimately seemed content to play out the string.

The result was a formality, Stevenson winning a unanimous decision by scores of 119-109, 118-110 and a too-close 116-112.

Stevenson won the fight and retained his title; whether he won any new fans or increased the likelihood of scoring the defining fight he yearns for is a different matter.

“It’s kind of hard to prove [you’re that guy] when you don’t have a fighter who’s trying to fight back,” Stevenson complained afterward before conceding that “I’ve got to cut off the ring a little bit more.”

Frustrated that his two favored opponents, Vasiliy Lomachenko and Gervonta Davis, are ignoring him and seem likely to face each other, Stevenson seemed resigned to the fact that he would have to keep going and see what opportunities present themselves.

“I love boxing,” he said, “but if they don’t want to fight me, I’ll stay in the gym and keep busy.”

Kieran Mulvaney has written, broadcast and podcasted about boxing for HBO, Showtime, ESPN and Reuters, among other outlets. He also writes regularly for National Geographic, has written several books on the Arctic and Antarctic, and is at his happiest hanging out with wild polar bears. His website is

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