Shakur Stevenson vs. Artem Harutyunyan: Big-fight preview

If ever there was a time to deliver a statement performance for Shakur Stevenson, now is as good as any.

The hot lightweight commodity could be going into free agency as a bright, in-form star, or someone who aesthetically flatters to deceive – while still being wholly brilliant – depending on what happens in front of around 10,000 of his hometown fans at Newark’s Prudential Center against Artem Harutyunyan.

For it is the final fight of Stevenson’s existing deal with Top Rank, and co-managers James Prince and Josh Doobin will be hoping Stevenson can stack the negotiating chips in their favor for the next phase of Stevenson’s already-decorated career. 

An Olympic silver medallist and a three-time world champion in just 21 fights, Stevenson is in a hot division, but one that has gradually been losing stars to the junior welterweight ranks.

Stevenson – and his managers – have talked about their disappointment at Stevenson not being paired with the likes of future Hall of Famer Vasiliy Lomachenko, WBA champion Gervonta Davis or WBO ruler Denys Berinchyk, and as Top Rank scoured the WBC ratings for Stevenson to make this defense, they landed on Harutyunyan’s name at No. 7.

Last time out, in a dull fight that dimmed Stevenson’s stardust, the Newark talent toiled through an uneventful 12 rounds with No. 4 Edwin De Los Santos. 

The whole De Los Santos event was designed, understandably, to capitalize upon the grand arrival of Formula 1 in Las Vegas by showcasing Stevenson on a Thursday night in the hope that more casual sporting fans, with a few bucks stagnating in their back pockets, would be passing by the T-Mobile Arena. 

Regardless of how it did commercially, the bout flopped. Stevenson did not dazzle and De Los Santos broke 38-year-old CompuBox records for landing just 40 punches in a 12-round fight. Stevenson, in effect, won the contest by landing 46 jabs.

Reports of fans leaving the De Los Santos bout early, despondent, were widespread. It is not often that the artists in this sport appeal to the masses, unless they turn up with a divisive persona and people pay the freight to see them get their asses kicked.

But that’s not the case with Stevenson.

Now he is 21-0 (10 KOs) and Stevenson knows he is the goods as a fighter. We all know Stevenson is the goods as a fighter, too. The question is whether he is must-see TV, and whether he can generate enough buzz and excitement to get fans to part with their money to watch him fight, thus making him worth a significant investment from the major promoters who will surely vie for his attention.

The 27-year-old southpaw has been training at James Prince’s gym in Houston, saying he wanted to get away from distractions. 

The German-based Armenian challenger joked this week about needing running shoes to catch up to Stevenson, but, perhaps hinting at the statement he intends to make, Stevenson quickly shot back, “Run for your life. I’m coming. Wear your running shoes, for sure.”

“I’m going to take him to a level he’s never been on,” the champion said. “I’m just going to be myself. I’m going to come out and show my talent and show my levels. I think I’m one of the best in the sport of boxing at hit and don’t get hit. There’s a certain way of doing that, and I want to show the fans that all that moving around is something I don’t really have to do. I can sit in the pocket and beat you up, too.”

Stevenson felt that Harutyunyan’s loss to Frank Martin in Las Vegas last year revealed his limitations. In the decisive 12th round, Harutyunyan was dropped and that subsequently tilted the scorecards gently in the American’s favor, and it was Martin who went on to land the Gervonta Davis fight. 

Harutyunyan was aggressive to the body with Martin, leading with right hooks and then following in with lefts to the other side. But, at times, he got caught staying on the inside too long in the sixth and was hurt and in trouble, riding out the storms that followed, which included Harutyunyan getting clobbered downstairs and visibly feeling the effects of it. But he would distract Martin with a light jab to draw his attention, and then attempt to bury the right in behind Martin’s elbow.

There were spells when Harutyunyan had to back up, and as he did so while under fire in the 12th, he took a knee. He told Stevenson this week he had not been in great shape for Martin, because he had been unable to get proper sparring in Germany.

Stevenson is so incredibly quick, his pull-back straight left counter is an excellent weapon, and his right hook in close has also troubled opponents. Of course, it’s his overall craft that catches the eye. He’s beaten good fighters without having to exit second or third gear.

Harutyunyan said: “Many people say it’s boring but it’s his style, and it works.”

Asked what he had to do to win, the challenger admitted: “I have to do everything.”

“I can’t wait to display my talent,” Stevenson reiterated.

That’s all well and good, and he likely will. But if he wants to move the decimal point to the left on his next deal, he will need to show more than the talent he clearly has. He has to pick Harutyunyan apart, not play with his food for too long, and put the challenger out of his misery, which he can do some time before the ninth round.

Then the fight for his signature can truly begin.

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