Shakur Stevenson is paving his way to stardom, but at 135 pounds

Shakur Stevenson returns to his native Newark, New Jersey, near the edge where pound-for-pound greatness begins, stardom. At 25, Stevenson owns an Olympic silver medal along with titles in two weight classes.

Until Thursday, when he failed to make weight, Stevenson was a unified 130-pound champion. He was stripped of those titles after weighing in at 131.6 pounds. The fight will go on, with Conceicao eligible to win the World Boxing Council (WBC) and World Boxing Organization (WBO) belts, after Stevenson and Conceiao reached an agreement on a financial penalty, the sources said.

Stevenson and Conceicao, the Olympic gold medalist, will meet Friday in the main event (10 pm ET, ESPN/ESPN+) in what Shakur insists will be his last fight before campaigning at 135 pounds, a weight division that should finally show how great Stevenson can be.

“I gave it my all,” tweeted Stevenson, ESPN’s No. 9 pound-for-pound fighter. “I’ve been pro my whole career and made weight, but my body can’t do 130 anymore. My health has to come first. I’ll go up to 135 in my next fight.”

Really, Stevenson’s loss of the titles won’t affect him negatively, although if it happens again at 135 pounds, that’s another story. For now, Stevenson’s inability to tip the scales at the 130-pound limit will simply hasten his entry into truly meaningful fights that will test him like never before.

At 126 and 130 pounds, Stevenson has feasted on opponents well below his level. Both weight classes have lacked depth and elite fighters, while Stevenson competed in the divisions. At 135 pounds, he will have to deal not only with bigger opponents, but also with much more skilled fighters.

Stevenson is a 30-1 favorite to defeat Conceicao and remain undefeated, according to Caesars Sportsbook. The intrigue for Stevenson lies at lightweight, where Devin Haney is the undisputed champion, and star boxers Vasiliy Lomachenko, Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia (sometimes) campaign.

Stevenson has a chance to become the most talented fighter in the world, between his elite defense, punch placement and his ability to judge distance, but he won’t be able to truly prove it until he moves up five pounds to lightweight and faces the best fighters in that division.

“I think three years later, as long as I’m still dominating and still doing what I plan to do, I end up moving up that list,” Stevenson told ESPN on Wednesday. “I know Terence [Crawford] and Cinnamon [Álvarez] They are at the end of their career. So, I see myself as the one coming right behind them and taking the number 1 spot.”

How about Shakur testing his defensive prowess against the mighty southpaw “Tank” Davis? Or a battle with Garcia, a lightning-fast boxer with a massive social media following, that could launch him into stardom? And while those bouts could prove difficult to finish given the increasingly fractured nature of the sport, Stevenson should push for them to happen.

The fights with Haney and Lomachenko should be a lot easier to do. Stevenson, like them, is promoted by Top Rank.

“I think they’re all great fights,” Stevenson said. “I think they are all good [peleadores], but you have to give credit to Devin Haney… I have to respect the real belts… I’m a fighter. If I go to any weight class, I’m not trying to be the intercontinental champion or [reinar en] none of those organizations [donde] they got the smallest belts and everyone claims they are champions.

“I’m trying to be the undisputed champion, like Devin is. I’m trying to be a true champion. So you have to respect Devin Haney when it comes down to it. So I say he’s the guy.”

Haney defends the undisputed championship against George Kambosos Jr. in a rematch Oct. 15 on ESPN. Assuming he wins a second time, as expected, Haney could face a high-stakes fight with Lomachenko in the spring. And while that might leave Stevenson waiting in the wings, it could also be a good opportunity for him to get comfortable at 135 pounds with an easier fight in his lightweight debut in the first half of the year.

For now, Stevenson will be looking to build his profile in what was scheduled to be his homecoming fight as champion. After a brief title run at 126 pounds, Stevenson scored a 10th-round TKO over Jamel Herring in October 2021 to capture a 130-pound title and added a second belt in April with a win over Oscar. Valdez in an impressive performance.

Stevenson was unable to finish Valdez inside the distance, but dropped the Mexican in round 6 and lost just two rounds on two cards.

“Valdez gave me a lot of opportunities to show my skills,” Stevenson said. “I think with this guy [Conceicao]will try to sit down and box… But I will show the world my ability.”

In fact, Conceicao, whose only loss was a controversial decision against Valdez, prefers to counterpunch while Valdez likes to apply pressure and fight on the inside. That just means that Stevenson will have to come forward himself and make the fight if he wants to keep his momentum to the top of the pound-for-pound list.

Conceicao has plans of his own, of course, and for the second time in as many title fights, he will be at a competitive disadvantage. Valdez’s September 2021 title fight was allowed to proceed despite the presence of a banned substance in the titleholder’s system.

“I am very motivated. I have trained all my life for this moment,” Conceicao said during a news conference on Wednesday. “The world could see that I was better than Oscar Valdez. I should have won… I’m an uncrowned champion and I’m ready for Friday night.”

Sure, Stevenson has the skills, with his precise jab, excellent footwork and in-ring intelligence, to simply outplay Conceicao, a 33-year-old Brazilian. But if Stevenson wants to make the kind of statement that he will have fans excited about what looks to be a pivotal 2023, he must also entertain.

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