Shakur Stevenson’s coming of age story could add another significant chapter with world title
Patience is a virtue. That old adage may be true, but Shakur Stevenson has gnawed off the letters in the proverb waiting for a world title shot. He has been grinding toward the goal that hard.
And now, the day he has coveted all these years is finally upon him: Stevenson faces Joet Gonzalez for the vacant WBO featherweight title at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nev. on Saturday night.
“It feels amazing being that I’m about to become a world champion,” Stevenson told Sporting News in equal parts excitement and confidence. “During that time (of waiting), I definitely wasn’t patient, but the timing is right, now. It’s time for me to become the world champion and take over boxing.”
It’s clear Stevenson is in the left lane of an open highway, his GPS set to Reno on Saturday night. But the product of Newark, N.J. is not speeding at such a pace that he doesn't have time to offer honest reflection on his drive to greatness. That’s precisely what makes this a coming-of-age moment for the 22-year-old — not only as a boxer on the verge of becoming a world champion, but also a still-maturing young man.
Last month, Stevenson’s father, Alfredo Rivera, died of a heart attack. He was 40 years old. Estranged from Shakur, Rivera had been working on building a relationship with his son prior to his passing. Stevenson took to his Twitter account on Sept. 29 and revealed his dad’s death and his own regrets over it in a series of soul-baring tweets.
“It just taught me a very big lesson,” Stevenson, the oldest of nine siblings, said of his father's death. “I kind of have an attitude where I just push you away or turn my back on people at times. I have my reasons for doing that.
“I’m not the type of person where I do stuff without a reason, but I guess I learned that life is short, so enjoy it while you can. I want to enjoy my family while we’re here.”
Stevenson admittedly uses his Twitter account as somewhat of an online journal, an outlet that supplements his boxing career as vehicles to pour out his emotions at times.
Just last week, he followed up those tweets with another self-check.
“It’s a lot of people that’s in my life right now and I don’t think they be on the same page as me,” Stevenson said. “A lot of people don’t really think as big as I think. I kind of think that beside my close, close family and friends, if you’re not on the same page as me, I don’t really think that we’re going to be on the same page now.
“A lot of things change as I’m getting older, gaining more fame, money and all that stuff,” he continued. “I think the smaller my circle is, the better. I’m good with one or two people around me. One or two people that love you is better than five or six people that’s just there.”
These painful lessons and introspective scans have forced Stevenson to endure some self-assessment, but he vows that they won’t be a distraction Saturday night in Reno.
Said Stevenson: “Ain’t nothing going to stop me from winning this world title.”
Stevenson's manager — and retired pound-for-pound king — Andre Ward, plus WBO welterweight champion — and arguable current pound-for-pound best — Terence Crawford are helping make sure Stevenson’s mind set remains as sharp as his boxing skills.
“I take what they tell me and use it as far as my game,” Stevenson said. “Dre is telling me stay focused on your goals and don’t let the moment be too big.”
Stevenson almost can’t afford to let Saturday night’s moment "be too big," considering that scenario would dash the hopes of even bigger moments. Before even securing the WBO featherweight title, Stevenson has made his intentions of moving up in weight clear unless he receives a unification fight with IBF titleholder Josh Warrington, WBA champion Leo Santa Cruz or WBC champ Gary Russell Jr.
“I’d definitely stay at weight for them,” Stevenson said.
But of all the options, Stevenson says a clash with Warrington is likely the “easier fight to make,” as he boxes under Top Rank’s Bob Arum; Frank Warren promotes Warrington, and the two do business together frequently. Down the line, bouts with Gervonta Davis, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia can also be made. A clash with Davis particularly intrigues Stevenson.
“I’m cool with ‘Tank,’ I’d definitely fight ‘Tank,’” Stevenson said of Davis. “I even told ‘Tank’ too that I feel like me and him are going to be like an Ali vs. Tyson fight that nobody ever got to see.
“I think that would be a big fight,” he added. “Nothing but respect for him. He’s leading our generation. Sooner or later, it’s going to come a time where we got to fight each other.”
Of course, the first line of order is defeating Gonzalez to wrap the WBO strap around his waist. Like Stevenson (12-0, 7 KOs), Gonzalez (23-0, 14 KOs) is undefeated, signaling at least on paper that the bout has the chance to be special. As a southpaw, Stevenson will certainly plant that lead right leg firmly into the canvas and navigate for enough real estate to unload his stinging jabs and power punches.
One win, and the 2016 Olympic silver medalist’s dream of becoming a world champion comes true. His coming of age story will have another significant chapter of growth — again, as a boxer and young man.