IGNORING his undoubted skill for a second, there is a hunger and drive to Shakur Stevenson which separates him from many of the other gifted young Americans we have seen threaten to take the boxing world by storm only to eventually rest on their laurels and cruise into retirement.
Not content with winning just one title in one weight class, Stevenson is the kind to get his business done and then move on. In short, he doesn’t like to stick around. Far more appealing to him, it would appear, is the idea of chasing challenges and finding himself in big, lucrative, and compelling fights.
His fight this Saturday (April 8) against Shuichiro Yoshino may not fall into that bracket, but, certainly, given that it is Stevenson’s first fight as a lightweight, it can be considered an introduction to something greater.
For the 25-year-old, having won titles as a featherweight and super-featherweight, is now looking to do the same at 135 pounds, which means of course he has set himself on a collision course with the likes of Devin Haney, Vasiliy Lomachenko, Gervonta Davis, and Ryan Garcia. To fight any of those men would represent a big deal for Stevenson and indeed would represent the kind of opportunity required to turn a quality prospect with titles to his name into a big star in America.
That, one suspects, is the eventual goal for Stevenson at lightweight, yet first he must keep his unbeaten record – currently at 19-0 (9) – intact against Yoshino, a Japanese fighter who is also unbeaten at 16-0 (12).
A pro since 2015, the 31-year-old Yoshino has fought exclusively in his homeland and is a natural lightweight. In that weight class he has won a variety of regional titles but has never beaten anyone on the level of Stevenson. His best wins to date, in fact, were probably his last two: an 11th round technical decision win over Masayuki Ito in April last year, which he followed in November with a sixth-round stoppage of Masayoshi Nakatani, someone we have seen share a ring with Vasyl Lomachenko, who stopped him in nine rounds, and Felix Verdejo, whom Nakatani stopped in nine rounds in 2020. Those were solid scalps for Yoshino and together they have served to put him in line for a shot at the WBC lightweight title, which, he understands, will be his should he upset Stevenson in Newark, New Jersey this weekend.
The WBC had previously ordered an eliminator between Stevenson and Isaac Cruz, only for Cruz to decide to take a different path. Meanwhile, the next man in line, William Zepeda, was told by his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, that he wanted additional time to build the fight between him and Stevenson into something more financially appealing.
That’s just the way boxing is in 2023, I suppose, with opportunities typically taken by those hungriest for them rather than those who, on credentials at least, deserve them. For Stevenson, though, a man on a mission, all he must do is focus on maintaining the level we have seen from him in consecutive fights against Robson Conceição (UD 12), Óscar Valdez (UD 12), and Jamel Herring (TKO 10). Should he do that it’s hard to see what Yoshino can do that 19 others were unable to do in the presence of the New Jersey native. Should he do that one expects Stevenson, a southpaw with all the skills, to create a wide lead and never let go of it until he hears the final bell.