Stevenson plays the waiting game, marks time with Nakathila Saturday
SAN DIEGO, Calif., June 11, 2021 – Think back to the last time undefeated junior lightweight Shakur Stevenson of New Jersey (15-0, 8 KOs) faced a serious challenge as a pro. Keep thinking. We’ll wait.
If you can’t come up with one, it’s because the 23-year-old has passed every test with flying colors. Stevenson is expected to do more of the same on Saturday against Jeremia Nakathila of Namibia (21-1, 17 KOs), a 31-year-old in his first fight outside Windhoek at the Theater at the Virgin Hotel in Las Vegas.
Stevenson has vacated his featherweight title and moves up to fight for the vacant interim WBO junior lightweight title in the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card Saturday. Bouts start with the prelims on ESPN+ at 6:30 pm ET/3:30 pm PT, and the main card at 10 pm ET/7 pm PT on ESPN and ESPN Deportes.
Should he win, Top Rank is planning a title shot for Stevenson as the mandatory challenger for WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. However, it remains unknown whether Herring would prefer to face WBC junior lightweight stablemate Oscar Valdez instead, to the point of dropping his WBO belt to do it.
But first things first.
Last year, Stevenson was the first world champion to set back into the ring after the pandemic.
He dominated Puerto Rican contender Felix “La Sombra” Caraballo in June 2020, taking only 18 punches while delivering 118 power punches in six rounds before scored the knockout. Then, he cruised to a 10-round shutout against Toka Kahn Clary in December. Fans are impatient to find out what Stevenson’s really made of against a serious challenger.
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum did his best to set the hook for Saturday’s fight. “One thing I’ve learned is never underestimate an African fighter, because even though it’s a big continent and there’s a lot of different countries, I remember when guys like the great Azumah Nelson, Ike Quartey, John ‘The Beast’ Mugabi, when they came over, little-known guys, and they gave everybody a run for their money,” said Arum. “African fighters come with a lot of strength, and Jeremiah, I think, will epitomize that. Now, he’s in with a very, very tough task, probably the best young fighter in the world in Shakur Stevenson. But he’s going to give it a go, and I think it’ll be a very, very exciting fight.”
Stevenson expressed his own desire to face Valdez to Arum after Valdez blasted through Miguel Berchelt. Either way, it’s time for Stevenson to be tested, which isn’t all that likely Saturday.
Stevenson says it feels good to be so well regarded by his promoter. Give Top Rank credit for developing him to this point. “At the end of the day, I listen (to the hype), but you can’t get too hot,” said Stevenson. “You still gotta complete the task. I try to stay in between. I don’t try to listen to everything I hear and go off that. I try to make sure I do what I’m supposed to do.”
Undercard highlights: Jose Pedraza, Xander Zayas, Troy Isley in action
Former world champion Jose “Sniper” Pedraza of Puerto Rico (28-3, 13 KOs) should provide the big action on the undercard in a 10-round fight against Julian “Hammer Hands” Rodriguez of New Jersey (21-0, 14 KOs). Zepeda is a barnburner type of fighter, with always entertaining if erratic performances. He will provide a solid step up for Rodriguez, who has been blowing through lesser opponents.
Early Card – Xander Zayas vs Larry Fryers
Also appearing on the early card, flashy Puerto Rican prospect Xander Zayas (8-0, 6 KOs) takes on Irish lightweight Larry Fryers (11-3, 4 KOs) coming up to welterweight for the six-round bout.
Zayas took down Demarcus Leyton with ease eight weeks ago and gets more work and visibility in front of fans Saturday.
Before he heads for the Tokyo Olympic games, middleweight Troy Isley (1-0) will get some pro rounds in on the undercard against LaQuan Evans of Philadelphia (4-1, 2 KOs). Isley, age 22, wasn’t originally named to the team. He signed with Top Rank and fought his first professional bout in February. USA Boxing added Isley, fellow Top Rank pro Duke Ragan at featherweight. This is perhaps the best medal hope among the men, lightweight Keyshawn Davis.
“It feels as my dream as an eight-year-old kid has finally come true,” said Isley. “Two years ago, I thought it was over, but I always prayed and hoped for the best and hoped I would get another opportunity, and God gave it to me.”
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is an award-winning boxing journalist covering the Sweet Science for Communities and for boxing fans worldwide. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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