Boxing is truly a sport that seems to breed stars almost as quickly as fighters tend to be positioned in the sport's mythical "Pound For Pound" debates. While often there is not much criteria for the latter as the entire concept is based almost exclusively on opinion and by its very nature is very subjective, the emergence of a star in the sport is often easier to see because it is something that one can see develop from the very early stages of a fighter's career.
One such star that has emerged is undefeated former two-division world champion Shakur Stevenson. Stevenson, unbeaten in nineteen professional fights after winning a Silver medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics, was able to win world titles in both the 126lb. Featherweight and 130lb. Jr. Featherweight divisions, despite not having twenty pro bouts as of yet and in the process, has been a star on the rise for the past several years. Although Stevenson is at a point in his career where many fighters at similar stages are either just flirting with contention for a world title or are awaiting an opportunity to try to move into that position, Stevenson's talent as a slick and elusive boxer is indisputable and thus far, has proven to be a fighter with a style that no one has yet been able to solve.
Prior to his last fight, which was to be a title defense of what was the unified WBO/WBC Jr. Lightweight world championship against Robson Conceicao in September of last year, Stevenson was stripped of the title for failing to make the 130lb. Jr. Lightweight limit. Despite the setback for him, the fight went on and Stevenson dominated Conceicao over twelve rounds. This victory not only opened a vacancy of two world championships in the Jr. Lightweight division, but also closed the chapter of Stevenson's time at 130lbs. as the need to move up in weight became apparent.
A move up in weight to the 135lb. Lightweight division, which will officially take place on Saturday, April 8th in Stevenson's hometown of Newark, NJ. In his Lightweight debut, Stevenson will face undefeated WBC number eight rated Lightweight contender Shuichiro Yoshino in what is being billed as an elimination bout in the WBC rankings, which can be seen here in the United States on digital subscription sports streaming network ESPN+. Although not likely known to a portion of American Boxing fans, Yoshino is himself unbeaten in sixteen professional bouts and has scored knockouts in twelve of those fights. Among his career accomplishments up to this point, Yoshino has won regional Lightweight championships recognized by both the WBO and the Oriental Professional Boxing Federation (OPBF).
Yoshino is coming off a sixth round knockout in his last fight in November of last year of Masayoshi Nakatani in his native Japan. While Yoshino is undefeated and has more knockouts than Stevenson, who has nine knockouts in his nineteen career wins, in his career, this fight will not only represent Yoshino's first fight in the United States and his first fight outside of Japan, but also a significant step up in caliber of opposition having fought almost exclusively in the Japanese and Asia-Pacific regional rankings. Per the OPBF's affiliation with the World Boxing Council (WBC) however, Yoshino has been designated as a top ten contender in the Lightweight division.
Obviously, questions regarding how legitimate that number eight ranking is will be asked, particularly because Yoshino is in a bout that is billed as a world title eliminator, despite not facing an opponent ranked in the world rankings. As flawed and open to criticism as any world sanctioning organization might be, the silver-lining is we are likely to get an answer regarding Yoshino's ranking early on in this fight as Stevenson's skillset is such that he can get an opponent out of there if the opportunity presents itself with a blend of hand speed and deceptive power in both hands.
What does Yoshino bring to the table? He is a come forward pressure fighter, which is theoretically an approach that one would attempt to use against a fighter such as Stevenson who has good lateral movement and tends to use the ring in his fights. Yoshino also tends to throw punches in bursts of flurries that seems to swarm his opponents. A highlight of his offense is a devastating left hook, which if he can find a way to land it in this fight, and more specifically, can do so while getting leverage on the punch, it could well do damage. One should keep in mind, despite the unknown surrounding Yoshino in regard to how he will fare against world level opposition, he is the natural Lightweight here and if one were to point to a potential advantage he might have over Stevenson, at least in theory, it is that theoretically, he is the bigger fighter naturally against someone who has competed in two lower weight divisions prior to this encounter.
What does concern this observer however, is there are times when Yoshino tends to loop with his punches. While none of his previous opponents were able to exploit that, Shakur Stevenson is a high-caliber boxer, who in addition to his aforementioned attributes, is also a skilled counter puncher.
With this in mind, the obvious approach for Yoshino will be to try to cut off the ring from Stevenson to attempt to limit his ability to move. Yoshino must however, be tactical, make sure his punches are compact and tight, and be responsible defensively because Stevenson will likely take advantage of any opening that is left for him. Stevenson meanwhile, must not approach this fight with a complacent mindset and must take this fight seriously.
In terms of what will be ahead for the winner of this fight at least as far as the WBC is concerned, could be a mandatory challenge of the winner of the May 20th clash between undefeated Undisputed Lightweight champion of the world Devin Haney and former three-division world champion Vasyl Lomachenko, which will take place in in Las Vegas. While Haney, Lomachenko, and Stevenson are all promoted by Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum's Top Rank, Inc. and this in theory creates an ideal scenario for Stevenson to move into position to challenge the winner of that fight, Stevenson does have business to tend to first and if he is not on his game, he might not be as close to challenging for a world championship in a third division as it might appear. Despite how it might look at least in terms of the set up, I as a proud Boxing lifer, who has spent most of his life covering the sport, certainly do not have to remind any knowledgeable Boxing fan that sometimes things are not as they might seem and there are times dear reader where strange things happen in a fight, the least of which are upsets.
"And That's The Boxing Truth."
Stevenson vs.Yoshino takes place on Saturday, April 8th at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. The entire card can be seen in the United States on digital subscription sports streaming network ESPN+ beginning at 6:55PM ET/3:55PM PT. For more information about ESPN+ including schedules, list of compatible streaming devices, platforms, Smart TVs, and to subscribe please visit: www.ESPNPlus.com.
(*Card and start time subject to change.*)
(*Check your local listings internationally.*)
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