Shakur Stevenson has won titles in two divisions and is moving up again to make noise at 135 pounds, where Devin Haney is the undisputed champion and Gervonta Davis is one of the toughest challengers.
And don't forget about former champion Vasiliy Lomachenko, who is coming off victory this past weekend and wants to reclaim his status as the best in the division.
How does Stevenson match up with the top fighters in his new weight class? Former two-division champion and current ESPN boxing analyst Timothy Bradley Jr. makes a case for Stevenson to beat them all.
Stevenson has what it takes to beat anybody
Understanding Stevenson is a wonder in itself from inside the ring. I think his versatility, adaptability, mental toughness and willingness to compete against tough opponents and, more importantly, against himself are unique characteristics that each of the best the sport has ever produced. Like Muhammad Ali or Floyd Mayweather. I mention these guys a lot because they are among the best of the best, the brilliant minds of the game.
They all had that burning desire to be more than a champion, to be mentioned in the future and to be a figure in years to come. Even when they've gone away from the game, they will still be a part of boxing. We're still going to be saying their names. And I feel that's where Stevenson wants to be. Skill alone won't get you to this position, but becoming an all-time great takes beating the best over and over. However, self-belief and a massive dose of insecurities are also needed. Yes, insecurities.
People look at insecurities as a negative thing. But some people can take their insecurities and turn them into positives. Floyd Mayweather was probably one of the most insecure fighters on the planet. He controlled everything in and out of the ring. But Mayweather used his worries as fuel to be catlike, ready to solve any problem inside that squared circle. These types of fighters will be damned if they're in a situation they can't get out of. They're so insecure in a unique way. And that's a good thing because they're perfectionists -- everything has to be as close to perfect as possible. They leave nothing to chance, and that, to me, is Stevenson in a nutshell. Besides the defense, besides the skill set and his abilities, I look at him and I see a certain quality governed by feelings and belief that no one can beat him.
His insecurities won't let him rest. And that scares him. But at the same time, he channels it and drives himself to be the best he can be all the time.
To be a champion, you must beat the other person with a title. And Stevenson wants to fight the best guys out there. You must have the right dance partners to not just become a champion but also make the Hall of Fame and become an all-time great. If he could have it his way, you line them up, and the young man believes he can knock them all down. Stevenson is exceptionally talented, but any fighter can meet his match at the right time.
Who do I think can compete or even beat Stevenson?
Stephen A. Smith is hyped as he describes what makes Gervonta Davis so great.
Gervonta Davis! That's who. Davis has displayed remarkable punching power behind technical skills. Delivering a perfect record of 27 wins, 25 by knockout, and right at the genesis of his prime at 27 years of age.
Davis can deal with Stevenson's defensive mastery, hand speed and sharp counterpunches.
Like Stevenson, Davis is a southpaw who brings an abundant amount of ring experience and hand speed, but he is gifted with rare punching power -- unlike Stevenson. I believe Davis has the ring IQ to play chess as rapidly as Stevenson. His ability to punch with Stevenson is what sets him apart from Stevenson's other potential opponents. Davis has the capability and awareness to time and punch in between shots of Stevenson. Furthermore, Davis' killer instinct and ability to place his KO shot with either hand elevates his chances of landing that perfect punch to turn Stevenson's lights out in any round.
There's no perfect fighter out there. We as fighters make occasional mistakes, some more than others, but it takes the right fighter, coach and team to see them and exploit them in the gym and then do it under the bright lights. To add, on-the-fly adjustments are greatly needed against Stevenson, as he is multidimensional, and Davis, I believe, fits the bill.
This fight is 50-50. The matchup would come down to the timing and power of Davis vs. the defense and counterpunching of Stevenson. But one thing to know about Stevenson is that the better the opposition, the better Stevenson you will get. He understands himself, meaning he knows what he brings and what he can do inside the ring against another tenacious fighter. I think that sharpens him up mentally and heightens his skill set, which at the same time, limits his exposure.
On the other hand, we've seen Davis, in past fights, fall behind on the scorecards early. Against Mario Barrios, he was down early on the scorecards but managed to turn the fight around in the second half to stop him late (official scorecards when the bout was stopped were 97-91, 96-92, and 96-92 for Davis). He was also down on one scorecard before finally setting up and knocking out Rolando Romero.
Being down on the scorecards is not something you want to do against a fighter of Stevenson's caliber, as the cushion can lower the risk-taking in an intelligent boxer. Yes, Davis has a good chance, a little more than a puncher's chance, at beating Stevenson. But I believe that Stevenson's game would elevate, separating the two by a slim margin. Davis could be that guy who can dethrone Stevenson, but only if he can catch him.
So, part of me feels like Stevenson can outbox Davis and stay away from his devastating punching power, but that's if Stevenson tightens up some areas where he is vulnerable. He has certain habits that could get him into trouble with a guy like Davis.
Can Davis hit Shakur?
Yes! Fighters like Davis understand the sweet science. The hit and don't get hit. Like Stevenson, Davis can play defense for a few rounds by using his legs and head movement to avoid shots. I think both are on the same level regarding Boxing IQ. Stevenson wins the skill to control distance, but Davis wins the ability to close distance. Both Stevenson and Davis respect each other's overall competitive natures. They shared the ring years ago (sparring), and they know what each other brings.
To cap things off, there is an old saying, "defense wins championships."
Over my years in this sport, I've found that responsible defensive fighters are the best. Past fighters like Roy Jones Jr., Mayweather, Ali, Salvador Sanchez, Pernell Whitaker, Andre Ward -- and the list goes on -- were defensive masters. In boxing, the real players can play peekaboo well or turn off the body's power with one punch. And they typically last longer in this business. Defensive wizards have a high ratio of winning battles, followed by their selective creative offense. So if I have to pick a winner in this potential matchup, I would pick Stevenson.
How about Devin Haney?
A fight against Haney is another 50-50 matchup for Stevenson. Haney, a 23-year-old hungry champion, has a chance of upsetting Stevenson's undefeated record. He is the undisputed lightweight champion and sits at the very top of the division.
To compete with Stevenson, you need skill, but you must also compete with him mentally. Haney is a fighter who believes in himself and doesn't get intimidated easily. Haney, like Stevenson, is another guy groomed since the cradle to understand how to fight, understand positioning and control while taking away his opponent's strengths by exposing their weaknesses. Haney computes the why and know-how needed to react instinctively and execute a sound game plan. We've seen it twice recently, as he ran two different game plans in two fights against George Kambosos Jr., embarrassing him even worse the second time. I attribute this to his experience. We talk about his young age; he still has yet to reach his prime. Haney also has 10 more fights than Stevenson, and he's been boxing professionally longer, turning pro at 17 in Mexico.
However, I believe Haney can beat Stevenson mainly because of his reach. He has the reach advantage (71 inches) over Stevenson (68 inches) -- enhancing his chances of outboxing Stevenson with the keenness of an active lead hand, the left jab. Plus, he's learned the nuances that are developed only inside the gym, since he's spent so much time there.
To give an example of the awareness needed to compete at the pinnacle of boxing, think about your first time touching a hot iron and burning yourself, then realizing that it's hot. Many of you would think twice the next time, and some may even quickly check if it's hot, but Haney knows how to operate that iron, and the first place he would look is toward the outlet to see if it's plugged in. That's the difference.
I think he'll be able to play cat-and-mouse games with Stevenson. His punching output is above par, and his tactic of hitting and clinching after could work for him, making Stevenson frustrated. Robson Conceicao tried the same tactics and a frustrated Stevenson attempted to body slam him for excessively holding.
However, chances are neither fighter would be able to land punches cleanly on the other. It'll be one of those matches where both these guys would be shadowboxing each other without hitting each other. Neither guy has devastating punching power, and the fight will likely go to the scorecards.
But this matchup intrigues me and many other fans, the purest lovers of the sweet science. In recent fights, they're starting to step into the pocket and hunting versus being hunted, which raises my interest in this matchup even more.
Which fighter would go out of his comfort zone easily?
Somebody has to. Maybe both would try because of the fear of losing and how much will be at stake. You never know. Both are ultra-competitive and intelligent.
But with my assessment, both are charged by two different things. Haney is more set at the moment because he went overseas to Australia and beat Kambosos -- twice. Which people said he couldn't do. When you say he can't do something, he does it. That's his motivation. He fights to the moment at that moment.
Then you have Stevenson -- he fights to the level of his competition. Judging by his last few performances, Stevenson shined greater while competing against the perceived more experienced fighters. Against Conceicao, who is no slouch by any means, he dominated but failed to put on the performance he had against former champion Jamel Herring.
And because Stevenson fights to the level of his competition, we haven't seen his complete skill set. Haney would raise his game and attempt to compete with Stevenson on every level. But in the end, Stevenson can solve the Haney code and win a close decision.
If Stevenson were to fight Davis and Haney, I would have him winning both fights. But again, they are both toss-ups.
The rest of the lightweight division vs. Stevenson
Now, for the rest of the division, we're talking about another tier of fighters -- Ryan Garcia, Lomachenko and probably Teofimo Lopez. Garcia and Lopez are moving up to 140, so right now, it leaves only Lomachenko as a possible future opponent at 135 pounds.
I don't think he can beat Stevenson at this stage in his career. He probably could have won this matchup years ago, but I don't think so now. Stevenson is on the rise, and I believe Lomachenko is on the decline as far as his age, the wear and tear on his body and his activity. With him having 400 amateur fights, I don't want to take anything away from him. He is a legend. He's accomplished a lot, faster than most in boxing history. But at this point, I think the younger Stevenson is the hungrier guy.
And let's talk about the skill set that both these guys possess. Lomachenko needs to be in the midrange to be successful. He's a smaller guy and he has small arms. You can beat him if you can isolate and keep Lomachenko at bay and avoid the midrange where he works his offense. But Stevenson can manage distance well, and I think he'll keep Lomachenko out on the end of his punches. And Lomachenko likes to use angles and go off that weak side angle. He will have a hard time doing that against Stevenson, especially fighting another southpaw. He'd be looking at himself in a mirror. So, I think things would be difficult for Lomachenko being the smaller guy.
I think he will be able to fight him on the outside, and he'll be able to step to Lomachenko and bag him up and put them in these bad positions -- I would say peculiar positions that Lomachenko tends to get in, because there's some leakage there, too. I see flaws in Lomachenko and some of the things he does, like how he resets himself and gets out of position sometimes. I can look at the film all day and break this down. I see so much stuff, and I'm like, you could take advantage of him here. You could take advantage of him there. I think Stevenson is just smart enough to take advantage of all of these missteps inside the ring against a guy like Lomachenko -- I think he beats him.