By Laurence Gill
Shakur Stevenson won every round before finding a stoppage in the 10th round of his fight with Jamel Herring for Herring’s WBO Super-Featherweight Championship. Stevenson now becomes a 2-Weight World Champion at only 24 years old and in his 17th professional fight.
Stevenson landed consistently from the first round to when the referee stepped in against Herring, who looked to push forward against Stevenson, but didn’t produce the offensive output to render his forward movement anything more than a test of how well Stevenson could work round his guard.
Stevenson has some of the silkiest hands and slickest feet in the sport, and showed that by landing fast, multi-punch combinations on Herring before he had a chance to throw anything in return. Herring seemed to expect Stevenson to dance around him for the first few rounds, and then get tired later on where Herring could turn it into an aggressive brawl; a strategy which doesn’t give much respect the boxing brain of his Olympic Silver medallist opponent, who loves to throw fast combinations against more static opponents and would have no reason beyond misplaced respect not to do so again in this fight.
Perhaps Herring, who was a major underdog despite coming in as champion, knew his only chance at victory was simply to hope Stevenson did not apply his abilities in this fight. Herring had some small success in the mid-to-late rounds, managing to do some brawling at close range, turning the fight less into a battle of skill, and more into a battle of heart, where the two seemed more equal, but Stevenson and his team were far too wise to let this trend carry on for any significant amount of time, and Herring wasn’t able to sustain this to win even a single round.
A career-best performance from Stevenson where he looked defensively sharp and offensively fluid has reconfirmed his place as one of the most exciting young talents in boxing, after somewhat falling out of the headlines recently between World Championship reigns. Naturally, the boxing world begins to look forward to who Stevenson could face in future, and Stevenson himself called out WBC Super Featherweight Champion Óscar Valdez in the ring after dispatching Herring.
The biggest hurdle in modern boxing to the Valdez fight being made, promotional rights, should already be sorted, as both men are promoted by Top Rank and Bob Arum. I’m sure a round of public squabbling and private deal-making around the purse split, and the details of the contract of the fight will be the next step, but a unification fight with Valdez seems a genuine strong possibility for Stevenson in the near future.
That’s a fight every boxing fan should be excited for: two undefeated world champions stepping up to unify their titles and decide the best fighter in the division. Stevenson’s speed and skill against Valdez’s aggression and one-punch knockout power would be a very exciting matchup. Valdez won’t be intimidated by Stevenson’s reputation or his fast hands, and would show the world how Stevenson manages under hard pressure for the first time as a professional boxer. If we can see that fight soon, we should count ourselves very lucky as boxing fans, especially as someone as young, popular and marketable as Shakur Stevenson could easily spend a few years making a lot of money fighting much easier fights before even thinking of looking at unification in the division.
Stevenson said in the press conference after this fight that he wants to become undisputed champion at 130lbs before looking to move to any other weight class, and that may well be possible as the IBF and WBA Super Featherweight Championships both currently lie vacant after their previous owners moved up to Lightweight. With Shavkat Rakhimov presumably having first rights on any shot at the IBF title in future. A fight with Rakhimov would also be an exciting prospect for boxing fans, with Rakhimov’s skillful mix of aggression and evasive head movement, as well as thudding body combinations, could be a real challenge for Stevenson if he wasn’t able to use his footwork to maintain distance between the pair.
Moving into the less likely, but more exciting, potential future fights for Shakur Stevenson, rumours persist that former Undisputed Lightweight Champion Vasyl Lomachenko is considering moving back down to 130lbs after his loss to Teófimo López at Lightweight about a year ago, since which he has not fought and notably failed to exercise his rematch clause. A fight with Stevenson would be a scintillating prospect for Lomachenko’s return to Super Featherweight, re-joining the division right at the deep end with arguably its current best fighter.
Lomachenko and Stevenson’s styles are not too far apart; both use fast, unreadable combinations to bedazzle their opponents and land shots through and round their guards, and both use glossy footwork to put themselves in the right position to land those shots without facing anything in return. If Stevenson were to win that fight, he would earn a spot in conversations around the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
A fight with the weight-hopping Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis, who could easily decide to return to 130lbs as spontaneously as he recently left the division, would also be an entertaining prospect, with the build-up to the fight perhaps being as entertaining as the fight itself if past form is anything to go off.
For Jamel Herring, who suffered the third professional defeat of his career, and who turns 36 in a week after a decorated career in the marines; this may well end up being the final chapter of his career. Herring will always be able to call himself a World Champion, and until last night was arguably the best fighter in the division. Herring said in the ring after the fight that he didn’t know what he would do next, and indeed he could carry on and try to climb the rankings again to perhaps earn mandatory status for another world title, but this doesn’t seem like a path Herring has much desire to take. We can only wait and see what the next step is for former Super Featherweight Champion of the world Jamel Herring, and also for the man that conquered him last night, Shakur Stevenson.