Author: Neil Johnstone
Shakur Stevenson soundly beat an overmatched Jeremiah Nakathila over 12 rounds in a slow paced, technical battle to claim the WBO interim super featherweight title.
The New Jersey native barely came out of second gear in front of the near full capacity crowd at the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas Resort, largely going through the motions, picking off his Namibian opponent with ease, scoring two knockdowns along the way to a 120-107 win on all three judge’s scorecards.
Speaking after the fight Stevenson said: "To be honest, I didn't really like my performance," Stevenson said. "I felt I could've performed a lot better. You had an awkward fighter throwing hard punches, and he knows how to grab and get away. He was a real awkward fighter.”
Nakathila, 21-2 (17kos), fighting outside his country for the second time in his career, faced a major step up in class against the former WBO featherweight champion, and unwisely opted to fight at a pace which suited his faster, sharper rival.
In the opening round Stevenson, 23, landed body shots early with blistering hand speed and showcased his tight defence, refusing the Walvis Bay resident to land his slower overhand right.
Nakathila’s attempts to land power shots in the early rounds were wild in execution, falling to canvas in the second round after missing with a looping left hook. By the third round, a confident Stevenson relied on his lightning reflexes to evade any danger from the No. 2 contender, landing clean shots and confusing his man with feints.
In the fourth, the elusive southpaw began landing accurate straight lefts down the pipe, followed by a knockdown from a quick right hook, which appeared to be partly caused by the 31-year-old’s lack of balance.
The fight remained a cagey affair throughout the middle rounds, Stevenson landing quick burst combinations, mixing to the body and head with surgical precision whilst the taller man’s punches continued to fall short.
It appeared that the 2016 Olympic silver medallist’s studying of his opponent in the earlier rounds had allowed him to formulate an effective attack going into the championship rounds, yet Stevenson continued to throw mostly single shots at a measured pace, resulting in instantly forgettable rounds.
The Namibian’s nickname, “Low Key” reflected his performance for the most part, occasionally finding surges of energy during his sporadic success. The majority of the fight however saw Stevenson consistently beat Nakathila to the punch, landing the cleaner work and walking his man onto power punches.
The 1/50 favourite sent a fatigued Nakathila to the canvas for a second time in the final round, producing a carbon copy of the first knockdown, again, it was difficult to distinguish if the 10-8 round was scored from timing and power or simply a lack of balance on Nakathila’s part.
Stevenson is now in line to face WBO champion Jamel Herring in September, a matchup which the new interim belt holder previously expressed is of no concern to him. Herring, 23-2 (11KOs) is 12 years his senior and has two losses to southpaws on his record and according to “Sugar” Stevenson has been holding his world tile belt “hostage.”
The new interim champion progresses to 16-0 (8 KOs) in a performance that disappointingly seemed to lack motivation, urgency, hunger or such qualities we expect to see from a young fighter slated to be the next pound-for-pound king. At times, neither man appeared to even acknowledge that they were fighting in a title eliminator.
Describing his performance the American star remarked: “I ain't really like it, but next time I'm going to work on moving my head a little bit more and step it up a little more."
Nakathila did not ask questions of the star southpaw that dared him to be great, perhaps unconsciously accepting his shut-out defeat several rounds prior to the final bell, yet Stevenson refused to set himself the challenge of being the first man to stop the seasoned power puncher from Namibia.
One can’t help feeling there was a missed opportunity for Shakur to impress on a big stage and to elevate his brand by dispatching his unqualified opponent early to demonstrate greatness.