Shakur Stevenson, budding star, 2016 Olympic silver medalist, and current WBO featherweight champion, re-opened the boxing landscape last night by dominating and stopping an over-matched Felix Caraballo at the 1:31 mark of round six. With live prizefights on hold since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, this Top Rank card at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas represents a big step forward for boxing and may be the blueprint for how the sport can renew itself in the months to come. Stevenson vs Caraballo may not have been a premier match-up, but for action-starved boxing fans, it was hugely appreciated.
Certainly Stevenson was pleased to return to action. Since his planned March title defense against Miguel Marriaga was canceled due to COVID-19, the undefeated star-in-the-making has been hungry to get back into the ring.
“To find out I wasn’t fighting [against Marriaga] made me mad because I put a lot of work in,” said Stevenson and the Olympian got to shake off the cobwebs some three months after that canceled bout was to have taken place. On this occasion, Shakur faced the unheralded Felix Caraballo (13-1-2) in his first match at 130 pounds.
Making his first ring appearance outside of Puerto Rico, Caraballo courageously took the fight to Stevenson from the very start, but quickly felt the brunt of Shakur’s major-league arsenal of offensive weaponry. Ripping shots at all angles, the 22-year-old Stevenson scored the first knockdown with a right hook to the body at the end of round one.
Rounds two through five were more of the same, with Stevenson landing thudding blows off Caraballo’s head and body and putting Caraballo in all kinds of trouble on several occasions. To no one’s surprise, Stevenson vs Caraballo was proving to be a completely one-sided match as Shakur was simply too talented and skilled for his opponent, the boxer they call “Fearless” landing hard, clean shots whenever he wanted. That said, Caraballo showed plenty of heart, but his body was steadily breaking down under the constant fusillade, and his face soon showed the wounds of war as well.
After appearing to hurt his left hand on Caraballo’s head in round five, Shakur came out in round six looking to put an emphatic end to the contest and he did just that with a devastating left-hand liver shot that crumpled the Puerto Rican. With Caraballo writhing on the canvas in agony, referee Tony Weeks decided he had seen enough and called an end to the mismatch without administering a count.
“I’m the first Shakur Stevenson, I’m not the next Floyd Mayweather,” declared the victor, who is eager to carve out his legacy in the fight game. “We’re two different fighters. I feel like we have two different styles. I appreciate all the comparisons, but I’m still my own fighter.”
According to CompuBox, Shakur took only eighteen punches in the five-plus rounds the match lasted as he dusted off his opponent with ease. Pending a recovery to what appears to be an injured left hand, we look forward to Stevenson making a quick return to the ring against more serious opposition, whether it be at featherweight or 130 pounds.
On the undercard, two time Olympic gold medalist Robeisy Ramirez scored his third consecutive knockout since his disappointing defeat in his pro debut, taking out Yeuri Andujar 54 seconds into the first round. The Cuban defector is the last man to defeat Stevenson, winning a 3-2 split decision in the 2016 Olympic final in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. A long way from Shakur in terms of professional career progress, Ramirez is nevertheless determined to ascend quickly up the featherweight ranks, perhaps to set up a rematch with his Newark-based rival within the next few years.
In the meantime the hope is a major showdown can happen in the near future for the talented Shakur as he definitely looks set for something big very soon. The names that quickly come to mind are Josh Warrington and Oscar Valdez and either match-up would be a must-watch proposition for boxing fans and a serious test for Stevenson. But judging from tonight’s performance, he’s more than ready for a step up in competition. Here’s hoping the economics of boxing’s new reality, with fights happening in front of rows of empty seats, can support those kinds of big match-ups.
In the meantime, the ESPN broadcast featured some riveting and heartfelt testimony on the death of George Floyd and the many days of turmoil since from Andre Ward and Timothy Bradley, words which were welcome, if not needed, on the day Mr. Floyd was laid to rest. Bradley’s tale of being pulled over by police with his young son in the car, for no reason other than driving a sports car while being black, was especially poignant. — Alden Chodash