It wouldn’t be fair to say that Shakur Stevenson will have his coming out party on Saturday when he challenges Jamel Herring for the WBO junior lightweight title in Atlanta, because Stevenson already owns an Olympic silver medal as well as a professional world title at featherweight.
But in many ways, the unbeaten Stevenson’s performance against Herring will define the early portion of his career.
Stevenson is a massive 9-1 favorite at BetMGM over Herring, who is making the third defense of his title. The affable Herring is hardly bothered by the odds, which is understandable when you’ve been through what Herring has been through.
A Marine, Herring served two tours of duty in Iraq. He lost a child to sudden infant death syndrome. He’s repeatedly been written off as a pro and is frequently a betting underdog.
He’s not one to get his feelings hurt, even when seeing the odds and hearing all of the praise for his opponent.
“I believe a win here will elevate me to a different status in this game,” Herring said. “But at the end of the day, I’m just me. I am not worried about that stuff. I don’t care about the hype. I don’t care about being an underdog. I’m happy in my own skin. I don’t need to be the top dog or the highest-paid athlete or anything.
“I live comfortably and I’m happy with who I am. I want my story to represent that even though at times, I didn’t get the best backing or get the most credit, how it played out was in my hands and you can do anything you put your mind to.”
Beating Stevenson is going to take the performance of a lifetime. Stevenson is a slick boxer who has everything one would want to see. He’s derided in some corners for not having enough power, as critics point to his eight knockouts in his 16 fights as evidence he can’t punch. But the great Floyd Mayweather faced the same kind of criticism early in his career. In two of his defining fights, Mayweather was brilliant in stopping both Genaro Hernandez and Diego Corrales.
Stevenson isn’t of a mind to hear about his power, particularly from the media.
“At the end of the day, writers are just like fans and I can’t hear them say things because y’all don’t know about sitting down on punches or placing punches or anything like that,” he said. “My coaches know that and know what I need to do. I can’t hear a writer say something about sitting down on my punches and really take it seriously because y’all don’t know.”
But what those who have seen Stevenson for a long time know is that talent oozes out of every pore and that he’s the kind of guy who is good enough to one day be the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world.
He said he believes he’ll move up to welterweight at some point in his career and win titles along the way, but he’s got more important issues in front of him.
His motivation is high because his girlfriend is pregnant with his first child, who is due to be born on Dec. 9. If becoming a two-division world champion at age 24 weren’t enough, he’s got something extra to fight for on Saturday.
“[Becoming a father] is really important and it’s made me so hungry,” he said. “I really want to be a champion when she’s born.”
He’ll have to beat one of the toughest guys in the sport to do it. And while Herring concedes Stevenson’s physical gifts, he points out that's not all there is to boxing.
The faster guy, or the more powerful guy, doesn’t always win. Stevenson figures to be substantially faster and quicker, but Herring believes he has an antidote for that.
“It’s all about timing,” Herring said. “Timing beats speed, but you have to be alert at all times. I’m pretty sure he’s going to come out hard, but like I said, go look at the stats. I’m pretty sure his output starts to dwindle after the fight’s been going for a bit. I’m expecting the best Shakur Stevenson there’s been, and I’m not overlooking him for a second.
“I’ve pointed out stuff I’ve seen in the past and that I need to look out for. I can take all that information and put it together and better myself at the end of the day.”