LAS VEGAS – Shakur Stephenson ran around the ring with his hands high as the seconds ticked away on the biggest night of his career.
For 12 rounds, he practically played Oscar Valdez in what turned out to be an absolute mismatch in ESPN’s main event Saturday night before 10102 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Stevenson is simply good.
He used an excellent penalty kick, one of the best weapons in boxing, to keep Valdes in range and put his strong left hand on the body. A unanimous decision win by scores 118-109, 117-110 and 118-109 gave Stevenson a second title for £130.
“I’m a superstar in this sport,” said Stevenson, 24. “I want to collect all the belts at 130 and be undisputed. I deserve to be a star, and that’s what I have to do.”
Stevenson (18-0, 9 KOs) hit Valdes in the sixth round with a restricted right hook that made him trip over the ropes, before his right hand knocked him over the canvas when he was already lopsided.
Defensive-minded Stevenson pressed forward and unloaded powerful shots in an effort to end the fight, but Valdes survived, just as he did when he was knocked out in the previous three rounds.
“I said to myself, I’m going to shut down [Valdez’s fans] “As the fighting continued, I heard crickets,” Stephenson said.
Valdez (30-1, 23 KOs) simply couldn’t find his way around after Stevenson’s hit. The variance in hand speed and size also made things difficult for Valdez, who usually threw one punch after another, while Stevenson tied the combos together.
Apparently, Valdes searched for a single cannabis maker, like the one he scored last February to knock out Miguel Berchelt and win the WBC Junior Lightweight Championship, but that kind of shot never came close.
Valdez, 31, said: “He was just a better fighter tonight. He did what he had to do to win the fight. He’s a great fighter. His speed is there, the strength is there.”
Valdez lunged forward behind a large guard and grabbed several Stevenson’s shots on his gloves, but every time he got close, Stevenson took a step back and unleashed a few more hits. Stevenson often confuses the left straight with the body, a punch scored over and over.
Another player left in the midsection stunned Valdes in the 10th round, but Stevenson was more patient this time, content to stack the rounds en route to winning the decision.
The best performance of his career came after Stephenson’s victory over Jamal Hering in October, which was his first fight against the defending champion. Against Herring, Stevenson used a heavy attack and included a lot of pressure en route to a TKO win in the tenth round.
That win made Stevenson a two-part champion – like Valdes, he also won a title at £126 – and made him the number one boxer in ESPN at £130. Valdez was previously ranked number one but was removed from the rankings after he tested positive for the banned substance phentermine.
Despite the opposite result in August, Valdez was allowed to defend his title against Robson Conceicao in September, a fight which he won by unanimous decision.
I’m not a cheater,” Valdes, 31, told ESPN’s Mark Kriegel in September. “A lot of people say, ‘You’re a cheater. You use steroids. I came back positive.’ It’s just, it’s heartbreaking for me.”
Now, Valdes must deal with the first loss of his professional career, but he could find his way to another title soon. Stevenson holds two of the division’s four belts and said he aims to become the undisputed junior lightweight champion. Stevenson said it’s also possible for him to switch to lightweights in his next fight.
At 135 pounds, he could find himself a match for Devin Haney in the future. Honey George Camposos is set to fight for the Undisputed Light Heavyweight Championship on June 4 in Australia. Haney was ringside in Las Vegas after signing a multi-fight deal with Top Rank, the company that promotes both Valdez and Stevenson.
“Devin is definitely a big fight for me; Devin is a hellova fighter. We can line up in the future,” said Stephenson, the Olympic silver medalist from Newark, New Jersey.
Line them up, name them, I’m ready for who, he added.
“Prone to fits of apathy. Introvert. Award-winning internet evangelist. Extreme beer expert.”