Boardroom talks respecting one’s rivals, Davis vs. Garcia, and splashing some cash with the son of Newark, New Jersey as he returns to Brick City to take on Shuichiro Yoshino.
Shakur Stevenson simply would not talk trash.
Look, I know you’re not supposed to ask leading questions because it ain’t exactly journalism, but do you know what also isn’t exactly journalism? Boxing journalism. Fight media is every bit as chaotic, fractured, and dizzying as the fight game itself — you have to be just as dogged and perhaps insane to choose to get involved in it in the first place — so I willfully decided to set editorial sobriety aside and give it a go when the two-division world champion sat down with Boardroom ahead of his April 8 scrap with Shuichiro Yoshino in the 135-pound lightweight division.
Gervonta Davis. Ryan Garcia. Devin Haney. Vasiliy Lomachenko. I threw out name after name to the pride of Newark, New Jersey as if hucking bloody bits from a chum bucket, but this undefeated shark just wasn’t hungry.
In fact, the 25-year-old boxing phenom went out of his way to compliment each one of these potential future lightweight championship opponents.
Such is the condition of Brick City’s finest as he returns to his hometown for a primetime Top Rank main event on ESPN.
Check out my conversation with the refreshingly earnest Shakur Stevenson below as we spoke about respect in the sport, his prediction for Tank Davis vs. Ryan Garcia, the dynamics of fighting at home in front of a partisan crowd, how he prefers to spend his money, his dream brand endorsement, and much more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
SAM DUNN: What do we need to know about your opponent Saturday night, Shuichiro Yoshino?
SHAKUR STEVENSON: I think fans need to know he’s tough, strong, and he’s undefeated. I mean, you got an undefeated fighter, they never lost, so he’s gonna come in there definitely trying to win.
SD: He’s knocked out his opponents 75% of the time. Do you have to pay any special kind of respect to his power in terms of how you operate in there?
SS: That’s overthinking it, because I gotta respect every fighter. You never know what a fighter could do on their best night, so you gotta come in there fully prepared. I respect everybody that gets in the ring — plus, I don’t never want to sleep on nobody and then they come way better than I expect them to.
I’m preparing for the best opponent available right now. I wanna see how he’s gonna come to the ring and react to a style like mine; I think I’m a style he never saw before, so when I get in the ring, I want him to realize that he’s never seen nothing like this and let him know how different tonight it’s gonna be.
SD: Let’s say you take care of business out there. What’s the next step for Shakur Stevenson as a lightweight world championship contender?
SS: I’m one of them fighters that I gotta, like, maintain focus in the moment, focus on what’s ahead of me rather than what’s further down the line. I can’t really think too far past this dude because, at the of the day, I gotta handle business with this dude. If I don’t handle business with him, there won’t be no “down the line.” I mean, people won’t even be talking about me no more. They’ll say I lost to somebody.
So right now, I gotta just stay focused and and come out best and on top of my game when I fight Yoshino.
SD: You’re fighting in your hometown of Newark, which you’ve done several times now as a pro. Does that come with extra pressure, or do you actually find yourself more at ease with all those fans going nuts for you?
SS: The main difference is there’s a lot of people supporting me and you wanna put on the best show that you can give them, but at the end of the day, it’s the same thing as if I’m fighting anywhere else or fighting anywhere in the world.
It’s pressure regardless. You’re coming in the stadium with a lot of people right there with eyes on you. That don’t bother me. I done got past a lot of pressure situations and I know how I’m built, so mentally, I’m definitely way ahead of the pressure. It don’t even get to me. I’m way past that right now.
SD: There’s another huge fight coming up later this month with implications on the 135-pound division that I’m sure you’ve got your eyes on: Gervonta Davis vs. Ryan Garcia. What do you think of those guys as fighters?
SS: Great fighters. I think that Tank [Davis] beats Ryan. I think Tank is on a higher level than Ryan.
SD: Are there specific things you think Garcia could do to get the upper hand?
SS: Yeah. I mean, Ryan, he’s tall. He can use his reach, he has a lot of experience. He’s been boxing a long time, so he’s going to do some trick things, but I think that later on in the fight, I think Tank’s going to overwhelm him and get him.
SD: Do you see Tank’s opponents making some of the same mistakes over and over?
SS: I think y’all underestimate his skills and his technical ability. I think that he’s a great fighter — I pay attention closely to a lot of things and I’m a student of the game. I watch fighters and he’s the type of fighter [that’s] reading you while he’s fighting you.
Like, in the first couple rounds, he’s reading the little things that you’re doing and he’s looking for that one mistake or he’s waiting until he smells blood in any type of way and he’s going to attack. I think he’s a great fighter and I feel like y’all definitely underestimate his skills.
SD: For argument’s sake, let’s say you’re No. 1 in the lightweight division. Is Tank Davis No. 2?
SS: Yeah. As far as I see, it’s him. It’s him for sure. I think he’s the other person that I look at and be like, okay, he’s a smart fighter.
SD: Another guy in the division known for his fight IQ is Vasiliy Lomachenko. You ran into him recently in the Top Rank gym — what do you make of him as a fighter at this later stage of his career, and what did you say to one another?
SS: I ain’t really say too much. I mean, we talked — it is mutual respect. I ain’t got nothing bad to say about Lomachenko. We sparred each other to get him ready for his fight with [Guillermo] Rigondeaux, but it’s a mutual respect. I ain’t got nothing bad to say.
I think that right now in his career, he’s getting a little bit older now, so he’s not gonna be able to beat, like, Devin Haney, me, the younger guys in the division, but I think back in the day he would’ve been probably a little bit more competitive.
SD: You don’t think he has a chance against Devin Haney on May 20 for all the belts?
SS: Nah, I think he’s too small, and he done had about 350 amateur fights — I think he just wasted a lot of time doing that, and now I think he’s declining.
SD: Over on Haney’s side of things, he’s obviously the undisputed champ in the 135-pound division right now. How do you evaluate his game?
SS: Devin is a great fighter. I think he got a great jab and I think that he comes in tremendous shape. Over a 12-round fight, you can tell he’s not breathing hard and he’s not tired.
SD: I’m noting a refreshing lack of desire on your part to talk even the tiniest bit of trash. On that note, who are some of your favorite fighters in the sport right now?
SS: Right now in the sport I like Bud [Crawford], I like Keyshawn [Davis], Jared Anderson, Jaron Ennis, Richardson Hitchins, there’s a couple fighters. I like Ray-Ray, Raymond Ford.
SD: Now that you’ve started to make some bread in the sport, I want to know how you carry all of that. Are you someone who went and made a major purchase once you got that first big check? Are you a car guy? A jewelry guy?
SS: When I was amateur and like in the Olympics, I had like sponsorships for a boatload of money, so I was already like buying things and doing stuff with my checks, but the first big purchase I felt like I made was a house for my mother.
As I’m getting older, I’m understanding that the jewelry and stuff is cool — ’cause I do got jewelry and, you know, I got nice cars, but all that stuff is cool — but I think property is, like, the most important thing. So, just maturing and understanding that kind of stuff is helping me elevate myself.
SD: So, if I asked you to describe who Shakur Stevenson the investor is, property is item No. 1?
SS: Yeah, for sure, just buying property. Somebody wise that told me that they’re not gonna make no more land — so, that being said, I’m moreso a property guy. I wanna go buy houses and buy a bunch of stuff in different places, in different states.
SD: You mentioned your endorsements back in your amateur days — is there a dream endorsement deal you’ve got in your mind that you’d love to make happen one day?
SS: Nike. I wanna have a Nike deal.
I think Nike take care of their people, and I like what they’re doing with LeBron James and [their] athletes. I feel like they taking care of them for, like, the rest of their life, so I would love to be with Nike.
SD: Last one: When the bell rings on April 8 in Newark, what happens between you and Shuichiro Yoshino?
SS: I don’t wanna make any predictions. I think sometimes, you know, I get caught up in the fans and have knockout [gameplan] and I make it hard on myself to get the knockout. So, I’m not going in there looking for nothing like that. I’m going in there to have fun and put on an amazing performance.
Shakur Stevenson vs. Shuichiro Yoshino goes down Saturday night, April 8 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The Top Rank main card begins at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.
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