Shakur Stevenson talked up his intentions for weeks ahead of his title opportunity against Jamel Herring. Stevenson spoke about his goals to showcase his ability to be aggressive and do more than offer a second consecutive lackluster performance.
On Saturday night, Stevenson backed up all of his talk and won the WBO junior lightweight title in convincing fashion. It was a standout performance that puts Stevenson in a new category of stardom in the sport.
Before Stevenson’s victory there were also a few others on the card who tried to make a similar statement. Nico Ali Walsh, Muhammad Ali’s grandson, scored another knockout win, but he failed to shine. Meanwhile, Evan Holyfield, Evander Holyfield’s son, scored a highlight-reel knockout and, as was his goal, made a name for himself.
Mike Coppinger, Ben Baby and Michael Rothstein react to the fights and what might be ahead for the headliners.
The biggest fights are ahead for Shakur Stevenson
Stevenson has always been talented — that was never in doubt. During his Olympic run and again in the pros, he showed the kind of hand speed and boxing IQ necessary to reach the sport’s heights.
But the power? That was in doubt. So, too, was the aggression requisite to not just defeat the best, but star in a sport that rewards the most ruthless competitors.
Against Jamel Herring, his toughest opponent (on paper), and on his biggest stage yet, Stevenson shined.
From the opening bell, Stevenson displayed the type of fight that the boxing world wanted to see. It was a brilliant display of aggression: He marched Herring down, he battered him, he showed no mercy.
Stevenson wasn’t content to go the distance this time. The criticism surely got to him, he acknowledged as much in his interviews after the fight. Apparently, that made him better, too.
Now Stevenson is a two division champion, but more importantly, there’s genuine hope for the kind of star he can become. The biggest fight at 130 pounds is title unification with Oscar Valdez. It’s hard to see that matchup truly being competitive, though.
The real challenges await at 135 pounds, where the quartet of rising stars — who started the year discussing their moment in time to face one another — still haven’t stepped into the ring together. By the time Stevenson is there, maybe at least one of those matchups might have materialized.
One thing is for sure: Stevenson can compete with any of them, whether it’s Teofimo Lopez, Gervonta Davis, Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia or even Vasiliy Lomachenko.
Top Rank promotes Lomachenko, who has shown a willingness to return to 130 pounds. That’s the fight to truly turn Stevenson into a star, and there’s no reason it can’t happen next year.
Jamel Herring has nothing left to prove
Baby: Very few expected Jamel Herring to upset Masayuki Ito in May 2019 to become a legitimate world champion. Even fewer probably anticipated Herring defending the WBO’s junior lightweight title for the next two years.
But that’s exactly what he did. It wasn’t always pretty (see the 2020 bout in which he escaped Jonathan Oquendo in dubious fashion), but Herring retained his title. And after Saturday night, Herring doesn’t have anything else to prove in his career.
Herring couldn’t contend with the younger, faster Stevenson, who rolled to an easy victory to win Herring’s title. Stevenson’s speed and precision, along with the ability to work instead Herring’s reach, showed why many believe he’s one of boxing’s young stars.
Regardless of what transpired in Atlanta, however, Herring had already demolished expectations. Under the guidance of trainer Brian “BoMac” McIntyre, Herring had a healthy championship reign. He set up the bout against Stevenson with a big victory over Carl Frampton in what was billed as a way for Frampton to get a solid win to ride off into retirement.
Instead, Herring thumped the former champion and Frampton retired anyways.
“They called me every name in the book,” Herring said in his post-fight ring interview, referencing the criticism after the Oquendo bout. “But even with the cut [suffered against Frampton], I wasn’t going to give up. I wasn’t going to quit.”
He didn’t. And welcomed the challenge of facing Stevenson, who was recently named ESPN’s No. 2 fighter under the age of 25.
Herring was able to overcome a couple of losses and reroute his trajectory to become a champion. He had a signature win against Frampton. What else does he really need to do? Herring’s realistic options moving after this weekend don’t seem as fruitful. A rematch against Stevenson is highly unlikely, and given that Herring moved down from lightweight to make his current run, moving back into a stacked 135-pound division doesn’t make sense, either.
Which is fine. No matter what Herring does from here, he has proved he is more than a feel-good story. He’s a true champion.
A new Holyfield makes a statement
Coppinger: In an undercard filled with prospects in showcase bouts, it was Evan Holyfield who, on his 24th birthday, made the biggest statement with a thunderous second-round KO of Eric Palmer.
His father, legendary heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, watched from ringside in their hometown of Atlanta as the welterweight prospect delivered the best performance of his career.
There’s of course plenty of pressure that accompanies being the son of such a popular fighter, and it remains to be seen just how talented Holyfield is. After all, this is a sport packed with famous sons trying to follow in their father’s footsteps. But at least for one night, albeit against an overmatched opponent meant to make him look good, the young Holyfield took advantage. The blistering one-two that sent his opponent to the mat for minutes provided a moment for the highlight reel and one he’ll surely always cherish.
“At least I’m not getting compared to someone who isn’t good,” Holyfield told ESPN. “I’m getting better every single time. In the next one to three years I can possibly become a champion.”
Holyfield wasn’t the only prospect who scored a spectacular KO, though. Antoine Cobb, in his pro debut, unleashed an overhand right that sent his foe crashing to the mat in the first round.
Plenty of questions still surround the potential of Nico Ali Walsh
Rothstein: Nico Ali Walsh has some power. It’s everything else about the middleweight’s repertoire that is in question at the moment.
Against another inexperienced pro fighter in James Westley II, Ali Walsh looked like exactly what he is — a fighter without many rounds and a very long way to go if he wants to be any sort of contender. Ali Walsh let Westley (1-1) land right hands multiple times during the two-plus round fight and if Westley was a more accomplished fighter with more power, it could have caused Ali Walsh real problems.
Based off what we’ve seen thus far, it’s clear he’s not ready for prime time or late night quite yet and if his name was not Nico Ali Walsh, he would not be anywhere close to an ESPN card or Top Rank promotion.
Saturday night showed some real flaws an experienced fighter would exploit. And this isn’t to say there aren’t any strengths for Ali Walsh (2-0, 2 KO) — he has some good power with two knockdowns and an aggressive style, which will be good for him as he continues to grow as a fighter. Landing 44.6 percent of his power punches (33 of 74) is a good sign, too, although likely more indicative of the level of opponent he was facing. And he is in the camp of one of the world’s best trainers in SugarHill Steward, which gives him a real chance.
But make no mistake about this — Ali Walsh is a beginning level pro fighter who is going to need time, a lot of time and a lot of improvement, if he ever wants to really contend in the middleweight or any division.
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