No one questions Shakur Stevenson’s boxing ability.
The 135-pound title contender, who fights Edwin De Los Santos on Thursday in Las Vegas (ESPN, ESPN+), might be the best technician since Floyd Mayweather was at his peak. That could mean the 26-year-old from New Jersey is on his way to becoming a generational champion.
But how does Stevenson compare to those at the top of the pound-for-pound lists right now? Is he as good as anyone else?
Well, cases can be made for and against. Here are the arguments.
Who’s a better pure boxer than Stevenson?
Terence Crawford? “Bud” might be a more-complete fighter but it would be difficult to separate his technical ability from Stevenson’s. The same goes for Naoya Inoue, another great all-around fighter. Gervonta Davis? Remove Davis’ power from the equation and Stevenson could have an edge.
That’s why Stevenson (20-0, 10 KOs) has dominated almost every second of every round of every fight. Few if any can match his combination of natural gifts and learned skills, including speed, reflexes and athleticism.
The southpaw controls distance with excellent footwork and a stiff jab, which allows him to pick apart his foes and record one-sided victories. And he’s probably better defensively than he is offensively, meaning he’s next to impossible to hit cleanly.
It is often said that the game slows down for the best NFL quarterbacks when they are in a groove, which allows them to excel. Boxing slows down for Stevenson.
Consider stats provided by CompuBox. Stevenson is in the Top Two in all of boxing in five key statistical categories, number one in two of them. Have a look:
Plus / Minus (the percentage of punches he lands vs. those he takes)
Stevenson, +20.3; David Benavidez, +18.3; Dmitry Bivol, +17.3; Vasiliy Lomachenko, +16.8; Gervonta Davis, +14.4.
Power punch connect percentage
Davis, 47.7; Stevenson, 47.2; Zhilei Zhang, 46.9; Benavidez, 46.8; Lomachenko, 46.6.
Opponents total punches landed per round (fewest)
Demetrius Andrade, 5.4; Stevenson, 5.5; Bivol, 5.9; Chris Eubank Jr., 6.1; Anthony Joshua, 6.4.
Opponents total connect percentage (lowest)
Bivol, 12.4; Stevenson, 13.4; Andrade, 17.9; Brian Castano, 18.1; Kazuto Ioka, 18.4.
Opponents power punch connect percentage (lowest)
Stevenson, 16.9; Bivol, 21.9; Andrade, 23.1; Benavidez, 25; Ioka, 25.4.
CompuBox statistics are unofficial, of course. However, the trend indicated in these numbers suggests that Stevenson is as good as anyone at the art of hitting and not getting hit.
He might be the best.
Stevenson might be lacking in two regards, one that could be resolved over time and one with which he might be stuck.
Stevenson is a young fighter who is just starting to build his resume, which makes it difficult to draw definitive conclusions about his ability. He has several important victories – Joet Gonzalez, Jamel Herring and, most notably, Oscar Valdez – but he has yet to face a top-tier opponent.
That’s why he’s No. 13 on Boxing Junkie’s pound-for-pound list and not yet in the Top 10 in other reputable rankings even though he aces the eye test fight after fight.
If he ultimately fights and defeats the likes of Davis, Lomachenko, Devin Haney and Teofimo Lopez, you can bet that he’ll crack everyone’s Top 10 and continue his rapid ascent in the eyes of pundits and fans alike.
A deficiency that might never be resolved is Stevenson’s relative lack of punching power.
Not all great fighters are big punchers. For example, neither Muhammad Ali nor Floyd Mayweather were knockout artists. However, they’re two of the greatest boxers of all time, legends who didn’t need to hurt opponents to dominate them
Stevenson hasn’t needed crushing power either but it might come in handy against next level opposition. That’s one thing that sets Davis apart from the rest. “Tank” is an excellent boxer who can also end any fight in an instant.
The reality is Stevenson doesn’t have that weapon. Neither do Haney, Lomachenko and Lopez, which arguably leaves all of them a step behind Davis.
Who knows, though? Maybe Stevenson won’t need unusual power to become the best in the business. Again, it’s victories that count in the end.
“Tell all the other lightweights to get ready,” he said after stopping Shuichiro Yoshino in April, his most recent fight. “I’m waiting for them. I can’t wait for them to finish the fights that they have going on. Then it’s my turn.”