If Shakur Stevenson were an Eastern-European fighter, the always-slanted boxing media would be calling him “the most feared man in boxing.”
The two-division former world champ is finding out just how hard it is to get things done now that he’s waded into the deep waters of a lucrative, but complicated lightweight division.
The undefeated ex-featherweight and super featherweight titlist has been fast-tracked to a WBC title eliminator opportunity, ranked no. 3 by the Mexico City-based organization. Unfortunately, he can’t find any bankable name willing to meet him for that challenge.
Isaac “Pitbull” Cruz, the WBC’s No. 2 lightweight contender, has passed on the opportunity to meet Stevenson, despite the sanctioning body “ordering” Stevenson-Cruz at their recent convention.
The next fighter in line for the eliminator, the no. 4 ranked William Zepeda, has also passed on the opportunity, with promoter Oscar De La Hoya stating via social media that he needs “more exposure for Zepeda to create a super fight with Shakur.”
The no. 5 ranked George Kambosos Jr., a former three-belt world lightweight champ, also recently passed on Stevenson. The Australian battler was beaten twice this year by Devin Haney and is on leave to rest and spend time with his family. He did, however, agree to possibly face Stevenson later in 2023.
No. 1 ranked former unified champ Vasiliy Lomachenko has been tied to a possible bout with unified 135 lb. champ Devin Haney and, therefore, is not in the picture for a Stevenson bout.
Outside of the confines of the WBC, the big fight future for the talented southpaw is just as bleak.
Big names Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia are tied to an April contest after interim fights in January. And, realistically, Stevenson facing either would require leaping some nearly insurmountable business hurdles.
Neither the stars nor many of the second-tier players seem all that eager to face the 25-year-old.
With four recognized sanctioning bodies, several promotional companies looking to protect their investments, and five networks vying for exclusive boxing “content” (in the US, alone), it should come as no surprise that matchmakers and fighters can find themselves handcuffed when it comes to putting together attractive, meaningful fights. More and more often, the task has come down to selling a “meh” fight as an attractive/meaningful one. Every fighter with some degree of bankability these days seems to be holding out for the perfect payout with the least amount of risk. This risk vs. reward assessment is nothing new in boxing, but with the talent divvied up and tucked away behind proprietary paywalls, the pool from which to draw quality opposition is increasingly shallow.
It’s common these days for armchair experts and media types to hop on social media and complain about modern fighters’ lack of activity. Boxing business reality, however, gives stars one of two options. They can either risk injury/loss against lesser opposition while waiting on a “big” fight (and get bashed for fighting “bums” by media and fans) or sit things out until the opportunity of a best-available “big” fight presents itself. As athletes in a dangerous sport where no future is promised and no earnings are guaranteed, the latter option clearly makes the most sense.
But what makes sense, doesn’t always make for an electrifying boxing scene.
“Sugar Ray Leonard and all of them dudes was 25, 24 fighting each other,” Stevenson said on a recent Instagram Live feed. “If I’m willing to make these fights happen and these dude’s not, y’all right to call them ducks…I’m not ducking no smoke…I’m not saying no to no fights…I don’t know what boxing got going on. It’s not good. I think people should challenge, test themselves.”
“I think it’s sad,” Stevenson continued. “…Boxing is in a sad state when fighters can just duck and get away with it. I think that the fans and everybody allowed them to duck. Nobody really got on top of them the way that if I was to do something like that, or Devin [Haney].”
Notwithstanding the clear double standard in how certain fighters are portrayed by media and fans (and, yes, the outrage of Shakur “ducking” Cruz or Zepeda, instead of the other way around, would’ve been a lot more intense), the fact is that Stevenson has to move on with his career. He’ll have to take lesser fights in the present tense because, in a potentially lucrative division, he brings way too much risk for minimal reward. And he’ll have to hear the critics lament about how he’s “not challenging himself” when he wins those lesser fights easily. He’ll have to deal with other on-the-rise top dogs calling him out and then he’ll have to deal with taking the blame for the fights not happening when the other guys decide on pursuing a safer payday.
Welcome to Boxing 2022, where half-assed experts abound, fighters are businessmen, and a rotten business model turns the deep end of the talent pool into muck and sludge.