One of American boxing’s rising stars looks to shine again this weekend, though the titles he held will not be in play for him after a weight miss. Shakur Stevenson steps in against Brazilian Robson Conceição on Friday in what he hopes will be another step towards p4p recognition despite coming in 1.6lbs over the super-featherweight limit.
Weights: Shakur Stevenson: 131.6lbs, Robson Conceição 129.6lbs.
Shakur Stevenson cannot retain his belts with a victory, but Conceição can still win them
Both fighters here had standout amateur careers—Conceição in fact arguably the more so, winning a lightweight gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, as well as medalling at two world championships. Shakur won silver at the same Olympics, losing a featherweight final against Robeisy Ramires.
It’s been a different story since both turned pro, though. The younger of the two by eight years, Stevenson moved quite rapidly up the ranks, fighting good international level opponents within 10 fights and winning his first world title (at featherweight) in just his 12th pro bout. He’s kept that momentum up in the years since as well, moving up to super-feather and cementing himself as the consensus no1 in the division with a win over Oscar Valdez this April.
Conceição, by contrast, seems to have gotten stuck in a promotional vacuum—fighting almost no-one of note and not even progressing to 12-rounders until his own (unsuccessful) challenge of Valdez last year. With his second title fight in a year he’ll be hoping to kick off from here, but at 33-years-old he’ll need to impress because he hasn’t got all that much time left to get going.
There’s a stereotype in boxing about standout amateurs turning professional; that they struggle to break free from the sensibilities of point-fighting, stick to boxing at distance, and can’t push the tempo when necessary. That is obviously very often untrue—anyone suggesting Vasyl Lomachenko fits those criteria is out of their tree—but, well, these two aren’t going to go against that image. They are both very much slick, technical outboxers by nature.
That doesn’t mean this fight is destined to be dull. Some of this comes down to taste, of course, but oftentimes, these kinds of fighters are the ones from whom we get the most magnificent performances, the beautiful control and technical mastery. But it won’t be a war. Don’t sit down with that expectation.
Although their styles are similar on the surface and certainly overlap, there is a key difference. Outboxing doesn’t necessarily mean counter-punching, and although Stevenson can and will do the latter if he feels the need, it’s not his preference. Instead, he prefers to control the pace of the fight with his jab and dissuade his opponent from throwing with great timing. He’ll follow that up with short bursts of two or three punches, and tends to hop quickly back to distance if they respond.
By contrast, Conceição is a more pure counter-puncher: he too leads with the jab, but his preference is to use it to bait an opponent into responding and throw his follow-ups when they do. Put simply, Stevenson will most often disengage when his opponent throws punches, whereas Conceicao will try to fire back.
That means how the fight goes probably depends more on Stevenson. If he’s happy for it to remain a battle of jabs, it will. But, if he wants to push in and make a bit more of it, we could see some high-level exchanges as they try to get the better of each other inside. A few fights ago this would almost definitely have meant it’d be jab, jab, jab and go home, but Stevenson has been working on engaging more in his recent fights, so we’ll see.
It’s tempting to look at their common opponent—Oscar Valdez—for clues to the result here. Normally, that would be unadvisable; style differences mean results don’t usually triangulate like that, especially when the two fighters are far more similar to each other than either one is to Valdez. However, the fact that Conceicao fought a competitive and ultimately losing fight with the Mexican, whereas Stevenson looked at least a level above, is significant.
Put simply while Conceição potentially has a bigger bag of tools to work with (Stevenson’s improving all the time, so that’s less true with each fight) the younger man’s speed, timing, and nearly-flawless technique should be too much here. If Stevenson has a potential weakness to prevent him from being really elite it could be how he reacts when a great pressure fighter really can push in close consistently. But, Conceição just is not going to find that in him. Expect a wide points win.
Who else is fighting?
It’s a light undercard. The biggest name on it is Keyshawn Davis, a silver medalist in the Tokyo Olympics now making his way in the pro ranks. He’s a magnificently talented fighter, but though his opponent—Omar Tienda Bahena—has an experienced-looking 25-5 record, only 5 of those wins came against fighters with winning records. Not likely to be competitive.
Most of the rest is similar, prospects being given opponents they really should beat. One that is worth looking out for is Jahi Tucker, a slightly raw but creative and very aggressive welterweight, who is taking a decent step up in competition against Jose Luis Sanchez.
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