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Shakur Stevenson impresses in boxing's return, KOs Felix Caraballo with crushing body shot

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Shakur Stevenson watches after knocking down Felix Caraballo during their main event fight on June 9, 2020 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)

LAS VEGAS — The narrative through the first 13 bouts of Shakur Stevenson’s professional boxing career, which included 13 wins, seven knockouts, a world title and comparisons to Floyd Mayweather, was that one day he would be a great fighter.

It’s time to end that nonsense.

Stevenson is a great fighter right now. Today. He’s not only one of the best in his division, he’s one of the best in the world at any weight.

In the main event of boxing’s first fight in the U.S. since the coronavirus pandemic began, Stevenson put on a show at the MGM Grand Conference Center against a tough but outmatched Felix Caraballo. He blistered him from the opening bell with speed and power, stepping up his offense to prove that he’s not just a one-dimensional fighter, and stopped Caraballo with a left hand to the liver at 1:31 of the sixth round.

Caraballo shrieked in agony and referee Tony Weeks immediately called a halt to the carnage. 

Through three rounds, Stevenson had outlanded Caraballo 66-7 and looked like one of the greats who had fought in this casino. But when it was over, he insisted with a straight face it wasn’t his best performance.

“I’ve had better,” he said. “There have been a couple, I think. A couple of the first-round knockouts I had, maybe a second, they were [better]. I don’t know. Good performance, though.”

Fighting at 130 pounds for the first time, the WBO featherweight champion beamed and said one of his goals in the fight was to put on a more offensive performance. He had earned comparisons to Mayweather, one of the game’s all-time best, through the first 13 fights of his career. But Mayweather was a far more offensive fighter early than Stevenson has shown.

Stevenson heard the critics and came up with a plan that would enable him to display his offense as well as his defense.

“I had been hearing all this talk, ‘Oh, he’s not really offensive like Floyd; his defense is good but he’s not an offensive fighter,’” Stevenson said. “That got to me, to be honest with you. I wanted to show everybody it’s not just my defense, it’s my offense also.”

Promoter Bob Arum, who has been leading the charge on the Stevenson-Mayweather comparisons, was thrilled with what he saw. He said Stevenson is growing into his body and showed a complete game on Tuesday.

It wasn’t just countering an opponent who missed; Stevenson at times was flat-footed in front of Caraballo, who showed he is a solid professional fighter. He simply was up against a whirlwind who appears destined for greatness.

“He always had great, great ability as a boxer and now he’s punching and nobody’s going to beat him,” Arum said.

If Stevenson thought he’d done better, his trainer, Wali Moses, had no complaints. Moses said he sees the development that he wants from Stevenson and said he had added body work to the arsenal, which he said was a point of emphasis.

Stevenson whipped two hard lefts to the body in the fight’s opening 30 seconds that landed with a loud thud and set the tone for what was to come

“I think he looked pretty good,” Moses said. “We’d just come off a tremendous camp. The maturation is there and going well. He’s right on track. I really liked the way he way he kept touching that body. I think he wanted to show that at 130, he didn’t always have to use the ring. It got to a point where the guy was coming hard with a lot of pressure, so Shakur had to work behind the jab and disguise his shots. But our thought in those last few rounds was to go to the body and get him out of there.”

It was a successful return to the sport that Arum has dominated for the better part of a half-century. The protocols in place seemed to work and the ballroom where the bouts were held looked brilliant.

Arum is 88 years old but he never lost faith that Top Rank would be back. But he ripped his frequent foil, UFC president Dana White, for coming back too soon before it was safe to do so. Arum said he consulted with MGM officials and doctors who were advising Gov. Steve Sisolak on when to return and how best to do it.

“Look, I don’t want to cast aspersions on anyone,” Arum said. “But politically and mentally, I’m not Dana White. I come from a liberal kind of a background and I’m going to do things safely and do things right. That’s what we started out doing. Instead of saying, ‘We’re going to get ahead. We’re going to find an island. We’re going to [expletive] everybody. We’re going to put it on.’ No. We decided that we would work with a commission that we trusted and a governor who is really serious about this coronavirus, not like the guy in Florida (Ron DeSantis). And we enlisted the help of the people at the MGM.”

It was a successful first run, and Stevenson made it a memorable night with a breathtaking performance. Heavyweight prospects Guido Vianello and Jared Anderson each scored knockouts on the undercard which left Arum grinning from ear to ear.

It was Stevenson, though, who was the star of this show. And judging by the way he looked on Tuesday, he’s going to be the star of every show he’s on for a long while now.

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