Plus, Ajagba impresses, Makabu iced and Cordina scrapes by
This article originally appeared in Steve Wellings’ Substack
Sporting a beaming smile, tons of athletic ability, and a brutal honesty that cuts right through the bullshit, Shakur Stevenson is close to becoming the total package. Now seemingly past a period of mind-numbing conservatism, where he used his vast defensive facility to nullify rather than evaporate opponents, Stevenson looks a million dollars on the front foot.
The hand speed, clinical accuracy and confident switches from head to body (and occasionally below) have offered a glimpse into a future pound-for-pound ruler brimming with spite. Verbally sparring with potential foe Devin Haney is amusing to a point. The talking will stop for a weekend, at least, when he enters the ring for a different kind of challenge.
As described, the Newark southpaw may be safety-first for the most part, but once he exits the comfortable cocoon, there is dynamic excitement in his fists. Stevenson has been moving through the weights, picking up odd job titles, with minimal adversity. He dominates credible challengers, barely dropping a round in the process.
That is mostly down to his sublime skillset and opponents not on the same level. The latest assignment comes on November 16 in Las Vegas when the 26-year-old meets unheralded Edwin De Los Santos in a battle of talent versus power over 12 rounds. The WBC lightweight title -one of Devin Haney’s former belts- is on the line here.
Speaking of verbal spars, Stevenson recently took to social media to berate Frank Martin, who was originally supposed to fight Shakur before ‘The Ghost’ evaporated from the scene and pulled out.
This fighter [De Los Santos] got more heart than the rest of em. And truthfully speaking, I believe he is a better fighter than the b!tch who got cold feet and pulled out.
A scathing yet accurate assessment of Martin’s withdrawal. The sole defeat on replacement opponent De Los Santos’ record came against William Foster III on a ShoBox card in January 2022. Foster showed last weekend against Henry Lebron that he can certainly fight, even if he ultimately came up short in that one, suffering his own first career loss.
De Los Santos is a 24-year-old dangerman who has shown power, potential and vulnerability in his career so far, amassing a slate of 16 wins against that Foster defeat. The stand-out statistic on his record is 14 KOs (87 per cent ratio). The Dominican can bang and is not afraid to sell out and try for the stoppage when an opponent is in trouble.
Edwin came out on the right end of a wildly entertaining scrap with Jose Valenzuela in Los Angeles. ‘Rayo’ was unbeaten in 12 and touted as a bit of a prospect before he exchanged knockdowns with De Los Santos and was terminated in three.
More impressively, De Los Santos showed different dimensions to his game last time out when he bullied, intimidated and thoroughly outpointed Joseph Adorno. De Los Santos was happy to stand off and use his often neglected boxing skills to defuse Adorno and make him extremely reluctant to engage before eventually entering survival mode.
Now the PBC has sent him over in Martin’s absence for a free hit at not only one of Bob Arum’s stable stars but one of the hottest commodities in world boxing.
De Los Santos has faded late in fights but will remain a threat for as long as it lasts. Stevenson, on points, is the safe pick. There may be a few hairy moments along the way. Victory in the T-Mobile Arena will not turn Shakur into an instant sensation, but it will further cement his credentials as one of boxing’s brightest hopes for the future.
This Top Rank card is a double header as the ever-active Emanuel Navarrete defends his WBO super-featherweight title against Robson Conceicao. It’s all very cosy as headliner Shakur previously held this title, making his final defence against Conceicao (kind of, he was stripped for failing to make the weight) before moving up and leaving the belt behind for the seagulls at 130.
Navarrete was one of them, defeating Liam Wilson (in somewhat controversial circumstances) for the vacant strap before impressively defending on points against Oscar Valdez. The merry-go-round has circled back around and dropped off Brazil’s Conceicao for another crack at the belt. He’s a decent fighter but won’t beat Navarrete.
Efe Ajagba becomes a heavyweight threat
Efe Ajagba is slowly sliding back into the mix at heavyweight by being more active than his cumbersome contemporaries. While he lacks the footwork to threaten the very best, he’ll be well-placed for a shot if the belts start fragmenting, provided he continues taking tough fights and winning.
Showing notable improvements under new coach Kay Koroma, even though he is still pretty raw, Ajagba was too strong for Aussie tough guy Joseph Goodall. An honest come-forward fighter, Goodall had to work extremely hard for even the slightest success against a man he had previously beaten as an amateur.
This is a different version of Ajagba. The Nigerian is in terrific shape, has a powerful jab and long reach, plus his overall punch selection is improving. Especially the uppercut, which is the shot that Goodall couldn’t avoid. Referee Tony Weeks jumped in at the right time in round four as Goodall was hurt and teetering on the verge of becoming an end-of-year highlight reel KO.
Wobbling around, clearly stunned, Goodall’s return to American shores was not going as planned after pulling off a shock win over Stephan Shaw last time. Ajagba also tentatively defeated Shaw as part of his own rebuilding process following a demeaning 10-round loss to Frank Sanchez. Ajagba was hurt and thoroughly outfoxed by Sanchez, which would’ve damaged the puncher’s fragile confidence.
Since that night, Ajagba has been regaining his belief while Cuba’s Sanchez has seen his own career fall off the tracks as he props up the bar at the who-needs-him club. Efe is no longer just future fodder for Jared Anderson; instead, he is becoming a marketable proposition and viable threat once again in his own right.
Night of the knockouts on Don King show
They say you can’t keep a good man down. Don King must be close to angelic if that’s the case. The veteran promotional huckster keeps churning out cards, mostly showcasing lacklustre heavyweights in well-matched, exciting contests.
The main event in Miami last Saturday was actually a cruiserweight affair. The WBC love Ilunga Makabu. The vulnerable Congolese southpaw found his way to another shot at their (vacant) world crown. Makabu had been beaten three times, all by stoppage. Florida-based Armenian Noel Gevor, a functional yet unexceptional operator, made that four-in-four with a bludgeoning one-sided display that saw Makabu get blasted out in three rounds.
Defeated Makabu isn’t smiling anymore (BoxingScene)
There were further devastating endings on the card as one-time bauble holder Trevor Bryan got worryingly starched by Cassius Chaney, a muscle-bound athlete with a throwback look who found his way into boxing and packs a serious dig. Portly Bryan looked badly out of shape and suffered a beating. He was stretchered out of the ring and reportedly could not feel his legs, which does not sound good at all.
Not many held high hopes for 43-year-old Puerto Rican “prospect” Jesus Escalera. Arriving with 19 wins, all 19 by KO, Escalera had a few swings before sinking to his knees from a single shot in round two. Dishing out the punishment was Louisiana shrimp fisherman Jonathan Guidry, who is quite the character and can definitely cause problems at a certain level. His level is way above Escalera’s, anyway. The pair weighed over 500 pounds between them.
IBF super-featherweight champion Joe Cordina looks tight at the weight, but he still managed to stave off the threat of Edward Vazquez. Cordina, a Welshman of Maltese descent, was the main event in Monte Carlo and will eye a big domestic fight against Leigh Wood next.
It was an eclectic evening as the three-fight undercard saw a Mexican starch a South African at light-flyweight, a Frenchman cruise to a points win, and a London-based Somalian gain her revenge.
Cordina is talented and loves a tear-up (DAZN)
Adam Smith has left Sky boxing. It’s unclear as to where the well-known commentator’s voice will be heard next, but it’s good to see that he has managed to overcome his serious health scare.
Big Belfast cruiserweight Tommy McCarthy travelled over to Poland on November 4 to fight for the European title. Hard-hitting opponent Michal Cieslak has mixed at world level twice and gone the distance, so it was always going to be a big ask for Tommy, who was knocked out in seven rounds. The loser falls to 20-5 (10 KOs), and with a career in podcasting and stand-up comedy gathering pace, he will likely hang up the gloves soon.
About Steve: Experienced boxing writer, author of 8 books and podcaster of over 500 eps. 20 years in the sport. Covered hundreds of shows for newspapers and Boxing News magazine. Chief video script writer for Motivedia channel and BN+. For enquiries: email@example.com.