From the moment he returned home from the Rio Olympics with a silver medal and launched his professional boxing career, Shakur Stevenson has peppered his promoters and agents — and anyone else who would listen, really — with the same question. And, with each passing month, he has done so with increasing vigor.
When am I fighting in Newark?
When am I fighting in Newark?!
When am I fighting in Newark?!!
Stevenson has boxed in small venues in Carson, Nevada, and Lincoln, Nebraska; in four different casinos and in five different states; and across the Hudson River in Madison Square Garden three times already. All 11 of his pro bouts, he knows, were part of a plan to make sure his name would be atop the marquee when he did fight in his home city.
Still: He didn’t become the No. 1 featherweight contender in the world because patience was his best quality. Even as a 12-year-old boy sitting in the crowd for a fight at the Prudential Center, he imagined himself in the ring as the Newark fans — his fans — cheered him to victory. He knew what he wanted, and he wanted it yesterday.
“We’re going to get there,” Carl Moretti, vice president of his promotional company Top Rank Boxing, kept telling him. “But we’re going to get there when you’re ready, because it is a different animal.”
Finally, two years and three months into his professional career, that moment he long craved is becoming a reality. Stevenson was back in Newark on Monday afternoon to hold a press conference for his July 13 fight against unbeaten Hairon Socarras at the Prudential Center. His big smile, always present on his still-youthful face, was wider than usual.
“The Prudential Center is my home and it’s going to be for a long time,” Stevenson told an audience in which his family and friends, not surprisingly, outnumbered the actual working press by about 10 to 1. “So let’s get to it!”
Stevenson’s pro career has unfolded just as his team has hoped so far. He is 11-0 with six knockouts, and his April 20 victory over a 24-1 boxer named Christopher Diaz — a dominant performance in a 10-round fight that end with a unanimous decision at the Garden — was the final piece of evidence that Top Rank needed to take the next step.
“From a boxing point of view, it solidified to us that he can hold down his own show," Moretti said. “This will be the biggest fight of his career, there’s no question about it.”
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Top Rank has a decades-long track record of building champions, molding the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto into international stars. So Moretti, more that Stevenson, is well aware of the potential pitfalls that come with fighting in front of a home crowd.
The ticket requests. The additional pressure. The unexpected distractions. Moretti plans on booking his fighter in the hotel under a fake name to curtail the potential problems, and soon after the press event, Stevenson was scheduled to board a flight to Las Vegas to begin training.
The extra caution is understandable because the stakes couldn’t be higher. If Stevenson takes care of business, Moretti expects that the 21-year-old boxer will fight for a world title — likely the WBO featherweight belt that unbeaten Oscar Valdez currently holds — before the end of the year.
Stevenson is ready. He looks noticeably thicker than he did in August 2016, when he narrowly lost a split decision in the gold medal bout in Rio against Cuba’s Robeisy Ramirez. His tears in the aftermath of that fight were both a reminder of his youth (he was just 18 at the time) and his refusal to accept second best in a sport he learned at his grandfather’s side in the city.
Now, if he does win the WBO title, this trip to the Prudential Center could be the first of many appearances in the city where he learned the sport. Stevenson wants to make Newark his home-ring in the same way one of his idols, undisputed champion Terence Crawford, has turned Omaha, Neb., into his.
“We were shooting a documentary at (the Prudential Center) after the Olympics, and he told me, ‘One day I’m going to be here, Pop-Pop," his grandfather, Wali Moses, said.
That day, finally, is coming in July. If that fight goes according to plan, it certainly won’t be the last time Stevenson is the headliner in the city he loves.