Teenage boxing sensation aims for knockout Olympics
USA’s bantamweight boxer Shakur Stevenson has enjoyed rapid-fire junior title wins since 2013 including a gold medal at the Youth Olympic Games. Aged just 18, he now has his sights on first place at Rio 2016.
Shakur Stevenson is an athlete of few words but his performances in the ring speak volumes. Undefeated in 23 international bouts, he was the first American male boxer to win junior and youth world titles as well as a gold medal at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games.
“It was a good time for me,” he says, recalling his experience at Nanjing where he beat home athlete LY Ping 3-0. “It was a fun tournament because I’d never been in an environment like that.”
His YOG victory came off the back of title-winning performances at the 2013 Junior World Championship and 2014 Youth World Championship. He qualified for Rio 2016 - his biggest tournament to date - back in March with a semi-final win over Venezuela’s Jose Vicente Diaz Azocar at the American Olympic Qualification Tournament in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Having already secured his place at the Olympics, the teenager went on to beat Argentina’s Alberto Ezekiel Melian in the final.
And while Shakur, of Newark, New Jersey, says he tries not to let his swift rise to success get to his head, the experience has set him up to make his mark in Rio on his first visit to Brazil. Amid comparisons with Floyd Mayweather, who won bronze at Atlanta 1996 and 2004 light heavyweight gold medallist Andre Ward, Shakur is a contender for top of the podium.
“I know that when I go there, it’s going to be better than anything I can imagine, in terms of the environment and everything,” he adds. “I expect it to be an amazing place, something like I’ve never seen before and I want to stay focused on what I do. I’m looking forward to winning a gold medal and doing it in front of all my family.”
Shakur has even launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise money to help pay for his family to see him compete in Rio as his fights stretch over as many as 10 days. Family has played a defining role in Shakur’s story after his boxing coach grandfather introduced him to the sport when he was just five. And while his granddad was also a baseball player, Shakur – named after the late rapper Tupac Shakur and the eldest of nine - says there was never any doubt that his future was in the ring.
“I went to one of his baseball games and he introduced me to some of his fighters,” he explains. “I asked him if I could go to the gym with him and he took me to the gym and I guess I fell in love with the environment.” Asked whether there was ever a chance he could have taken up baseball or another sport, he replies without hesitating: “Just straight boxing. Boxing was always my first love.”
He hopes his grandfather, Wali Moses, mother Malikah Stevenson, will be there at the Riocentro boxing venue next month. Rio 2016 is set to be his greatest challenge – and biggest conquest – yet as Team USA puts their boxing hopes on his young shoulders. For the first time at the Olympics, professional boxers have been able to qualify for Rio, meaning Shakur could well be up against experienced, veteran athletes.
Thailand’s Amnat Ruenroeng, 36, and 2004 Olympic boxer Hassan N’Dam from Cameroon were the first professional boxers to win places at Rio 2016 at the final qualification tournament in Venezuela in early July. But it is a prospect that doesn’t faze the young fighter.
“I don’t mind it,” he says. “I feel like professionals are coming to my territory because they’re not used to fighting every single day and they’re not used to having to make the weight every single day. It’s a quicker pace.”
And in the meantime, Shakur’s busy training schedule is ramping up as quickly as his confidence as Rio 2016 gets nearer.“My preparation is going great,” he says. “We started picking it up already. I’m feeling good now, really confident.”