Referee Kenny Bayless stood at the center of the boxing ring inside MGM Grand Garden on Saturday night as junior lightweight champions Shakur Stevenson and Oscar Valdez stared each other down. The crowd of 10,102 crescendoed into a full-on roar.
It was the loudest they’d get all night.
Stevenson (18-0, nine knockouts) pitched a masterclass, shutting down Valdez (30-1, 23 KOs) over 12 rounds to unify his WBO junior lightweight title with Valdez’s WBC belt in a Top Rank on ESPN main event, disappointing the legions of Mexican fans — including pound-for-pound king Canelo Alvarez — who had come to cheer Valdez on.
He celebrated afterward by posing for photos with close friend and WBO 147-pound champion Terence Crawford, who also sat ringside.
“I told you what I was going to do,” Stevenson said afterward, referring to his opponent and his team. “I was going to beat Valdez, Alvarez and (their trainer, Eddy) Reynoso.”
Stevenson came out trying to establish his jab while Valdez tried to impose his brawl-first style. The WBC titlist couldn’t close the distance effectively, though, and Stevenson used his movement to take an early lead. With chants of “Oscar!” and “Mexico!” Valdez continued to press forward, but Stevenson’s elite speed and timing continued to give him all kinds of problems.
In the third, Valdez upped his punch output and managed to connect with a series of straight right hands, pushing Stevenson back and putting together enough offense to take the round. But Stevenson continued to work combinations and discourage Valdez.
Valdez stayed on his stool when the bell rang for the sixth round, leading to an admonishment from Bayless. He then rushed right into Stevenson and ended up in serious trouble, when Stevenson landed a check right hook to put Valdez off balance against the ropes.
Then he followed it up with an uppercut to drop Valdez.
Valdez survived the round but still had no answers for Stevenson’s relentless attack, getting picked off at range but getting stung by counters whenever he tried to force the action. Valdez, a former two-division titlist, kept coming forward and refused to quit, but Stevenson asserted complete control of the fight heading into the later rounds.
The former Olympic silver medalist and Newark, N.J., native had control throughout, using the last 10 seconds of the final round to parade around the ring for a victory lap as the disappointed crowd showered him with boos.
Stevenson earned the win by scores of 117-110, 118-109 and 118-109.
“He’s a great fighter,” a visibly dejected Valdez said after the fight. “He was just the better fighter tonight. That’s it.”
The victory marked Stevenson’s first title defense after he won the belt from Jamel Herring in October, and the 24-year-old now has a legitimate case to be included on boxing pound-for-pound lists. He moved up to junior lightweight after winning his first world title at 126 pounds and already has eyes even farther up at 135 pounds.
During his in-ring interview after the fight, Stevenson stopped to propose to his girlfriend, the recording artist Young Lyric.
She said yes.
“I’m a superstar in this sport,” Stevenson said. “Line them up. I’m ready for whoever. … I deserve to be a superstar.”