If this is to be the bout that finally establishes Shakur Stevenson as the future of US boxing, he must brutally destroy the feel-good story of an American hero.
Jamel Herring’s rise from the military to underdog world champion is a Hollywood script waiting to happen, but the twist is that his opponent, Stevenson, is at the very least a former acquaintance and, at most, a former buddy who now denies any relationship ever existed.
Shakur Stevenson will fight for Herring’s WBO super-featherweight title in Atlanta, in an enthralling battle between generations that has become vicious.
Stevenson, 24, and 11 years younger than the champion, is unbeaten and already a world champion in the class below – he won a fight just four months ago after training and preparing in the same gym and with the same trainer as Herring.
Both men were aware that this conflict was unavoidable, but they spent weeks side by side, forced together by fate, sharing what must have been an uneasy closeness.
Stevenson has now vehemently and spitefully denied that they ever were pals.
The US Olympic team (Herring travelled to London in 2012, Stevenson won silver in Rio in 2016) and now the camp run by Brian ‘Bo Mac’ McIntyre, where pound-for-pound great Terence Crawford dominates as top dog, are the common bonds.
Herring is trained by McIntyre, and Stevenson is mentored by Crawford.
It implies that McIntyre prepped Stevenson for his previous fight but is now plotting his demise from Herring’s corner.
“It’s just business,” he explained.
Crawford has shrugged off this difficult situation, saying, “They’re both my brothers.”
Stevenson has derided Herring’s deferential reputation, calling it a sign of weakness, adding, “I’m not one of those fighters who will say, ‘Hey Jamel.'” It’s a battle.
“I swear you won’t see me in the ring saying, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ We are not fighting in a friendly manner.
“He prefers conflicts in which he can make new pals.
“This isn’t sparring, bro.”
Herring has refused to be enticed by his youthful rival, simply saying, “I’m furious with the character he’s portraying.”
Stevenson’s bravado and ring talents have always reminded me of a young Floyd Mayweather. If that charitable analogy holds any water, tonight is the night to put it to the test.
Stevenson, who was scouted personally by Mayweather at the Olympics five years ago, has something unique in him but hasn’t yet got the right battles to bring it out. He has been chastised for not going above and beyond his ability, but Herring’s experience and personal advantage in tonight’s bout could lead to breakthrough performance.
He’s expecting his first child with his girlfriend, rapper Young Lyric, and has warned Herring: “He’s attempting to take food off my plate, while I’m attempting to take food off his. May the best man triumph. This is a battle.”
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