Sports

Shakur Stevenson poised for pro boxing debut

FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2016, file photo, United States' Shakur Stevenson, left, fights Cuba's Robeisy Ramirez during a men's bantamweight 56-kg final boxing match at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Stevenson is the most compelling American prospect in boxing after his run to a silver medal in Rio. The teenager is eager to start down a fast track to a title shot when he makes his pro debut this weekend in the famed outdoor ring in Carson, California. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2016, file photo, United States' Shakur Stevenson, left, fights Cuba's Robeisy Ramirez during a men's bantamweight 56-kg final boxing match at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Stevenson is the most compelling American prospect in boxing after his run to a silver medal in Rio. The teenager is eager to start down a fast track to a title shot when he makes his pro debut this weekend in the famed outdoor ring in Carson, California. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

LOS ANGELES — Although Shakur Stevenson doesn't usually watch film of his opponents, he never tires of studying the greats of boxing.

During the long idle hours in his hotel room this week while he waits for his professional debut Saturday night, he might check out Sugar Ray Leonard, Pernell Whitaker, Sugar Ray Robinson, Floyd Mayweather or Andre Ward.

"I'm a student of the game," Stevenson said. "That's a big part of my preparation."

The 19-year-old Stevenson is only at the start of a long climb to secure his place atop the sport that has been the central focus of his entire life.

He insists he has the patience for the steady rise to stardom envisioned by his promoters, managers and trainers.

But after a decorated amateur career and an Olympic silver medal, he's also eager to get moving on the journey that he has envisioned since shortly after he got his first real boxing lesson from his grandfather 14 years ago.

"I'm going to focus on the fighting and put myself in the hands of (promoter) Top Rank and my coaches," Stevenson said. "But I do know that I'm not a normal person that can just go super-slow. Once the time comes, I've got to be ready for that."

Stevenson is arguably the most tantalizing young American prospect in the sport after his run at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. His combination of technique, power and charisma has stamped him as a likely future star since early in his amateur career.

Stevenson's first pro stage will be the famed outdoor ring in Carson, California, south of downtown Los Angeles. He is taking on Edgar Brito in a six-round fight on a pay-per-view card headlined by world title bouts for featherweight Oscar Valdez, super middleweight Gilberto Ramirez and super bantamweight Jessie Magdaleno.

Stevenson has been obsessed by the sport ever since he started throwing hands while watching fights as a toddler with his grandfather, Wali Moses. He still shadowboxes as every opportunity, and he has embraced the long runs and five-minute sparring rounds necessary to build up his stamina for the professional grind.

"Training has never been one of his problems," Moses said. "He's a lot smarter, a lot more focused, because he knows now that each fight really has a meaning to it. He's really concentrating on that, and he's working on sticking to our game plan rather than going out and not focusing on his opponent. He's a lot more focused on his opponent."

Stevenson could get away with minimal game-planning as an amateur, but Saturday's fight will be his first since he left the Rio ring in unabashed tears from his split-decision loss to Cuba's Robeisy Ramirez in their bantamweight gold-medal bout. Stevenson thought the decision was correct, but he plans to use the loss as an enormous source of motivation for the rest of his life.

The Newark, New Jersey, native has been training in Virginia since before he turned pro, but he's getting even more help now: He will head to Colorado Springs on Sunday to work with junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford. Stevenson's second pro fight will be on the undercard of Crawford's bout with Felix Diaz at Madison Square Garden on May 20.

Stevenson's debut bout is a milestone, but he has been in far more pressure-packed situations. He has stepped into rings around the world during his decorated amateur career, fighting everywhere from Azerbaijan to Venezuela before the Rio Games.

So when he finally hits the ring Saturday, he has an idea what it will be like — and what he hopes to achieve.

"I don't really sit around and visualize myself dominating every fight," Stevenson said. "I just visualize me going in there and having fun. I want to have fun and let everything else take care of itself."

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