Shakur Stevenson is a rare talent.
The 2016 Olympic silver medalist, who will face Shuichiro Yoshino on Saturday night in Newark, New Jersey, is one of a handful of unusually talented fighters who could one day supplant today’s biggest stars as the pound-for-pound king.
Stevenson (19-0, 9 KOs) isn’t a knockout artist but he has been as dominating as anyone in his own way. It seems that no active fighter is better at hitting and not getting hit, which is the name of the game.
The Newark native leads all boxers in CompuBox’s plus-minus category, the percentage of punches he lands vs. those he takes. He’s +18.6, well ahead of No. 2 David Benavidez (+17.6).
And he’s as elusive as anyone. Opponents land only 13.8% of the punches thrown at him, which is second only to Dmitry Bivol (12.7%).
Of course, the CompuBox numbers aren’t official statistics. At the same time they give you an good idea of Stevenson’s elite ability, which is rivaled only by a precious few of his peers.
Here are five special fighters who could end up No. 1 on Boxing Junkie’s pound-for-pound list within the next few years.
Record: 19-0 (9 KOs)
Division: Lightweight (135 pounds)
Current pound-for-pound: No. 13
Thumbs up: Stevenson might have the most impressive combination of skills and natural gifts, meaning speed, reflexes and athleticism. He’s one of those once-in-a-generation fighters who is beautiful to watch, like Vasiliy Lomachenko in his prime. The southpaw controls distance with excellent footwork and a stiff jab, which allows him to pick apart his foes. And, again, his defensive skills are special. He’s not a knockout artist but his power punches are sharp and eye-catching. You get the idea. He might be the best boxer in the world and only getting better. Plus, he might have the best resume among the fighters mentioned here. His one-sided victories over Jamel Herring (TKO 10) and Oscar Valdez (UD) were genuine tests that he passed with flying colors.
Thumbs down: He generally won’t change a fight with one shot. A fighter doesn’t have to punch like Deontay Wilder to reach the highest levels of the sport, as Floyd Mayweather proved in his Hall of Fame career. But who even approaches Mayweather’s ability level.? Stevenson might turn out to be the best overall fighter of his generation but he’ll get there in spite of his lack of high-end punching power, not because of it.
Record: 28-0 (26 KOs)
Division: Lightweight (135 pounds)
Current pound-for-pound: No. 10
Thumbs up: “Tank” seems to be a complete fighter. He has elite natural gifts, including speed and a rock-solid chin. He’s a top-tier all-around boxer, including underappreciated defensive skills. And he’s one of the biggest punchers in the sport pound-for-pound, as his 93% knockout rate indicates. If you fight him, you almost certainly will be hurt at some point in the bout. His demeanor also is impressive. He calmly, cooly and with unwavering confidence goes about his business of outboxing, breaking down and ultimately stopping his opponents. A good example of that was his fight with Isaac Cruz. He injured his left (lead) hand mid-way through a tough fight but persevered and won a decision. I ask you: Can you find a flaw?
Thumbs down: Who has Davis beaten? His most-accomplished opponent was Leo Santa Cruz but Santa Cruz moved up in weight to face him. Beyond Santa Cruz have been a number of good foes – Cruz, Mario Barrios, Rolando Romero, Hector Luis Garcia – but no one near pound-for-pound status. We’ll learn a little more about Davis when he faces talented Ryan Garcia on April 22 but we want to see him against a next-level fighter, the Stevensons, Lomachenkos and Devin Haney’s of the world. Also, Cruz’s constant pressure gave Davis problems. Could that be the way to beat him? Or does a healthy left hand make that a bad strategy?
Record: 30-0 (27 KOs)
Division: Welterweight (147 pounds)
Current pound-for-pound: None
Thumbs up: Ennis is a well-schooled boxer but his God-given tools are what stand out: He might be the most gifted fighter in the world. His speed, reflexes and one-punch knockout power are reminiscent of a prime Roy Jones Jr., which is the ultimate compliment. Opponents might be capable and have a solid strategy but they generally can’t cope with Ennis’ otherworldly quickness and ability to hurt them with any punch that lands. The power? He had stopped 19 consecutive opponents (not counting a no-contest) until a slick Karen Chukhadzhian took him the distance in January. Sixteen of Ennis’ stoppages have come in less than two rounds, 11 in one. Watching Ennis fight is often breathtaking, which can’t be said of many of his peers.
Thumbs down: Ennis has yet to face a genuine test. He has fought some quality opponents – including veterans Sergey Lipinets and Thomas Dulorme – but we won’t know how good he truly is until he faces an elite foe. That doesn’t necessarily have to be Terence Crawford or Errol Spence Jr. right away. Someone like Keith Thurman, Vergil Ortiz or Yordenis Ugas would give us a better idea of where Ennis stands. Also, he looked human for the first time against Chukhadzhian. However, that had as much to do with the loser’s reluctance to engage than any deficiency on Ennis’ part. And Ennis still won by a near-shutout decision.
Record: 29-0 (15 KOs)
Division: Lightweight (135 pounds)
Pound-for-pound: No. 15
Thumbs up: Haney has a lot in common with Stevenson. He was an amateur standout, which gave him a strong fundamental foundation. He has a high ring IQ, which allows him to adapt to whatever is thrown at him. And God was good to him, too. He’s quick, moves well and has cat-like reflexes. He also has strong plus-minus and opponent connect rate numbers, +12.3 (No. 8 in the sport) and 19.6% (No. 7). On top of that he has a resume that rivals that of Stevenson. He outclassed former titleholders Jorge Linares and Joseph Diaz Jr., which was impressive enough. He then easily outpointed George Kambosos Jr. to become undisputed 135-pound champion in Australia, Kambosos’ home country. He was only 23. And he won the rematch, also in Australia, by a wider margin four months later.
Thumbs down: Haney also shares a problem with Stevenson, if that’s what it is: His hands aren’t particularly heavy. He relies more on his unusual skill set than his ability to hurt his opponents, which is reflected in a so-so knockout rate. Also, while he’s building a solid resume, some fans want to see him face a next-level opponent before designating Haney the next great thing. That comes on May 20, which he defends his titles against Lomachenko.
Record: 27-0 (23 KOs)
Division: Super middleweight (168 pounds)
Pound-for-pound: Honorable Mention
Thumbs up: Benavidez is different from the rest here. He relies more on relentless pressure and heavy punches than technique to break down and generally stop his opponents. He’s one of the most destructive offensive forces in the sport, as he demonstrated once again by chasing down and ultimately dominating former titleholder Caleb Plant in his biggest victory last month. That’s why Mike Tyson has dubbed him the, “Mexican Monster.” His boxing ability shouldn’t be underestimated, though. There’s method to his madness. He’s the most accurate puncher in the sport, connecting at 38.4% going into the Plant fight. He landed at 38.1% in that bout. And, again, he’s No. 2 on the plus-minus list, ahead of such stars as Lomachenko, Bivol, Davis and Noaya Inoue. Bottom line: Benavidez a terrific all-around fighter.
Thumbs down: The unanimous decision victory over Plant was a significant accomplishment but Benavidez doesn’t have a deep resume. It might take a meeting with the likes of Jermall Charlo or Canelo Alvarez to leave no doubt that he belongs among the best in the business. The question is: Will the biggest names want to tangle with this beast?