Shakur Stevenson was back in the ring, dishing out a TKO and marking Top Rank Boxing’s official return to ESPN on Tuesday night. There were also a pair of heavyweight knockouts from rising prospects, as well as the continued resurgence of Robeisy Ramirez in the opening bout.
It’s the start of a busy month of Top Rank shows in Las Vegas, but before we get swept up in what’s to come, Steve Kim, Ben Baby and Cameron Wolfe break down the biggest topics of the night.
Boxing’s back! What was your biggest takeaway from Tuesday’s show?
Wolfe: First, I’m pumped that boxing is back. There were a few mismatches on the card, but for the first one back it was a good showcase for some talented young fighters, led by Shakur Stevenson. Even against mediocre competition, Stevenson took advantage of his opportunity on a national platform and confirmed his status as boxing’s next young star. It’s only a matter of time before Stevenson’s name starts appearing on pound-for-pound lists — once he adds a few more solid victories to his résumé.
Baby: Even if the fights weren’t incredibly competitive and there were no fans in attendance, it was good to have boxing again. And even if it feels like watching a sparring session, watching the sport stripped down to the bare acoustics was still enjoyable. Tuesday night provided the blueprint for what boxing could look like for the rest of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. One hopes this new approach is able to yield fights with big names that make financial sense for all parties involved.
Kim: That people, in general, are excited about the return of boxing, if not all of sports. For months, the country has found ways to entertain itself. Whether it was “Tiger King” or “The Last Dance,” anything that was considered fresh content was coveted and became appointment viewing for many. There was a very communal feel to it.
For fight fans, no live boxing meant going down the rabbit hole of YouTube and watching classic fights, or punching up HBO’s classic “Legendary Nights” series. Over the past few months, ESPN devoted more than a few blocks to airing historic bouts of the past as well.
But there came a point in time when we needed original live programming, and boxing fans were desperate for something. No, Tuesday’s matchups weren’t all that good, but in all fairness, the schedule gets much better in the next few weeks. However, it was still appointment viewing for those who missed the “sweet science” over the past few months. Tuesday marked the return of world-class boxing in America. We didn’t get Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns, but we got some fights. And for now, that’s good enough.
Did we learn anything about Shakur Stevenson on Tuesday?
Shakur Stevenson says there’s a chance he will not be able to spar for 30 days after injuring his hand against Felix Caraballo.
Kim: Not really, because he did the expected in dominating Felix Caraballo. But never mind the level of opposition he faced — that’s really not the point. It’s clear Stevenson is a highly skilled boxer who is coming into his own as a prizefighter.
I recall being at Stevenson’s pro debut in April 2017 at the StubHub Center (as it was then called) in Carson, California, and he scored a six-round decision over Edgar Brito. It wasn’t the most scintillating pro debut you’ll ever see — in fact, there were some boos that night. But back then he was still just a teenager, and you wondered what he’d become with a bit of seasoning and “man strength.”
Well, we have our answer, and Stevenson looks as though he’ll be a very successful fighter for the next decade with his quickness and boxing IQ. The only real question coming out of Tuesday is if he’ll go back down to 126 and try to get IBF belt holder Josh Warrington, or if this is the official start of his campaign at 130, where many of the notable names are also under the Top Rank umbrella.
Baby: He’s ready to make the most of the opportunity ahead of him. Stevenson shrugged off the pandemic layoff and a game Caraballo to earn the stoppage win in the sixth round. Being prepared to headline boxing’s return from COVID-19 is a feat in itself. Stevenson looked sharp and balanced looking for a knockout without being overeager. He’s a champion to be reckoned with.
Wolfe: We learned Stevenson is ready for all the smoke at 126 or 130. Stevenson barely broke a sweat against an overmatched but tough opponent in Caraballo. He showed off his versatile skill set from that superb defense, as he was hit with only 18 punches in six rounds, and 115 of his 121 punches landed were power punches, which shows Stevenson’s eagerness for a KO in hopes of quieting questions about his power. His accuracy was superb as well, landing more than 50% of those power shots — including the vicious body blow that left Caraballo groaning in defeat.
If his left-hand injury is not serious, I want to see Stevenson against more champions and top contenders starting in the fall, whether it’s Warrington in England at 126 once fans are welcome, or Oscar Valdez at 130. Either fight would be Stevenson’s biggest bout yet, but we’ve learned the 22-year-old is ready.
What did Robeisy Ramirez show you in the minute it took him to earn a KO victory?
Kim: That he understands that now he is punching for pay, not just boxing for trophies and medals. Ramirez has made major strides in his three fights since his disastrous debut last summer. I’m not necessarily talking about technique or fundamentals, as he does know how to box judging by his amateur record, but really in his approach and aggression. There have been many other amateur standouts who have never really made the full transition to the professional game. Pro boxing is about putting on a show — style points matter.
We still have to find out if he can really punch all that well, as recent results could really be more indicative of favorable matchmaking, but you can tell that there is a certain attitude to the way Ramirez is carrying himself in the ring. He was far too casual against Adan Gonzalez, who upset him in Philadelphia last year. Now he’s hurling leather with bad intentions. At age 26, it’s certainly not too late.
Baby: Ramirez knows a good home for an overhand left when he sees one. The former Cuban Olympian used one to grab an early knockdown Tuesday and then landed another to finish Yeuri Andujar, who was outmatched from the opening bell. Ramirez has rebounded from the upset loss in his debut with three consecutive knockouts. However, better competition will yield a look at where Ramirez is in his pro career and how long it will take for him to fight for a title.
Wolfe: Ramirez simply showed he can take care of business quickly against an overmatched opponent. That said, the one-minute TKO should help his confidence and he looks much more aggressive than he did in his debut loss. His power and Olympic experience will help him pick up some fans, but he has to put together several more wins against better competition before we consider him a true contender.
Between Jared Anderson and Guido Vianello, which heavyweight on Tuesday’s card impressed you more?
Kim: Though both Vianello and Anderson scored knockout victories, and seem to have real upsides, the higher ceiling probably belongs to Anderson just because he’s 20 years old, compared to Vianello, who is 26. Unlike many other heavyweights from America, boxing was not a last resort or even a second choice athletically for Anderson. He had a successful amateur career and he’s considered among the very best heavyweights that USA Boxing had the past few years. Many American big men come into this sport in their 20s trying to learn how to fight, but you can already see the solid fundamental foundation Anderson possesses. He’s just getting started here.
Wolfe: Vianello had the more impressive performance Tuesday, dropping his overmatched opponent with a sweet right hand after he bullied him for the first two minutes. Vianello barely got touched in this fight — his fourth first-round KO in seven fights.
But give me Anderson with the higher ceiling. He has the hand speed and raw boxing skills to be special with much more polish. He’s just 20, with plenty of time to grow into his body and clean up some of the defensive holes he showed.
Baby: Vianello and Anderson were both impressive against lackluster opposition. But I’m giving the slight edge to Vianello based on Tuesday’s limited showing. He makes the most of his 6-foot-6 frame and he has a strong amateur background that includes an appearance at the 2016 Olympics as a member of Italy’s top team. Vianello could develop into an intriguing heavyweight.
Who else caught your eye?
Kim: I’ll go with Ramirez. When he dropped his pro debut to Gonzalez, you wondered if he was going to be a bust. Two-time Olympic gold medalists who can beat the likes of Stevenson in the amateur ranks aren’t supposed to lose their first fight against a journeyman. But Ramirez seems to have turned the corner, and he’s fighting with more aggression and a sense of purpose. As suspect as he looked last year, he’s looking more and more like a legitimate prospect now.
Wolfe: Ramirez had a lot of eyes on him, being the first one up and holding the “last man to beat Shakur Stevenson” label. He showed up big time. There was a different hunger in Ramirez’s eyes as he dominatred his opponent. He’s still trying to wipe away the embarrassment of his debut loss, but with the quickest knockout of the night, Ramirez gave people hope that maybe he can live up to his initial pro expectations.
Baby: Anderson did well against an opponent who was overwhelmed from the very beginning, a common but understandable theme in the first card since boxing’s pandemic-induced hiatus. He was loose at times with his punches, but he packs some pop at 6-foot-4, 236 pounds. The Ohio native has some upside and is worth watching.