Shakur Stevenson ended the most unusual week of his boxing life with his usual dominance in another victory.
The World Boxing Organization featherweight champion stopped Felix Caraballo with a body-punch knockdown in the sixth round on Tuesday night, in the first major boxing event held in North America since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stevenson, 14-0 with eight knockouts, trained and lived in isolation in the days leading up to the fight. He still put on an impressive show in his non-title bout against the Puerto Rican veteran, capping the sport’s return to the world’s fight capital in a fan-free room at the MGM Grand Casino complex’s conference center.
“It’s a different atmosphere,” Stevenson said. “Losing the weight was different. Training in general was different. Fighting without a crowd, I was catching him with mean shots and you don’t hear no no ‘Ooohs’ or ‘Aaahs.’”
After a three-month break in major boxing competition, Top Rank led the sport back into action with five fights on ESPN. Although pretty much every bout was a mismatch, the favorites still provided entertaining performances for the sport’s starved audience.
Stevenson knocked Caraballo to one knee in the first round, and the US Olympic silver medalist’s brutally accurate power continued to hurt Caraballo.
Stevenson injured his left hand in the fifth round, but he finished the fight with precision midway through the sixth, opening up Caraballo’s defenses with a right hand to the side before putting a left directly into Caraballo’s solar plexus, crumpling the challenger.
“My mindset was focused on getting him out of there,” Stevenson said. “I hit him with everything I could early. I wobbled him a bunch of times. He took a lot of punishment, and I started realizing that head shots weren’t going to get him out of here. So I started going to the body more.”
Stevenson, who turns 23 later this month, and heavyweight Jared Anderson both wore T-shirts reading “Black Lives Matter” in the ring.
Stevenson also walked out to Changes, the Grammy-nominated anthem of social change written by Tupac Shakur, after whom the boxer is named.
“My people right now, they’re protesting and there’s a lot going on in our community, a lot of people trying to stand up for what’s right,” Stevenson said. “I couldn’t really go out there and protest with them, because I had a fight coming up and I didn’t want to risk catching corona. Now that the fight is over, I’ll go out there and protest. Mask up, gloved up, I’ll go out there and help my people out.”
Mikaela Mayer was scheduled for a showcase in the co-main event, but the US Olympian was on Sunday pulled from her fight with Helen Joseph when she tested positive for COVID-19. Mayer is asymptomatic, but remains in quarantine.
Her positive test forced Stevenson to fight without coach Kay Koroma, who works with both fighters due to their shared Olympic background.
Koroma tested negative for COVID-19, but he stayed away in accordance with the health protocols set up for the return of combat sports in Nevada.
Koroma also was scheduled to work in the corner of the 20-year-old Anderson, who easily improved to 4-0 with a stoppage of Johnny Langston in the penultimate bout.
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