Shakur Stevenson draws inspiration from Tupac, Andre Ward ahead of first pro fight
The 2016 Olympic silver medalist has big plans to take over boxing in his career
The first sign that Shakur Stevenson, a silver medalist for the United States at the 2016 Rio Olympics, was destined for stardom may have come upon birth when he was named by his mother Malikah.
"My momma, she loved Tupac [Shakur], she loved to listen to Tupac," Stevenson told CBS Sports on Wednesday. "Growing up in the house, all I heard was Tupac. I guess that's why she named me after him and, as I came up, I learned my history on him."
Stevenson was born less than a year after Tupac -- the iconic rapper, actor and poet, was killed in 1996. At 19, closing in on Saturday's highly anticipated pro debut, Stevenson said that sharing Tupac's famous name hasn't affected him much from a boxing standpoint but that, as a person, he has been inspired by Shakur's overall message.
"I can see how he tried to teach you how to treat women and certain messages that he gave out to the public and how he wanted to see his people do good," Stevenson said. "I learned a lot from that."
Fresh off his Olympic success, Stevenson's pro debut has received an incredible push from promoter Top Rank, which one month earlier did the same with Ireland's Michael Conlan, a fellow 2016 Olympian who Stevenson fully expects to fight in the pro ranks one day.
Stevenson will be featured on Saturday's pay-per-view undercard in a six-round featherweight bout against Edgar Brito (3-2-1, 2 KOs). The independent Top Rank PPV card emanates from Carson, California, and features featherweight Oscar Valdez and super middleweight Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez in title defenses.
For Stevenson, a native of Newark, New Jersey, who is the oldest of nine siblings, his goal is to be much more than a household name in the sport of boxing. To get there, he says he needs to do two things: Be himself and entertain.
"I look at people like Michael Jackson and see the way he sold out arenas and everyone loved to go see him perform," Stevenson said. "I want to be something like that in boxing. That's really my plan and really my goal so hopefully I can achieve that."
Stevenson began boxing at the age of five and remains trained by his grandfather, Wali Moses. He had his pick of promoters upon turning pro but ultimately went with Bob Arum and Top Rank, in large part to the company's 50-year history of turning top amateur boxers into stars, including Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto.
Aligning with the right people was important to Stevenson from a managerial standpoint, as well, which includes an essential relationship he built with co-manager and current light heavyweight champion Andre Ward, who remains the last American male to win an Olympic gold medal.
Ward and Stevenson first met two years ago when Stevenson joined a teammate at his camp who was traveling to Ward's gym to serve as a sparring partner. The connection between the two was instantaneous.
"He was a down-to-earth dude," Stevenson said. "He has always been my favorite boxer and has always been my hero so I guess once I met him, it just put the icing on the cake that he was just the same person I saw on TV and from his interviews. He was the same exact person. I guess as I finished the Olympics, it kind of fell in both of our laps and thats how it happened."
As a fighter, Stevenson said he admires the way Ward boxes and his IQ in the ring. He has also taken note to the way Ward adjusts to each opponent. When Stevenson was asked to describe his own fighting style, it wasn't difficult to see Ward's influence.
"I put me more as a thinker, I adjust when I get in there," Stevenson said. "I could go forward if I have to and I could box if I have to. Depending upon my opponent, that's how I am going to fight."
It's rare to see Stevenson without a smile on his face, whether in the ring or in front of a camera. But he broke down in tears after seeing his Olympic dreams fall just short by split decision to Cuba's Robeisy Ramirez, who won his second straight gold medal. The lessons learned were important for Stevenson, whose biggest takeaway was that "you're not always going to get what you want."
While Stevenson is debuting at 126 pounds, he expects to contend in boxing's money division one day at welterweight, where he fully intends "to one day take over boxing. That's my plan and that's my goal."
If there's any pressure behind him entering Saturday's pro debut to deliver expectations that can border on unrealistic for many top prospects, Stevenson said he isn't feeling any.
"No pressure at all," he said. "I look at pressure like it either bust pipes or makes diamonds and it has been making me a diamond my whole life. I just be myself and try to stay who I am and stay the same person I have been since I've been growing up."
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