By Benjamin Block
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Taking everything in stride, he's boxing's Pollyanna.
Shakur Stevenson battered Oscar Mendoza into a second-round stoppage Saturday night inside a raucous Theater at Madison Square Garden. It was the biggest card of the southpaw's young professional career.
The 20-year-old featherweight was the table setter for the ESPN telecast, which co-featured possible distant future title-fight contenders Michael Conlan of Ireland and Vasyl Lomachenko of Ukraine.
It was Stevenson's fourth win in as many pro fights. Yet equally as important as it was for him — a young fighter with heavy expectations — to maintain his pristine win-loss record, it was even more vital that the Newark native scored his second technical knockout.
Before the contest, Stevenson's detractors -- which there aren't many -- began chirping about how continuing to win fights would be fine but that Stevenson needed to start executing more power along the way.
We're clearly in an age in which empty opinions are eclipsing quality analysis -- and they'll never go away entirely -- but this specific chatter touched a nerve with Stevenson. He acknowledged that it got to him when he spoke after disposing of Mendoza.
"There's been a lot of talk this week about me holding. I don't hold. I'm a fighter," Stevenson said succinctly and defiantly.
There was no doubt about that, either, as CompuBox, the longtime statistics tracker for all major boxing events, recorded that Stevenson landed 52 punches to Mendoza's four. There was no holding by Stevenson. In fact, many said he "let his hands go," which is a high compliment for any boxer to receive. It's a term long used to describe a fighter who is aggressive and free and holds nothing back.
Also, being on the undercard of the headlining two-time gold medalist Lomachenko, who stunningly made Guillermo Rigondeaux quit after six rounds, was huge for Stevenson. It allowed him to spend valuable prefight time with the Ukranian, who many in the boxing community value as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.
"Sparring with Vasyl Lomachenko was great work for this fight," Stevenson said. "He's one the best fighters in the world."
In May, following his first-round KO of Carlos Suarez in the main arena at the Garden, Stevenson told WFAN.com that he wanted a title fight by the time he was 21 or 22 years old. He also added that Lomachenko would be "my dream fight."
Stevenson may have inched a little closer to that dream by getting to spar a few rounds with Lomachenko, but there's no indication that a fight between the two is on the horizon or even close to happening.
Just in case they do meet, which probably wouldn't happen for at least three to five years, if at all, it's very unlikely that either fighter revealed very much.
However, one piece of collateral damage that did come from their prefight work was that Stevenson displayed an aggression Saturday night that rivaled Lomachenko's.
After Stevenson's bout but before Lomachenko's, Conlan shined in his second time fighting in the Garden. He got the easy decision, winning every round over Luis Fernando Molina for his fifth career victory, elevating his record to 5-0. It was also his first win that wasn't a knockout.
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who was front and center Saturday, has persisted that fight fans will at some point see Conlan versus Stevenson, prognosticating that when it happens, it will be as good a matchup as Thomas Hearns-Sugar Ray Leonard was.
A lot still has to go right though. And Arum himself can't guarantee when Top Rank's youngest and brightest stars will face off. It's likely more than a year away, should it happen at all.
For the immediate future, expect both fighters to continue to mow down the featherweight division until there's no other choice but to determine who is the best between them.
Watching Stevenson's mature style in the ring — outsmarting and starting to outmuscle opponents — it's easy to take his youthfulness for granted.
When he checked into the Garden for his 9 p.m. fight Saturday, Penn Station was still humming as New Yorkers struggled to navigate the first snowfall of the season. Stevenson was flanked by a few family members and boxing brother Terence Crawford, as he slid in through the Mecca's back entrance, free of any fanfare.
Wearing a backpack over a winter jacket, dressed in sweatpants and a pair of Air Jordan 11 Retros, he appeared no different than virtually any high school or college kid who gets dropped off for a sporting event.
The only difference is that this "kid" has a lethal boxing prowess, and he wasn't being dropped off.
He was arriving.
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