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Block: After First-Round KO At MSG, Newark's Stevenson Thinking Big

By Benjamin Block
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His name is synonymous with the late rapper Tupac Shakur.

So it seemed fitting that Shakur Stevenson's first-round knockout of Argentine Carlos Suarez on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden was bookended by serenades from DMX's "Where The Hood At" and Jadakiss's "The Champ is Here."

Despite shorting his fans a little more than five rounds of entertainment, everything went according to plan, as the Newark native's professional record improved to 2-0.

"I hit him with a straight left to the chin. That's my money punch," Stevenson said in his post-fight interview to the delight of the deafening 8,026 in attendance, which practically drowned him out. "I only wish this fight could have gone longer for my fans here."

As a boxer in the featherweight division, and as someone who's shouldering expectations of being the next Floyd Mayweather, even though he'd prefer to be labeled as "the first Shakur Stevenson," he took a huge step forward Saturday with the decisive win.

"I'm not staying 1-0 with no knockouts, so I had to go get the knockout on him," Stevenson, who was wearing a black headband with "NEWARK" emblazoned in gold lettering, explained to reporters.

Shakur Stevenson
Shakur Stevenson reacts after his TKO victory over Carlos Suarez during their featherweight bout at Madison Square Garden on May 20, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

And before the fight, Stevenson conceded to that while he didn't have a game plan for Suarez, he didn't want to just beat the Argentine; he wanted to do it by showing off his "man strength," an area of his game that he said he needs to improve upon.

Suarez would become old news fast, as Stevenson immediately turned his attention to more aggressive goals.

"I kind of do want to move fast and have a world title by 21, maybe 22," he said, adding that fighting super featherweight, and fellow Top Rank fighter, Vasyl Lomachenko (8-1, 6 KOs), "is my dream fight."

In order to tangle with Lomachenko, Stevenson would have to jump up in weight class, and that bout, if it were to happen, would likely manifest in a headlining event as long as both fighters keep trending in the right direction. Lomachenko's manager, Egis Klimas, was seen hovering ringside Saturday night.

Stevenson had warned before the fight, "I'm doing big things at 19." And soon enough his fans won't be the only ones on notice.

As the wins continue to heighten Stevenson's expectations, any and all remaining anonymity will slowly erode.

On Saturday, the rising star fought on the undercard of Terence "Bud" Crawford, who neutralized challenger Felix Diaz's power early and toyed with him for 10 of the scheduled 12 rounds, at which point Diaz's camp waved the white towel.

Crawford retained his unification of the WBO and WBC super lightweight belts, and afterward called out Manny Pacquiao when HBO's Max Kellerman asked, ""Who do you see out there when you survey the landscape at 140, 147 pounds do you think makes a big fight with you where you will be pushed?"

It would make sense for that fight to happen, as Crawford has proven himself against virtually anyone and everyone in his division. However, super lightweight Julius Indongo (22-0, 11 KOs) was in attendance Saturday and is more likely to be Crawford's next challenge.

But neither Crawford's virtuoso performance, nor Ray Beltran's thunderous left hook that put Jonathan Maicelo on a stretcher and straight to Bellevue Hospital, could take away from what felt like Stevenson's night.

The two-time amateur world champ and 2016 Olympic silver medalist almost always wears a permanent smile as wide as the Hudson River on his face.

It's certainly no mystery why photographers love him.

"I like to enjoy myself. I'm 19, my mom has nine kids, so I got to have that attitude around all my brothers and sisters," Stevenson said about where he gets his happy outlook from. "I like giving people positive vibes. I love giving people positive energy. That's the type of person I am."

All eight of his siblings were at the Garden for the fight and Stevenson was very conscious of where they were seated, too. In fact, he found them before Suarez could even rise to his feet after face planting to the canvas, and blew them kisses.

It's interesting how one pair of eyes can see two different things when looking at Stevenson. He's a professional boxer, but a happy-go-lucky teenager, as well.

Maybe it's as simple as the message that was printed on the custom t-shirt he wore on Wednesday to his workout session for the media.

He's "Just a Kid From Newark."

Follow Benjamin on Twitter at @benjaminblock21

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