When Shakur Stevenson and Joet Gonzalez square off for a vacant featherweight world title the winner will answer the question of whether it was better to be on the fast track to the title fight or the slower, steadier climb into contention.
The bitter rivals will meet in the main event of a Top Rank Boxing on ESPN+ card on Saturday (10 p.m. ET with preliminaries to stream beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET) at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nevada. On Thursday, at the final prefight news conference, both men said they believe their trek to the title opportunity was the best road traveled.
Stevenson (12-0, 7 KOs), 22, a superbly skilled southpaw from Newark, New Jersey, has only been a pro for 2 1/2 years since claiming a silver medal in the 2016 Olympics. He has moved quickly and been in a hurry from Day 1 to fight for the title recently vacated by Oscar Valdez and to move up in weight. If Stevenson wins the fight he will be the first 2016 Olympian to win a world title.
“I feel like you could say whatever you want, but I feel like going pro and fighting a bunch of bums early in your career, I feel like that’s the easy route,” Stevenson said. “I feel like I went to the Olympics and fought the higher level of competition, and that’s the reason I am who I am today.
“I’m not sleeping on him. If I’m being honest, I always said Joet was good. Go look at my tweets from two, three months ago. I always said he’s a good fighter. He was the one who got up there and said Shakur was overrated. Saturday, he gotta put up everything he said.”
A pro since 2012, Gonzalez (23-0, 14 KOs), 26, of Los Angeles, has had a much slower and more deliberate rise.
“I most definitely had the harder road,” Gonzalez said. “He was an Olympic silver medalist. He got the fast track. He got [a title shot] in two years. It took me seven years. I’ve been pro since 2012, so I’ve had the longer road. I have more experience. I’m older, more mature, and I think that is going to help me out Saturday night.
“His biggest test, as a pro or an amateur, is obviously for a world title. He’s gonna have to do some crazy thing to beat me because I’m not leaving Saturday without that belt.”
Stevenson made light of Gonzalez’s long road to fighting for a world title.
“I also think in 2012 when he was fighting them bums, I was a freshman in high school at the time, bro,” Stevenson said to Gonzalez. “So I understand why you’re mad at me, bro. It’s all good.”
Gonzalez quickly responded: “Ain’t nobody mad at you. Just show up Saturday and come to fight.”
Besides the title at stake there is also personal bad blood due to the fact that Stevenson’s girlfriend for the past three years, Jajaira, happens to be Gonzalez’s sister. It has sparked an intense dislike between the two that will culminate with their scrap in the ring. “
“It fuels me because I was never the one to put this out there,” Gonzalez said. “The media, the public, they found out because of him. Just running his mouth. And now when they ask him about it, he don’t want to talk about it. So, it’s personal. It’s personal, just the things he’s done, the things he’s said, and he’ll pay for that on Saturday night.”
Stevenson has usually declined to address his relationship with Gonzalez’s sister, and the final news conference was no different.
“It’s personal for him,” Stevenson said. “I’m not going in the ring with a personal mindset. I’m going in the ring to win a world title, so that’s what I’m going to do to — win this world title.”