Shakur Stevenson could get closer to a world title opportunity at junior lightweight if he defeats Jeremiah Nakathila for the WBO interim belt on Saturday (ESPN and ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET, with undercard at 6:30 on ESPN+).
Stevenson (15-0, 8 KOs), 23, of Newark, New Jersey, won the vacant WBO featherweight belt in 2019 before moving up in weight looking for better challenges. A win against Nakathila could earn Stevenson a shot at titleholders Jamel Herring and/or Oscar Valdez in his next fight, but Stevenson doesn’t want to look past the task at hand.
“I just feel like, when I’m at my best, it doesn’t matter who the opponent is,” Stevenson said at a news conference on Thursday. “It’s been like that my whole career, since I’ve been an amateur. You don’t know who you’re going to fight in the amateurs. You come up and you just gotta fight people.
“At the end of the day, I listen [to the hype], but you can’t get too hot. You still gotta complete the task. I try to stay in between. I don’t try to listen to everything I hear and go off that. I try to make sure I do what I’m supposed to do.”
Nakathila (21-1, 17 KOs), 31, of Namibia, has won 10 consecutive fights — all by stoppage — since suffering the only loss of his career in 2016. This is Nakathila’s first fight in the U.S. and only his third outside of his country, but he warned everybody to not look past him.
“Whoever underestimates me will be surprised come Saturday night,” Nakathila said. “All I know is I can knock anybody out in this 130-pound division. I can destroy anybody at 130 pounds. Come Saturday night, Shakur will see how I’m going to destroy him.”
In the co-main event, Jose Pedraza faces Julian Rodriguez in a junior welterweight battle. Pedraza (28-3, 13 KOs), 32, of Caguas, Puerto Rico, is a former junior lightweight and lightweight champion. His only losses came against Gervonta Davis, Vasiliy Lomachenko and Jose Zepeda. Rodriguez (21-0, 14 KOs), 26, of Hoboken, New Jersey, is taking a big step up in competition against Pedraza.
Stay here for live undercard results and analysis.
Fight in progress: Tyler McCreary vs. Manuel Rey Rojas, eight rounds, junior lightweights
Bauza demolishes Edwards in second-round KO
Junior welterweight prospect John Bauza was on a mission Saturday night knocking down Christon Edwards three times in route to a second-round knockout victory.
The 23-year-old Bauza (15-0, 6 KOs), of Catano, Puerto Rico, jumped on Edwards early with a strong right hook being his most popular form of punishment. Edwards, 28 and out of Houston, had multiple moments in the fight where he looked unprepared. He forgot his mouthpiece and oddly paused midway through the first round trying to get it. He also got turned around awkwardly late in that round and overall looked overmatched by Bauza.
It was the first fight in nearly a year for Bauza, but he looked in great form earning the knockout victory.
Zayas dominates Fryers for TKO win
Top welterweight prospect Xander Zayas is the real deal, and he put on a show Saturday night by scoring a third-round TKO victory over Larry Fryers.
The 18-year-old Zayas (9-0, 7 KOs) looked very comfortable establishing his timing and punch selection. He unleashed 6- and 7-punch combinations on Fryers (11-4, 4 KOs), of Clones, Ireland, who was getting pummeled and should be grateful for the referee stoppage.
It’s the third win of the year for Zayas, who is making a good early case as boxing’s prospect of the year.
Zayas, who takes great pride in his Puerto Rican roots, got the win on Puerto Rican Day Parade weekend.
“It’s surreal, because a couple of years ago I was watching Shakur Stevenson on TV; now being here it shows that hard work is paying off,” Zayas told ESPN this week. “Being Puerto Rican, representing Puerto Rico, having the people see me and show me love at this young stage of my career means a lot of to me. I can’t wait to bring glory to the island.”
Top Rank has big plans for Zayas going forward. Most notably, they plan to pair him with top super middleweight prospect Edgar Berlanga — in different bouts — on a Puerto Rican Day Parade weekend card at Madison Square Garden next year. The way Zayas and Berlanga have looked, that might become a steady plan for years to come.
Lua edges Gonzalez in big win
Junior lightweight prospects Bryan Lua scored the biggest win of his young career in an action-packed unanimous decision victory over fellow undefeated prospect Frevian Gonzalez.
It was the most competitive bout of the card thus far, with two young Top Rank prospects each fighting to protect their “0.” At the end of six rounds, it was the 23-year-old Lua, of Madera, California, who was more effective with his combinations hurting the 20-year-old Gonzalez, of Cidra, Puerto Rico, in waves throughout the fight.
The judges scored the bout 58-56, 60-54 and 60-54 for Lua.
This bout was initially scheduled for February on the undercard of Oscar Valdez-Miguel Berchelt, but it was postponed after Lua tested positive for COVID-19.
Isley stops Evans before heading to Olympics
Olympian and Top Rank middleweight prospect Troy Isley was aggressive from the jump. Ultimately, a bevy of glancing hooks and straights led to led to a fourth-round TKO of LaQuan Evans.
The 22-year-old Isley, of Alexandria, Virginia, improved to 2-0, 1 KO by walking down and beating up on Evans (4-2, 2 KOs) of Philadelphia. Evans took issue with the stoppage, but the bout was one-sided in favor of Isley and he wasn’t very active in the fourth round, before the referee stopped the bout.
Isley will take a hiatus from pro boxing this summer as he heads to Tokyo on June 29 to fight for the United States in the 2021 Olympics. That Olympian honor is special for Isley, who lost at the Olympics trials before the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games as an amateur and believed he would never get a chance to get there after turning pro earlier this year. But the United States decided to relax their rule of not allowing pros to box in the Olympics and invited Isley to join the team after using 2017-2019 world rankings to determine qualifiers for Tokyo.
Isley told ESPN this week he nearly cried when they called him on June 6 to tell him he made it. He noted it’s been his dream since he was 7 years old to fight in the Olympics.
He had already agreed to fight Evans and decided to follow through with the commitment despite the Olympics bid — and now he gets to head to Tokyo with a knockout win under his belt.
Goldston dominates Anthony in unanimous decision win
Make it two for two for 18-year-old Top Rank welterweight prospects scoring unanimous decisions wins to kick off the undercard. Kasir Goldston, of Albany, New York, used his 72-inch reach to cruise to a victory over Maurice Anthony.
Goldston’s most consistent punch was a staggering right jab which kept pushing the aggressive Anthony, of Ypsilanti, Michigan, back. When it was over, all three judges scored the bout 40-36 for the southpaw Goldston.
Tucker stays unbeaten with decision win over Barboza
Top Rank welterweight prospect Jahi Tucker made easy work of Ysrael Barboza earning an unanimous decision victory to open up Saturday night’s undercard.
The 18-year-old Tucker (4-0, 2 KOs), who hails from Deer Park, New York flashed a productive jab and movement while using his length to land at will. Barboza (3-2-1, 3 KOs) had some early success getting inside of the longer Tucker, but he couldn’t compete with his size or speed. The 30-year-old out of Corpus Christi, Texas survived all four rounds despite a moderate cut near the right eye.
All three judges scored the bout 40-36 for Tucker, who has scored all four of his pro wins over the last nine months.
Still to come:
Title fight: Shakur Stevenson vs. Jeremiah Nakathila, 12 rounds, for the vacant WBO interim junior lightweight title
Jose Pedraza vs. Julian Rodriguez, 10 rounds, junior welterweights