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Andre Ward talks Shakur Stevenson win over Caraballo

Andre Ward Shakur Stevenson

By Matt Lieberman: ESPN commentator Andre Ward was ecstatic in talking about the career potential of Shakur Stevenson last Tuesday night after his win over Felix Caraballo in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Moving up to 130, WBO featherweight champion Shakur (14-0, 8 KOs) took Caraballo (13-2-2, 9 KOs) with a body shot knockout in round six at the MGM Grand Garden Conference room in an empty room without a crowd in this Top Rank event.

The former 168 and 175-pound world champion Ward revealed that he’d spoken to the 22-year-old Stevenson about attacking the body of his opponents. He did that to perfect against Caraballo, who couldn’t handle Stevenson’s body shots. Oddly enough, Stevenson’s shots to the head weren’t a problem for Caraballo.

Stevenson’s body attack was too much for Caraballo

He took them well without showing signs of being hurt. But when Shakur went to the body on the inside, that’s when he was able to damage the 33-year-old Caraballo.

Ward was the same during his career. He wasn’t much of a puncher when he would throw to the bead, but when he would attack his opponent’s body, he was able to hurt them. Stevenson seems to be following in Ward’s footsteps with his body attacks. It’s evident from watching the 2016 Olympic silver medalist Stevenson’s first 14 fights as a pro; he’s never going to be a colossal puncher in the same mold as guys like Ryan Garcia, Teofimo Lopez, and Gervonta Davis.

So it’s smart for Shakur to take a different path to score stoppages. Shakur needs to be able to stop his opponent because it’ll make him a more prominent name, and it’ll also save him a lot of wear and tear on his body.

Sooner or later, Stevenson will run into trouble if he faces a considerable puncher that can stay in there long enough to land one of their big shots to his head or body.

Andre Ward Shakur Stevenson

Ward: Shakur can be an all-time great

“Just trying to give the people along with my team some good television, and the fighters that we had tonight, we had some great fights,” said Andre Ward to Fighthype on the Shakur Stevenson card. “It’s a blessing. I’m looking forward to coming back on Thursday.

“He did everything he was supposed to do,” Andre said of Shakur. “Caraballo was tough. He probably put up a tougher fight than a lot of people thought he would.

“As soon as the name came out about who Shakur is fighting a bunch of people came out Tweeting and writing, ‘Why is he fighting this guy?’ It’s the right guy at the right time, given the circumstances, and Shakur and his team, none of us deserve to give an explanation.

“He’s a young fighter, he’s developing, and I feel that he has the skills to be an all-time great if he stays focused. But that doesn’t mean that you rush things. You take your time with that, and you let that develop at the right time.

“He did what he’s supposed to do. He boxed tonight, and he dealt with early pressure, didn’t panic, and stayed patient,” said Ward.

It’s a little early yet for Ward to be talking about Stevenson being an all-time great. He’s only 22 and has captured only one world title in beating Joet Gonzalez. In truth, Stevenson is a belt-holder and not someone that won a world title against an A-level fighter. If Stevenson had beaten WBC featherweight champion, Gary Russell Jr., to win his 126-pound belt, then you could look at him differently.

What many boxing fans feel Stevenson needs to do is not invest too much time at 126 before moving up to 130 to go after the more prominent names in that weight class.

Shakur’s body attack was too much for Caraballo

“It was the most deliberate and vicious body attack that I’ve seen him put on his whole career,” said Ward on Shakur’s attack to the midsection of Caraballo.

“He and I talk about that all the time about the next phase of his game, which is at midrange and in close and he got the job done.

“That’s something you drill about in the gym all the time. Before with my inside game showed up in the Allan Green fight, I was drilling that two years prior, and it as the same thing with him. We’ve been talking about this for years now.

“‘Tougher fights are going to come. They’re going to take the early shots upstairs. You’ve got to slip in there and handle your business. I’m sure that Terence [Crawford] has talked about the same thing because Terence is a great body puncher, so it’s the next phase of his game that is constantly in the making.

“It’ll show up like times tonight, and some guys can take a lot. Some guys can take it to the head, but they can’t take it to the body for too long, especially if you get that right shot in there.

“He [Stevenson] took a slight step to the right and got the right shot in there to the solar plexus, and the night was over,” Ward said on the body shot that Shakur stopped Caraballo with in round six.

Caraballo was putting a lot of pressure on Stevenson in swarming him during much of the fight. If not for the stoppage in the sixth, it would have been a real grind for Shakur.

Stevenson may not admit it, but Caraballo was a handful for Stevenson, especially with the way that he was throwing nonstop shots from head to body. Caraballo was mixing things up well.

Andre Ward Shakur Stevenson

Stevenson having injured hand checked out

“He’s at the doctor’s right now getting checked, so hopefully, it’s nothing,” said Ward about Stevenson injuring his left hand during the fight. “Fractures and micro-fractures for fighters are normal. I’m hoping it’s nothing major.

“He wants to get back in there as soon as possible, and so hopefully it’s nothing major. It’s just a punch that he landed the wrong way. He caught his thumb in an awkward position, and hopefully, it’s nothing,” said Ward on Stevenson’s hand injury.

Stevenson landed a shot on the top of Caraballo’s head, and that’s where the injury occurred.

Top Rank will need to make sure that Stevenson’s hand problem is checked out, and he gets the medical care that he needs for him to come back from this. Shakur isn’t a puncher, and if he starts having chronic hand problems at this early stage in his career, that’s going to limit his effectiveness even more.

Going to the body more is one thing that fighters with hand problems do to avoid reinjuring their hands. The only downside of Stevenson throwing more to the body is it puts him in range of being hit by his opponents, but he may not have much choice.

When he starts facing better opposition that can handle what little power he has, he’s going to get hit a lot more. Right now, it’s not a problem with Top Rank matching Shakur against beatable guys like Caraballo, Joet Gonzalez, and Alberto Guevara. That can’t go on forever. Shakur can’t become an all-time great with him fighting those low-level fighters.

Shakur needs to decide on the next move at 126 or 130

“Well, he’s the boss,” said Ward on whether Shakur will stay at 126 or move up to 130. “He’ll tell us what he wants to do, and we’ll give our suggestions. We being James Prince, John Dugan, and Top Rank.

“We’ll put our heads together, but ultimately he’ll need to make the decision. He knows how his body feels. He looked good to me tonight. I think he looked really sturdy under his legs and physically strong. I like the way he looked at 130, but he still has a belt at 126. So he’s got options.

“That’s something that we have to talk about as a team, and we’ve got to get Shakur’s blessing with. My assumption is that if he can’t get one of the big names at [featherweight], then he wants to move up and chase one of the big names at 130,” said Ward on the next move for Stevenson.

It would probably be a good move for Stevenson to abandon the 126-pound division altogether unless he wants to fight Gary Russell Jr. That’s the only talented fighter in the division now. IBF champion Josh Warrington, the guy that Stevenson and Top Rank want, is a paper champion. Warrington is famous in the UK, but NOT in the United States.

He’s viewed as a belt-holder by hardcore boxing fans. Russell Jr. would likely beat Warrington with ease in shutting him out. If Top Rank doesn’t want to let Stevenson fight Russell, which is probably the case, then he needs to move up to 130 and go after the fighters in that division.

Russell might be a little too advanced for Stevenson. He can do everything Stevenson can do, but with better hand speed and power. You can argue that Russell would likely beat Stevenson right now.

Andre Ward Shakur Stevenson

Ward talks Shakur comparisons to Mayweather

“I love it. I think Shakur is dealing with the comparisons just right,” said Ward in talking about the media comparing Stevenson to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Terence Crawford.

“He’s paying homage and showing respect to the guys that he looked up to and took parts of his game from, but he’s also being sober in not falling into that trap. A lot of guys that crashed and burned in trying to be the next whoever.  Andre Ward, Mayweather, Muhammad Ali.

“You know many guys got knocked out trying to be Ali and having their hands down and pulling straight back, but didn’t have the legs, didn’t have the reflexes, and didn’t have the IQ. So he’s [Stevenson] doing the right thing.

“He’s paying homage and showing respect, but I don’t want Shakur to be the next Andre Ward, I don’t want him to be the next Floyd, I don’t want him to be the next Crawford. I want him to be better than all of us. I want him to make more money than we all made and leave the game with more money.

“I’m not tripping. I want him [Stevenson] to accomplish more than me and be greater than all of us. We’re just a template in a foundation for you to build on,” said Ward of Shakur.

The boxing public isn’t the ones that are comparing Shakur to Mayweather. That’s being done by Top Rank promoter Bob Arum and guys like Tim Bradley of ESPN. Shakur fights more like Terence Crawford than Mayweather, and he’s not going to be like Mayweather.

If the hand speed and great footwork that Mayweather had isn’t there already with Stevenson, then it never will be. Stevenson should just focus on being his best self, and not listen to his promoter Arum.

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