This ‘skill’ will make the difference

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Something has to give. 

Shakur Stevenson meets Oscar Valdez Saturday night for junior lightweight supremacy (10 p.m., ESPN). Both fighters carry a world title into the fight. Both enter MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas with undefeated records. Both are largely considered the best in the division. 

So, what makes the difference between the two? 

“The skill,” Stevenson told The Post. “The skill. I feel like skill, I’m way more skillful than him. I’m a smarter fighter, more technical. I feel like that’s going to be the difference come fight night. I’m going to pick him apart. I’m not gonna fight his fight. That should be the difference come fight night. 

“He’s an undefeated fighter with a belt, I’m coming to take his belt. I don’t care about no 30-0 or whatever. He’s got to crack my code, I don’t have to crack his code. I say his code is gonna get cracked a couple of times.” 

For the 24-year-old Stevenson, Saturday night’s title unification bout is not only the biggest fight of his career, and one of the biggest fights in boxing this year. 

It’s a coronation. 

Shakur Stevenson (right) faces off with Oscar Valdez (left) ahead of their title unification bout.
Mikey Williams/Top Rank via Getty Images

Stevenson (17-0), captured the WBO belt with a title-winning knockout in an impressive victory over veteran champion Jamel Herring. The win cemented Stevenson as one of the sport’s biggest young stars, rising to the top of his division and earning headline bouts on major cards. 

With a win against 31-year-old WBC title holder Valdez (30-0), Stevenson wants to take “young” out of that title, elevating him to a pay-per-view star (his fights have so far been broadcast regularly over cable), transcending the sport. Since his win over Herring, Stevenson has been outspoken that he’s not just the best at 130 pounds, but that he’s one of the best pound-for-pound fighters alive right now. 

He’s willing to do what’s necessary to get there as soon as possible, taking on an even bigger challenge in Valdez immediately after his win over Herring. Most other fighters, Stevenson said, would have taken a “cake fight” or tried to “milk” some more money from inferior opponents before really testing themselves again and proving themselves against the best.  

Shakur Stevenson (left) punches Jamel Herring during their WBO title fight.
Shakur Stevenson (left) punches Jamel Herring (right) during their WBO title fight.
Getty Images

Stevenson has no interest in cake fights or wasting any time. He’s obsessed with climbing the boxing hierarchy as quickly as possible. 

“I think Valdez is definitely the person to bring me to that goal,” Stevenson said. “Valdez is an undefeated fighter, never lost before. It’s hard to get to that goal, but I feel like after Valdez and fighting Jamel Herring, I should be number, somewhere, I don’t know where on the pound-for-pound list, but I should have a good number. 

“I’m fighting the biggest fights. I feel like fighting the biggest fights is how you become that big superstar in boxing. That’s the only way to become the big superstar in boxing, it’s about fighting the biggest and best fights available. And I’m putting on great performances. I feel like in my last fight I put on a great performance. Come April 30, I’m gonna put on a great performance too. That’s what’s going to make me into that elite level star that I want to be.” 

Relentless and elusive inside the ring, Stevenson carries an unmissable smile and light-hearted persona with him outside of the ring. 

Shakur Stevenson
Shakur Stevenson
Mikey Williams/Top Rank via Getty Images

Growing up in Newark, he dreamed of mirroring his idol, Andre Ward. He became America’s best amateur since Ward, and had Ward manage him through the start of his professional career. 

Before he stormed to the top of the amateur scene and won a silver medal for the United States at the 2016 Olympics, Stevenson was the oldest of nine siblings, raised by his mother who named him after the legendary rapper, Tupac Shakur. Stevenson shares a special relationship with his mother, and watching her work and sacrifice to put food on the table every day for all nine kids “made me want to grind and provide for my family, too.” 

When he was 16, Stevenson’s mother insisted he move in with his grandfather, who introduced him to the sport and was paramount to his early development, in Virginia after his cousin was shot and killed in the city. 

Despite a tough upbringing, Newark is core to Stevenson’s identity. 

“It was a little hard, it was a little difficult, but I feel like everything that I went through as a kid made me who I am today,” Stevenson said. “I’m glad that I went through that stage in my life.

“Newark is everything to me. I come from Newark, New Jersey, I feel like that’s who I am, that’s what made me who I am to this day. Newark means a lot, I wear it on my trunks, I’m gonna keep putting the city on my back.”

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