Young Newark boxer is ready to be an Olympic champion

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on December 26, 2015

Shakur Stevenson, 18, of Newark. shadow boxing at the Boylan Street Recreation Center in Newark. Stevenson went undefeated at the Olympic trials in Reno, Nevada to win the 123 pound bantam weight division. He's close to earning a spot on the men's USA Olympic Boxing team.

 

The kids at Newark's Boylan Street Recreation Center gathered ringside for an unexpected treat on Tuesday.

Shakur Stevenson was slipping and throwing punches with Willie "Wali'' Moses, one of his trainers - who also happens to be his grandfather - in the city's gym on South Orange Avenue. After a few rounds, he hit the heavy bag in another room before getting back in the ring to spar with a few fighters, which included a playful scrap with his 15-year-old brother, Ibn Guyton.

"He's nice,'' said Quasin Lee, 14.

Nice means "good," as in very good. As in good enough to be in the Olympics.

"He's going to make it," said Knowledge Artis-Jones, 11. "I'm confident.''

Stevenson, 18, of Newark, is on the cusp of fulfilling his dream to join the men's USA Olympic Boxing team this summer at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

He did so by going undefeated, 4-0, at the Olympic trials held in early December in Reno, Nev. His performance in the 123-pound bantam weight division was so complete that he was named the outstanding boxer of the tournament.

"I did it,'' he said. "It's finally over. I did it. I finally did it."

Just about.

To get the nod to be on the final team,  Olympic rules require that he win one of three international qualifying tournaments, which start in March in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It shouldn't be a problem for Stevenson. He is 17-0 in international competition, but most important, he has the character to get it done.

The young man loves to box. He throws punches all the time. In the store, the mall or walking down the street.

"His mentality is different,'' said Julie Goldsticker, public relations consultant for USA Boxing, the national governing body for Olympic-style boxing.

"He shines when the lights are the brightest and in the way he deals with pressure situations.''

The Olympic trials were the tournament he had to win in a promising career that has taken him to places such as Bulgaria, Ukraine, China and now South America.

Isn't that something?

He's "Just a kid from Newark,'' a phrase written in gold letters on a black T-shirt that he was wearing at the recreation center.

That's Stevenson – a Newark kid, the oldest of nine brothers and sisters, who showed interest in the sport at age 2. He'd imitate fighters while watching boxing matches on television with his grandfather, whom he calls "Pop-pop."

Under his grandfather's guidance, Stevenson started learning the craft at age 5 in a Newark boxing program known as COMBATT – Community Organization Making Better Alternatives Today for Tomorrow.

"We could see he had the skills and abilities as a youngster,'' said Larry Hazzard Sr., who is the founder of the program and commissioner of the New Jersey Athletic Control Board.

Stevenson has worked hard since his youth, holding back tears when the referee raised his hand in victory in Reno. From the time the Olympic trials started, Stevenson said he was focused on seizing opportunity. He said his favorite fighter, Andre Ward, had him pumped following a telephone call.  The advice: Own this tournament.

"He went back to being himself,'' said Moses.

And that was to hit and not be hit.

"The most amazing thing is seeing him go from a little kid and actually dreaming this and wanting this to happen and making it come true,'' Moses said.

At the trials, two of the four bouts he won avenged losses against Ruben Villa of Salinas, Calif., who beat him twice this year.  Stevenson said the setbacks had him doubting his talent.

"I'm not used to defeat,''he said. "I don't take it very well.''

After all, Stevenson hadn't lost since 2012. He was racking up wins, including the Junior World Championships in 2013, making him the third American boxer ever to win that prestigious competition. AIBA, the international boxing association, topped his accomplishment by naming him the best Junior Male Boxer for that year. 

His success continued through last year, with international titles at the Youth Olympic games, Youth World Championships and Youth National Championships.

Now, he has the Olympic trials to add to his resume. And here comes Brazil.

"Dang,'' he said. That's all he could think about after winning – and not crying.

When's the last time you've heard such an utterance, if at all, from a young person?  He's not corny. He's just humble, grounded and not a braggart.

But he has every right to celebrate.  His 24-hour smile is automatic, and so are the dimples that he gets from his mother, Malikah Stevenson.

"I'm happy for him,'' she said. "It's been something he's wanted for a long time.''

He's home this week to be with family until he heads to Alexandria, Va., where he lives and trains with his coach, Kay Koroma. 

But for a few hours on Tuesday, Stevenson was in familiar territory at the recreation center. City officials and family friends took pictures with him. His achievement, they said, is certain to inspire Newark youth.

"It should spur them to be excited about the possibilities of what can happen in their community,'' said Patrick Council, the city's director of Neighborhood and Recreational Services.

You'll get no argument from Isaiah Gaffney, 13. He believes Stevenson is one of the best and what he's done proves that kids this town can make it.

"I feel like I'm going to win gold,'' Stevenson said.

You know what?

I do, too.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment