Shakur Stevenson's Saturday pro debut starts fast track toward title, Michael Conlan

Olympic medalist and new professional boxer Shakur Stevenson and his grandfather and coach Wali Moses talks with The Times on April 18.

Shakur Stevenson understands his boxing history and is in a hurry to repeat it.

Last year's Olympic silver-medalist boxer from Newark, N.J., will make his professional debut Saturday night to lead off a pay-per-view card at StubHub Center that features Southland-trained world champions Oscar Valdez (featherweight), Jessie Magdaleno (super-bantamweight) and Gilberto Ramirez (super-middleweight).


And in keeping with a busy early career schedule modeled by Sugar Ray Leonard following his 1976 gold medal in Montreal, Stevenson, 19, is enthused to follow a rapid, well-publicized workload expected to hasten his similar rise to a coveted world-title belt and major bouts.

Leonard fought 26 times — twice in a month once — from the time of his February 1977 debut until he stopped Wilfred Benitez in the 15th round of their Nov. 30, 1979, welterweight world title fight.

"He fought [Roberto] Duran twice, and fought Thomas Hearns when they were pros only for four years by 1981 — and it was the biggest fight, at that point, in boxing history," Stevenson's veteran promoter, Bob Arum, said. "The idea that it takes 15 years for these [young] guys to make a big fight is ridiculous.

"The promoters [usually] wait for the networks to give them dates instead of being proactive," by arranging frequent, well-matched bouts that accelerate the young fighters' development.

After Saturday's pro debut, Stevenson is scheduled to fight again May 20 at Madison Square Garden under unbeaten junior-welterweight champion Terence Crawford's title defense.

Madison Square Garden's Theater is where Stevenson's fellow super-bantamweight, Top Rank promotions stablemate and 2016 Olympian Michael Conlan of Ireland made his pro debut in a rousing March 17 event attended by UFC champion Conor McGregor.

The two barely missed fighting in the Olympics, and Top Rank is pointing Stevenson and his charming smile toward the charismatic Conlan as they rise, the pair engaging in social-media banter for what one veteran publicist projects as boxing's own Magic Johnson-Larry Bird type of rivalry.

Conlan is expected to land on Manny Pacquiao's Australian fight card July 1.

"[Stevenson] is a good kid from a good family," said Arum, who spoke during Stevenson's visit to the Los Angeles Times along with the fighter's trainer and grandfather, Wali Moses. "Conlan is a good kid from a good family, too. I'm confident this will be a big match in four or five years."

Said Stevenson: "If I had to fight [Conlan] tomorrow, I'd take the fight. And if we had fought in the Olympics, I'm confident I would've won. I heard in an interview where he said something slick, but I didn't take it to heart. We're going to get it in when it's time."

Arum said amplifying the attention on top prospects is in the sport's best interest.

"The philosophy is not to bury them on insignificant cards. Put them on major cards here in L.A., then move him closer to home at Madison Square Garden. To be in a featured fight at the mecca of boxing, that's pretty good," Arum said.

"There's two elements in making a star: talent … and, 'Is he going to be marketable?' We know he has talent, and we made this decision high on marketability."

Stevenson's mother named him after late rapper Tupac Shakur, who was shot and killed after a Mike Tyson fight at MGM Grand, and whose music resonates on Stevenson's playlist and likely will be played during his ring walk.


"When I first saw this kid — and I'd seen Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward — his ring IQ is the highest I've seen. I've called him the young Cassius Clay — he's that intelligent to me. The real deal," said Antonio Leonard, who helps manage Stevenson with Ward and James Prince. "I can definitely tell he'll be something special for the next 15 years."

Stevenson said he'll depart from Los Angeles on Sunday for Colorado, to spar alongside Crawford. He also expressed interest in training alongside super-featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko to observe the Ukrainian's special talents

"His work ethic and look is so perfect," Leonard said of Stevenson. "It's almost like it's meant to be."

Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter @latimespugmire