In this installment of Between Rounds, we take a look at a fight that came within hours of taking place. Originally scheduled for March 14th, canceled late in the afternoon of March 13th, it has yet to be rescheduled.
The fight between Shakur Stevenson and Miguel Marriaga was going to be for the WBO Featherweight title, a title Marriaga previously had a shot at in 2017, losing a unanimous decision to Oscar Valdez. At 33 years old, the canceled fight with Stevenson is likely to be his last grasp at the belt. Marriaga spoke openly about his devastation at the cancellation, hoping that the fight could be rescheduled later in the year.
Stevenson, however, appeared to turn his attention elsewhere. With the matchup against Marriaga meaning less to him and bigger, more lucrative fights to be found elsewhere in the division. Stevenson’s match up with Marriaga was only ever a stay-busy fight until he could get his gloves on IBF world champion, Josh Warrington.
Stevenson is under no obligation to reorganise with Marriaga. He still wants Warrington, who won’t wait for a rescheduled bout with Marriaga to play out before making his own moves. Warrington has an IBF mandatory challenger to face in Abdul-Bari Awad, Kid Galahad, and has potential unification fights with Xu Can (WBA featherweight), Leo Santa Cruz (WBA Super World featherweight) and Garry Russell Jr. (WBC featherweight).
So, considering Warrington has so many options open to him, even though Marriaga isn’t the fight Stevenson wants most, it’ll be an easy fight to make and will give him a tune-up ahead of a possibly career-altering fight with one of the other Featherweight champions. Let’s take a closer look at the styles and skillset of Marriaga and Stevenson.
The youngster who needs no introduction. Stevenson has displayed all the qualities which seem set to make him a future pound-for-pound king and boxing hall-of-famer. The fact that a 22-year-old with just 13 professional fights has already had his name mentioned in P4P conversations is ludicrous. But, Stevenson has so far earned that level of regard.
Stevenson is monstrously strong for 126lbs and while the featherweight division is known for having some of the fastest and most exciting boxers, Stevenson has found a way to separate himself from the rest.
Shakur Stevenson has a level of maturity and understanding of tactical boxing that many boxers twice his age never achieve. He rides the balance between throwing powerfully and staying balanced. He knows how to release violence without being overcome with aggression. Stevenson has shown the ability to control himself and maintain a level of calmness even in the most frantic and vicious exchanges.
He knows not to headhunt, targeting the body early on to neutralize his opponents later on. He invests with body punches, looking to collect in the later rounds. But his speed and accuracy allow him to capitalize whenever he sees an opening, which he’s phenomenal at, landing big headshots whenever his opponent lets him.
Stevenson throws combos which rarely stick to one level, he knows not to throw punches in the same rhythm every time, to avoid predictability. His stinging punches come lightning quick, but the pauses, feints, and rhythmic differences between them confuse people on the defensive end.
Stevenson throws a vicious -right-lead hook which has put a number of his opponents down, and when they stand he’s right back on top of them throwing varieties of straights, body hooks, uppercuts, and overhands to overwhelm his already dazed foes. His rear hook is an equalizer as are the short uppercuts he can throw from the clinch. He’s simply a smart and powerful kid with dynamite in either hand.
One of the most impressive things about Stevenson’s combination punching and offensive forward momentum is that he flawlessly builds defensive moves into them. Take this sequence from his debut fight against Edgar Brito; Stevenson threw the jab, right straight, stepped back and checked a left body hook, then stepped forward, and landed his rear hook.
This level of focus on defence, mid-combination, is something that few boxers manage, it makes him so elusive and frustrating to fight. Stevenson fights like he’s dancing like he knows the steps ahead of time and is counting the beats in his head. Making his opponents miss only adds to their exhaustion, as anyone who’s boxed will know the most energy-sapping punches you throw are the ones that miss.
Many boxers learn not to rush in too hard, to remain defensively aware even when moving forward, only as they mature. Stevenson had this down as soon as he turned pro and he has only improved. Defensively he’s mercurial, moving his head and switching guard just in time to stop counter-punches, but also feeling comfortable throwing full-power combos. His defensive fighting is always there, not just when he’s skittish and wary following big hits.
Marriaga is the heavy underdog in this matchup, despite having challenged the likes of Oscar Valdez, Nicholas Walters and Vasiliy Lomachenko in title fights. Marriaga has an impressive resume, showing time and again that he sits just below the upper echelon of active Featherweights. He has long been a threat to any Featherweight climbing the rankings, as he is now to Stevenson. Marriaga represents one of Stevenson biggest challenges to date, due mainly to his experience, should the fight go ahead.
Marriaga is a power puncher, a good one. The Colombian is known as the scorpion for good reason, his brutal right hook is the poisonous tail in his arsenal.
Marriaga is fast on his feet, cutting the ring and pressuring his opponents with ease. He fights doggedly, never letting up the pressure once he senses weakness. Defensively he’s not as astute as Stevenson, he’ll take two punches in order to land three, it’s the style popularized by Mexican boxers which has since spread globally and remained a dangerous style to enter the ring with.
He holds some great wins to his record and has put on admirable displays against some of the greatest boxers of his generation. He has always fallen just short but stays in the fight regardless, just as he does each time he enters the ring.
Stylistically this plays heavily in Stevenson’s favor. The smart and elusive youngster has levels to his game Marriaga has failed to achieve, and defensively he will prove too much.
At this stage in Marriaga’s career, he knows it’s his last shot at a title, the greater environment of the fight working to serve as a perfect analogy for the fight itself.
Stevenson will be aggressive, but also more patient, knowing he can outbox Marriaga. He’ll be smart in avoiding shots, checking body blows, and mixing infighting with outfighting.
Marriaga will put on the pressure, his tried and tested routine, eager to take the fight to Stevenson and land some heavy shots. He’ll keep pushing regardless, getting hit on the way in but refusing to falter in the face of his last hope at a championship title.
Marriaga will look to bully Stevenson, he’ll look to land the bigger shots, but his desire and eagerness will come through in his boxing. He’ll be predictable in the attack.
Stevenson will, ironically, play the veteran’s role. Outclassing and outboxing his more pressuring opponent. Stevenson will set up his combos with footwork and positioning long before Marriaga is aware of what he’s walking into.
Save for a big shot from Marriaga landing unexpectedly, Stevenson should put Marriaga down before the final bell. If he needs to, he will outpoint him, but all evidence points to Shakur overwhelming Marriaga before that.
This fight will bring plenty of entertainment from two big punchers who won’t shy away when it gets dirty.