LAS VEGAS — Shakur Stevenson did everything well Saturday night except finish Jeremiah Nakathila for a knockout.
Instead, Stevenson (16-0, 8 KOs) dominated every second of the fight in cruising to a shutout unanimous decision victory to win the WBO interim junior lightweight title.
All three judges scored the bout 120-107 in favor of Stevenson, who scored a knockdown in the fourth round from a short right hook.
But still there was a lingering feeling that it wasn’t quite the showcase that the 23-year-old rising star from Newark, New Jersey, wanted to put on in front of a supportive and active crowd at Virgin Hotels Theater.
“To be honest, I didn’t really like my performance. I felt I could’ve performed a lot better,” Stevenson said. “You had an awkward fighter throwing hard punches, and he knows how to grab and get away. He was a real awkward fighter.
“I tried to [get him out of there] a little bit, but I started getting hit with some solid shots. I ain’t really like it, but next time, I’m going to work on moving my head a little bit more and step it up a little more.”
Stevenson outlanded Nakathila 114-to-28 in total punches. He appeared to have Nakathila hurt several times in the early rounds but failed to finish him.
This was the first Top Rank card fully opened to fans since before the COVID-19 pandemic. It wasn’t a sellout, but a rough estimate was that the arena, which holds 2,100 people, was about 75% to 80% full.
Round by round analysis
Shakur Stevenson gets a shutout unanimous decision victory over Jeremiah Nakathila to earn the WBO junior lightweight interim title. All three judges had it same as us — 120-107. Easy work for Stevenson with only criticism being his inability to land the knockout.
Round 12: Shakur Stevenson doesn’t not get the knockout. But he did get what we believe is a shutout decision victory. Next step for Stevenson is finishing a wounded opponent. Stevenson 10-9.
Score: 120-107 Stevenson
Round 11: No doubt Shakur Stevenson is making easy work of Jeremiah Nakathila with same recipe as the whole fight. But he’s not turning it up to get the knockout and has just had one round left to score the stoppage. Crowd is getting restless about it. Stevenson 10-9.
Score: 110-98 Stevenson
Round 10: Shakur Stevenson seems satisfied with picking apart Jeremiah Nakathila with single shots. Crowd asking for Stevenson to turn it up more for the knockout. Time running out for him to make a statement.
Nakathila is wilding swinging for the knockout and missing badly. He’s completely overmatched but still upright. Stevenson 10-9.
Score: Stevenson 100-89.
Round 9: Just a few more rounds left for Shakur Stevenson to try to score the finish. He’s won every round and hurt Jeremiah Nakathila multiple times but he’s yet to go all-in to finish him. Stevenson 10-9.
Score: 90-80 Stevenson.
Round 8: Shakur Stevenson has been very effective picking Jeremiah Nakathila with one and two punches sequences, but he may need a couple of combinations to finish him. 10-9 Stevenson.
Score: Stevenson 80-71
Round 7: The only question left in this fight is if Shakur Stevenson can finish Jeremiah Nakathila or if he’ll be forced to settle with an easy decision victory. Stevenson 10-9.
Round 6: This was probably Jeremiah Nakathila’s best round of the fight. He finally landed some blows as Shakur Stevenson cruised a bit. But Stevenson still was the more effective fighter. Stevenson 10-9.
Score: Stevenson 60-53.
Round 5: A little less action here but Shakur Stevenson’s precision continues to be impressive to watch. He’s not having to work hard to beat up Jeremiah Nakathila. 10-9 Stevenson.
Score: Stevenson 50-44
Round 4: Down goes Jeremiah Nakathila! Shakur Stevenson short left hook sent him down in final seconds of fourth round. Stevenson continues to dominate every second of the fight.. Jeremiah Nakathila turned up his aggressiveness but not his effectiveness. 10-8 Stevenson.
Score: Stevenson 40-35
Round 3: Another dominant round for Shakur Stevenson who stuck Jeremiah Nakathila good with a left hook and a counter right hooks — the best two punches of the fight. Stevenson is comfortable and moving around the ring well. 10-9 Stevenson.
Score: Stevenson 30-27
Round 2: Big difference in skill early with Shakur Stevenson landing whenever he wants and Jeremiah Nakathila hesitant trying to find his range. He’s barely touched Stevenson thus far. 10-9 Stevenson.
Score: Stevenson 20-18.
Pedraza shines in TKO victory over Rodriguez
Jose Pedraza was at his best on Saturday, picking apart Julian Rodriguez to earn an eighth-round TKO victory.
Rodriguez’s corner told the referee he couldn’t continue, as his left eye was swollen shut and his right eye wasn’t far behind it. The 32-year-old Pedraza (29-3, 14 KOs), of Cidra, Puerto Rico, was the better fighter all night, using his veteran experience to outbox Rodriguez.
“My experience was too much for him,” Pedraza said. “I was hungrier than him, and he was just another obstacle in my journey to become a three-division world champion. That is my goal.”
It was well-matched fight with a contrast in styles. Rodriguez (21-1, 14 KOs) sought to use his speed and power to throw Pedraza off his game, but Rodriguez could never hurt him. Pedraza used precision punching and his boxing smarts, movement and jab to land effectively and dictate the pace. Pedraza said he felt Rodriguez weakening as the fight went on.
It was a close fight going into the eighth round — all three judges had it 77-75 Pedraza when the fight was stopped — but ultimately, Pedraza’s constant connections to Rodriguez’s eyes frustrated the 26-year-old out of Bergen County, New Jersey, and eventually ended his night early.
As for the future, undisputed junior welterweight champion Josh Taylor holds all the cards in the division, as everyone is waiting to see if he will remain there to defend his belt or move up to welterweight seeking a matchup with Terence “Bud” Crawford.
“I want all the big names at 140 pounds. With this performance, I sent a message to those big names,” Pedraza said. “The ‘Sniper’ is on the hunt. I want to make history for Puerto Rico.”
Regardless of whether stays at 140, Pedraza’s win Saturday moved his name up the list of contenders worthy of a title opportunity.
Rojas upsets McCreary
Manuel Rey Rojas scored the first significant upset of the night, dominating Tyler McCreary and scoring a unanimous decision win after eight rounds of action. It was a very poor performance for the 28-year-old McCreary (16-2-1, 7 KOs) out of Toledo, Ohio. He was fighting for the first time in 19 months, and it looked like it.
The story here is McCreary’s sudden fall from grace. He was considered to be a hot boxing prospect just a few years ago, but he got dominated by Carl Frampton in November 2019. and McCreary hasn’t been the same fighter. He looked slow and ineffective for much of Saturday’s fight.
It’s a major win for Rojas (21-5, 6 KOs), of Dallas, who was the aggressor throughout and effectively landed combinations at will against the gun-shy McCreary.
Judges scored the bout 79-73, 80-72 and 80-72 for Rojas.
Bauza demolishes Edwards in second-round KO
Junior welterweight prospect John Bauza was on a mission Saturday night, knocking down Christon Edwards three times in route to a second-round knockout victory.
The 23-year-old Bauza (15-0, 6 KOs), of Catano, Puerto Rico, jumped on Edwards early, with a strong right hook being Bauza’s most popular form of punishment.
Edwards, 28, of Houston, had multiple moments in the fight when he looked unprepared. He forgot his mouthpiece and oddly paused midway through the first round trying to get it. Edwards also got turned around awkwardly late in that round, and overall, he looked overmatched against Bauza.
It was the first fight in nearly a year for Bauza, but he looked in great form while earning the knockout victory.
Zayas dominates Fryers for TKO win
Top welterweight prospect Xander Zayas is the real deal, and he put on a show Saturday night by scoring a third-round TKO victory over Larry Fryers.
The 18-year-old Zayas (9-0, 7 KOs) looked very comfortable establishing his timing and punch selection. He unleashed six- and seven-punch combinations on Fryers (11-4, 4 KOs), of Clones, Ireland, who was getting pummeled and should be grateful for the referee stoppage.
It’s the third win of the year for Zayas, who is making a good early case as boxing’s prospect of the year.
Zayas, who takes great pride in his Puerto Rican roots, got the win on Puerto Rican Day Parade weekend.
“It’s surreal, because a couple of years ago I was watching Shakur Stevenson on TV; now being here, it shows that hard work is paying off,” Zayas told ESPN this week. “Being Puerto Rican, representing Puerto Rico, having the people see me and show me love at this young stage of my career means a lot of to me. I can’t wait to bring glory to the island.”
Top Rank has big plans for Zayas going forward. Most notably, it plans to pair him with top super middleweight prospect Edgar Berlanga — in different bouts — on a Puerto Rican Day Parade weekend card at Madison Square Garden next year. The way Zayas and Berlanga have looked, that might become a steady plan for years to come.
Lua edges Gonzalez in big win
Junior lightweight prospects Bryan Lua (8-0, 3 KOs) scored the biggest win of his young career in an action-packed unanimous decision victory over fellow undefeated prospect Frevian Gonzalez (4-1, 1 KO).
It was the most competitive bout of the card thus far, with two young Top Rank prospects each fighting to protect their “0.” At the end of six rounds, it was the 23-year-old Lua, of Madera, California, who was more effective with his combinations, hurting the 20-year-old Gonzalez, of Cidra, Puerto Rico, in waves throughout the fight.
The judges scored the bout 58-56, 60-54 and 60-54 for Lua.
This bout was initially scheduled for February on the undercard of Oscar Valdez-Miguel Berchelt, but it was postponed after Lua tested positive for COVID-19.
Isley stops Evans before heading to Olympics
Olympian and Top Rank middleweight prospect Troy Isley was aggressive from the jump. Ultimately, a bevy of glancing hooks and straights led to led to a fourth-round TKO of LaQuan Evans.
The 22-year-old Isley, of Alexandria, Virginia, improved to 2-0, 1 KO by walking down and beating up on Evans (4-2, 2 KOs) of Philadelphia. Evans took issue with the stoppage, but the bout was one-sided in favor of Isley, and Evans wasn’t very active in the fourth round, before the referee stopped the bout.
Isley will take a hiatus from pro boxing this summer as he heads to Tokyo on June 29 to fight for the United States in the Summer Olympics. That honor is special for Isley, who lost at the Olympics trials before the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games as an amateur and believed he would never get another chance after turning pro earlier this year. But the United States decided to relax their rule of not allowing pros to box in the Olympics and invited Isley to join the team after using 2017-2019 world rankings to determine qualifiers for Tokyo.
Isley told ESPN this week he nearly cried when he received the call on June 6 that he made the U.S. team. He noted it’s been his dream since he was 7 years old to fight in the Olympics.
He had already agreed to fight Evans and decided to follow through with the commitment despite the Olympics bid — and now Isley gets to head to Tokyo with a knockout win under his belt.
Goldston dominates Anthony in unanimous decision win
Make it 2-for-2 for 18-year-old Top Rank welterweight prospects scoring unanimous decisions wins to kick off the undercard. Kasir Goldston, of Albany, New York, used his 72-inch reach to cruise to a victory over Maurice Anthony.
Goldston’s most consistent punch was a staggering right jab the kept pushing the aggressive Anthony, of Ypsilanti, Michigan, back. When it was over, all three judges scored the bout 40-36 for the southpaw Goldston.
Tucker stays unbeaten with decision win over Barboza
Top Rank welterweight prospect Jahi Tucker made easy work of Ysrael Barboza earning an unanimous decision victory to open up Saturday night’s undercard.
The 18-year-old Tucker (4-0, 2 KOs), who hails from Deer Park, New York, flashed movement and a productive jab while using his length to land at will. Barboza (3-2-1, 3 KOs) had some early success getting inside of the longer Tucker, but Barboza couldn’t compete with his size or speed. The 30-year-old out of Corpus Christi, Texas, survived all four rounds despite a moderate cut near the right eye.
All three judges scored the bout 40-36 for Tucker, who has registered all four of his pro wins over the past nine months.
Shakur Stevenson wins interim title; Jose Pedraza and Xander Zayas shine in TKO victories
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