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Oscar Valdez v Shakur Stevenson - Press Conference

Source: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc / Getty

Shakur Stevenson is one of the brightest, young, up-and-coming fighters in boxing today. And in less than 48 hours, the 25-year-old Newark, NJ native puts his unblemished record on the line to defend his unified Junior Lightweight Title against the 2016 Summer Olympics lightweight gold medalist, Brazilian boxer Robson Conceição.

Stevenson began learning the sweet science at five years old under the tutelage of his grandfather, Wali Moses. And Stevenson’s gifts led him all the way to winning the silver medal in the bantamweight division at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“We were watching Tuesday night fights, and he just started punching,” Moses told the Associated Press six years ago. “Every time I took him to a tournament, even before he was old enough to fight, he would always say, ‘Pop-Pop, I’m never going to lose.’ He’s always had that attitude. He’s just totally dedicated himself to the sport of boxing. Ever since then, each achievement, I knew something special was going on.”

Stevenson, who was named after legendary rapper 2Pac Shakur, follows in the footsteps of other notable Garden State boxers like Bobby Czyz, Jersey Joe Walcott, and fellow Brick City product Marvelous Marvin Hagler. And Stevenson remains undefeated in his professional career. But the world’s No. 1 active super featherweight is eager to leave much greater marks in the annals of boxing lore.

Read our interview with Shakur Stevenson to learn more about what it means to fight in front of his hometown, what motivates him, the value of his relationship with music exec J Prince, and how he hopes to be remembered.

CASSIUSLife: Shakur, thanks for taking out the time to sit down with us. What have you been up to in the past two months and with your upcoming fight versus Robson Conceição?

Shakur Stevenson: I’ve just been training. I’ve been working. I’ve been getting better and better. I don’t know. I’m just feeling good. I feel good about my progression. Working real hard, nonstop.

CASSIUSLife: You’re 18-0 right now, and there’s been talk of you moving up a weight class after this fight. Is that right? Now, I wouldn’t want you to look past your next opponent. But maybe you’re thinking, “This guy is light work.”

Shakur Stevenson: Nah, I ain’t looking past him. After this fight, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I got to see how the weight cut is. But he’s a solid opponent. He won the Olympic gold medal, so I think anybody that could go to the Olympics and win the gold medal is a great boxer in general. So you’ve gotta give him respect when it comes to that. He’s a good fighter.

CASSIUSLife: So without giving too much away, what’s your plan of attack when it comes to fighting Robson? And you don’t have to give too much.

Shakur Stevenson: Just going to beat him up! I don’t think he’s been beat up before, so just go in there, beat him up!

CASSIUSLife: How does it feel to be fighting back home, fighting in front of the hometown Newark, NJ crowd?

Shakur Stevenson: Going on in front of your city? The main thing that makes me feel good and turns me up even more is the kids, just motivating some of these kids. I bought 100 tickets for kids that are in Newark to come to the fight. That way they could come get some motivation and see a direction for them or path for them.

Whether it’s boxing or whether it’s anything, just seeing someone else that’s from where they’re from, doing something is something that turns me up a lot more, and it motivates me to keep me on top of my game. I think that’s my big motivation. I can’t wait to perform in front of them and in front of Newark in general.

I always love to include kids in any event I do in Newark. It was important to me to have kids at our announcement press conference too because I want them to see that anything really is possible. It wasn’t that long ago that I was one of those kids. It’s super motivating to me spend time with them and hopefully I’m able to inspire them too.

CASSIUSLife: Now you talk about performing in front of the kids, and you’re a big brother, right? The oldest of nine. But your biological father wasn’t really in your life. However, your stepfather was there, and you had a lot of mentors around you…

Shakur Stevenson: I mean, you’re right, but I don’t really look at my father as my stepfather. That’s my father. At the end of the day, that’s who was at the hospital when I was born. That’s who raised me. I don’t even see him as my stepfather. I see him as my father forever. [But as for] my blood father. He wasn’t really, like, in my life like that.

And my brothers and my sisters have always motivated me. Family — that’s, like, a big thing for me, too. I’ve been the breadwinner, putting food on the table. Since I was a kid at 14, 15 years old. Leaving the country and coming back and winning medals and all that kind of stuff. I’ve been the person to put food on the table, so I think that’s what’s been motivating me for a long time.

CASSIUSLife: You’re only 25 years old, but you’ve already done and experienced more than most other 25-year-olds. Do you feel as if you’ll ever get to a space where perhaps that burden is lifted? Where you no longer have to be the one to figure it out and maybe Shakur gets to breathe?

Shakur Stevenson: I think God puts people in certain positions for a reason. Honestly, seeing somebody like J. Prince and just seeing how he is with his family and him being a breadwinner? Still putting food on the table and still making sure everybody’s straight? Putting everybody in position to win? He’s putting so many people in positions to win. It’s seeing stuff like that. And that lets me know I can do this forever. I think that that’s something that I’m willing to do forever at the end of the day, I’m not really thinking like, “Okay, it’s a burden on me, oh it’s hard.”

I think that God put me in this position because I can handle it. So since I can handle it, it’s going to get a lot easier as I’m going, and it’s going to evolve. Just watching J. Prince, I see what he’s doing on a whole different level. I could do stuff like that too, once I’m there.

And to be honest, I’m not really speaking on the aspect of what social media sees of him. I’m speaking on… You’ve got to realize I’m around J. a lot, so I get to see his everyday life. How you handle it at home as a person, how much of a good person he is in general. He’s just a real person.

I’m just speaking on how he really handles his whole entire family life, or the family [since] I’m [kind of like] adopted family, too.

Even though we’re working, I feel like I’m damn near a son to J. Prince at the end of the day. So just like I said, the way that he puts people in a position to win and provide and all that kind of stuff, he’s a perfect example.

And honestly, I give back in my own ways, I do a lot already. So it’s like I don’t have anything specifically planned, but I’ve been giving back on the regular. So I ain’t going to say I’m always in Newark, but I’m not like one of the celebrities or people that doesn’t go back. I’m here. People just know when I’m here, I’m doing this and people don’t know what I’m doing. So at the end of the day I’m like, I’m cool with it. I ain’t doing stuff to please nobody. I’m doing me for me. I got a bunch of stuff planned at the end of the day, but everything’s just all come to fruition.

Shakur Stevenson: You’ve worked with a number of hometown organizations in Newark, very notably the Boys & Girls Club. But you also have your own nonprofit that you’ve been running for about four years, Stevenson and Moses Boxing For Life. What can you tell us about that?

Shakur Stevenson: Yes. Stevenson and Moses Boxing, it’s really me and my grandfather. Well, my grandfather and my grandmother basically run the whole foundation, and they’re more hands-on. I’m more so focused on the boxing right now, and I’ve got a real goal when it comes to this boxing career. I want to be one of the best boxers to ever do it. So I’ve been kind of just upping my game and specifically keeping my focus on what’s in front of me.

CASSIUSLife: Okay, then. So what are some of your “bigger picture” career goals?

Shakur Stevenson: I want to be one of the greatest fighters to ever do it. I always see Floyd Mayweather say, “Nobody will ever break my records.” And I want to be the guy that breaks his records. I want to prove him wrong.

And that’s no shot against Floyd Mayweather because I think he’s the best boxer ever if you ask me. But it’s the fact that he always says nobody could do it. I’m so competitive, I take it as a challenge. So I want to be one of the greatest fighters ever. And I’m not saying I want the notoriety, but I kind of do in a way because I want my name to be in the history books!

I don’t want to be just another boxer who boxed my whole career, just winning, winning, winning, but nobody knows who I am. I want to be like how Mike Tyson is. Everybody knows who Muhammad Ali is. Everybody knows who Floyd Mayweather is. I want to be a boxer where everybody knows my story. Where everybody knows my legacy. I feel like that’s the goal. [Where the people say,] “He was one of the best boxers to ever do it.”