Shakur Stevenson failed to make weight and lost his two 130-pound titles at the scales, but he still made it look easy.
The unbeaten rising star cruised to a unanimous decision victory over Robson Conceicao on Friday before an announced crowd of 10,107 in Newark, New Jersey.
Stevenson wasn't at his best, but ultimately it didn't matter. Two judges scored the bout 117-109, while the third judge had it 118-108 for Stevenson, who scored a fourth-round knockdown of Conceicao when he nailed him with a solid left hand to the sternum."
I killed myself to make weight," said Stevenson. "He held me the whole night, but I did everything I could. I think that he was doing a lot of holding whenever I got to the inside."
Stevenson (19-0, 9 KOs) was formally stripped of his WBC and WBO junior lightweight belts on Thursday after he tipped the scales at 131.6 pounds, more than 1½ pounds over the 130-pound limit. As a result, the titles were only at stake for Conceicao (17-2, 8 KOs), who checked in at 129.6 pounds. However, due to his sound defeat, the titles will remain vacant.
The 25-year-old Stevenson was forced to pay Conceicao an extra $150,000 from his $3 million purse as part of a side agreement to allow the fight to continue.
Stevenson was unapologetic for what transpired.
"Respect to him," Stevenson said, "but everybody want that kind of paycheck."
Conceicao fell short for the second time in as many title bouts. His first was a controversial 12-round unanimous decision loss to then-WBC titleholder Oscar Valdez, who tested positive for a banned substance weeks before the fight. To add insult to injury, Conceicao appeared to do enough to win, but the judges sided with Valdez. This was far from the case against Stevenson.
According to Compubox, Stevenson landed 199 of 531 total punches (38 percent), while Conceicao connected with a lousy 60 of 483 punches (12 percent).
Stevenson controlled the temp from the onset behind his southpaw jab and stinging left hand that landed with precision. Conceicao, 33, of Brazil, connected with a slew of right hands to the body early on, but as indicated by the punch stats, he had trouble following up his attacks as Stevenson was consistently out of range.
This was evident in the third frame as Conceicao loaded up on power shots, none of which seemed to affect Stevenson, who continued to disrupt his opponent's rhythm.
After the knockdown in the closing stages of the fourth round, the fight was all but over.
Conceicao was never in danger of getting knocked out, but Stevenson didn't leave without sending him a message. A hard left cross with 20 seconds remaining in round six stunned Conceicao, and Stevenson followed up with a hook prior in the waning seconds.
Conceicao emptied the tank in round eight and found the target with a series of flush right hands, but he paid the price for the remainder of the fight.
Stevenson was docked one point in round nine for throwing Conceicao to the canvas. He had previously complained to referee Kenny Bayless about his adversary leaning on his neck, but Bayless deemed his reaction less than sportsmanlike.
It was one-way traffic for the rest of the way as Stevenson dominated a fatigued Conceicao, who survived on sheer will and guts.
"He real awkward, and he real tough, so he know how to survive," Stevenson said. "I was trying to fight. I wanted to stand there and beat him up. And he was grabbing and holding."
The victory was Stevenson's fourth unanimous decision victory in his last five fights, including two straight. But it was a bittersweet triumph for Stevenson, who conceded that failing to make weight was an embarrassing moment in his young career.
"I'm tough; even through my hard times, I still find a way to push through," said Stevenson.
Despite that initial dejection, Stevenson fought through it and put on another impressive performance.
"I learned that I'm real tough," Stevenson added.
That toughness will bode well for him, as the lightweight division is inundated with talented fighters, but Stevenson says he is up for the challenge.
"Everybody at 135 [pounds] gotta get it," he said. "We gotta fight the champ. Me and Devin [Haney], we can lock it in after he fights [George] Kambosos [on Oct. 15]. I'll fight [Vasiliy] Lomachenko, too."